Assam:United abroad,Polarised at Home
'if an illegal Bangladeshi Muslim migrant was ready to convert to Hindu then he/she could be allowed to stay in India' -Subramaniam Swamy,former cabinet minister and BJP Member on his view of the demographics in Assam.
To begin with we all know that Swamy is prone to making sensationalist statements and even amongst his friends people are wary of his utterances.
So should we take him seriously ? I believe this time we should , because unlike Swami Adityanath or the Sadhvi's of the world ,Swamy is a sharp and intelligent man and despite his hardline views – it does seem that he made his opinion public after deeply understanding the growing divide in the Assamese society today.
Assam which saw large migration from Bangladesh (In reality there were Muslims as Well as Hindu speaking Bengali community) in the 60s right till the late 70's suffered large demographic changes within the state.Ofcourse it did not help when other parts of the state broke up from Assam to create smaller states-Meghalaya being a classic example on the lines of language and political representation .
But before the 2016 elections the entire electoral narrative seems to be 'if we don't support BJP then we may have a Muslim Chief Minister' and this according to many borders paranoia .
Lets not forget the Jammu Kashmir elections were fought along similar lines with BJP mission #44 and a Hindu Chief Minister for the first since J&K accession to India.
Well that never happened but as we know the BJP and PDP (Which the saffron party had alleged as a Baap -Beti ki Sarkar) became allies.But as stated earlier the narrative in the build up to the election in the state was along the lines of religion and not issues.
Today we see certain sections of a radicalised society in Assam where the talk is not no rights,issues but on which faith the next Chief Minister would represent.For the record Assam did have a Muslim Chief Minister in Syeda Anwara Taimur from 6 December 1980 to 30 June 1981,and yes she was a lady too.
We all have our insecurities but statements like what Swamy stated means that the issue is no longer to protect the Assamese identity but people who follow a certain faith.Having met many Assamese muslim families who have resided for centuries in the state and outside i must admit that i see more of an identity and desire to preserve this uniqueness than anyone else.The same cannot be stated if one ever visited parts of the Barak Valley where the Bengali speaking Hindus consider themselves still a part of Bengal than the state they reside in.(And there is no harm considering the circumstances they came to the state and the atrocities they faced in East Pakistan and now Bangladesh).
But when you meet the Assamese speaking diaspora outside the state they seem more united and the conversation is on food,culture political corruption but never on if anyone is a Christian,Buddhist,Muslim or an Hindu.Some of my fathers best friends were Muslims and they spoke about their Assamese culture with distinct pride.Recently i met a Marwari family in Delhi who hates being in the national Capital and yearns to return back to Jorhat where his family lived for over 100 years.The people of the state seem to suffer from the NRI Syndrome 'more patriotic than a Indian ,when abroad'.
But the division in the state is not just along religious lines and If we travel to the hills and the autonomous councils then the conversation changes completely and while the Bodo's maybe grateful to Advani for granting them a territorial council,the Bodos too are worried if tomorrow they may be swamped by non bodos.The issue is no longer Muslim people coming to Bodoland but non Bodo's of any denomination.What do we call this stance ? Sub nationalism,insecurity or rhetoric ? Whatever it maybe whenever there is conflict the national media always flags of the issue as Bodo's fighting Bangladeshi's muslims-this is not always the case.The demand of a separate Dima-Haso state is also gaining momentum and this is a clear indication of people in the state now hardening the position on the lines of ethnicity .
It also remains to be seen how these tribes will react on the Central government's move to give six communities the ST status in Assam just before elections.While many call this a political move others have suggested that a one time rehabilitation/financial package would have ensured that the people on the ground got a better deal.For the record the communities shortlisted are Koch-Rajbongshis, tea tribes, Tai Ahoms, Morans, Motoks and Chutiyas .Surely if this is done then the room for reservation will be squeezed than ever before
For every Swamy or a Togadia there is an Ajmal and the reality is that just like Owasi in the rest of the country,in Assam the perfume king will play to his constituents.If today Ajmal is stronger not just because Congress played appeasement politics but also because utterances like the one made by Swamy has makes the Assamese Muslim insecure .
Insecurity does not lie only among the minority but also the majority -In Assam i would like to believe that the Majority speaks for its culture,identity and a larger sense of what Assam is and ought to remain.When the future coarse of talk in a democracy becomes about what meat the next Chief Minister eats at home then it is time to introspect,have we not lowered our standards if this determines who should lead us in 2016.
Time will tell but as i see it if we leave it to certain politicians (be it of any party) Assam will be more divided than ever before and no this time the scars will be more deeper than residual.
All this for a Vote …….
Pradyot Bikram Manikya Debbarma