OPINION | What ails Assam? — By Satraajit Palchoudhury
By Satrajit Palchoudhury | August 17, 2018
On August 15, 2018 Modi delivered his last speech of his first term from the ramparts of the historic Red Fort with a hope that he would again unfurl the Tricolour in 2019. In 2014, Modi-the PM hopeful was a claimant for the top post and in 2019 he will hit the field as a defending champion.
In 2014, BJP swept the Hindi heartland living up to its image of a party that believes in the concept of Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan. Many bigwigs of the saffron brigade have often said that in 2019 the party will have to focus on Eastern India. Certainly Northeast occupies a pivotal position in the minds of BJP strategists.
One can dislike Modi, but certainly it can't be denied he has turned out to be the focal point in Indian politics. Northeast has 25 Lok Sabha seats and BJP is eyeing these crucial seats. Of the 25 seats, 14 are based in Assam.
Under his watch BJP for the first time rode to power in Assam—a feat that eluded even his mentors like L K Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. On paper it seems to be a BJP government. But in reality this is a government of Asom Gana parishad (AGP) turncoats as the Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal himself is carrying the baggage of AGP.
The victory in Assam has helped the Shah-brigade to stretch its arms in other Northeastern states like Tripura, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh. It's astounding victory in Tripura hogged media attention because BJP decimated Left Front in its own bastion.
India has already gone into poll mode as the general elections are just a few months away. Northeast had a bloody past—undoubtedly the situation has changed now. In mainland India 'caste' dominates the political discourse whereas in Northeast 'ethnicity' is the hotly debated issue.
In hindsight, the Northeasterners are also feeling happy because their issues are getting wide media mileage and to some extent the contributions of the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 can't be ruled out.
ALSO WATCH | things to know about the man behind the scene of NRC in Assam
In the last Assembly polls BJP offered a new narrative and its campaign blitzkrieg rocked Tarun Gogoi's ageing 15 year old boat. The people of Assam hoped a new dawn will usher in—sadly once again the state is witnessing the same debate on identity and ethnicity.
The biggest complaint of the Khilanjiyas (sons of the soil) is that their children are losing jobs to outsiders, in short, to the illegal infiltrators. The Congress-turned-BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma often says that most of the districts in Assam have now become an abode of the minorities- The Muslims!
Himanta used to raise this issue on his campaign trail and to a certain extent it has helped BJP capture the core Assamese Hindu votes. It seems that this bunch of leaders is still trying to hold onto the violent Assam movement.
The Nellie massacre is still afresh in the minds of common people. To counter Himanta's views it would be apt to turn to the pages of former Gauhati University professor Abdul Mannan's book—Infiltration: Genesis of Assam Movement.
Mannan's book reveals that the main reason behind the surge in Muslim population is 'ignorance' and it has happened due to illiteracy. Around Rs 1,300 crore has been spent on NRC (National Register of Citizens).
About 40 lakh people have failed to make it to the final draft NRC. The Election Commission of India is saying that a revised voter's list will be prepared for Assam on the basis of final NRC list. Now, the question arises what will be the fate of the missed out lot?
Few days back visiting MP from Bangladesh Al Haj Syed Nazibul Bashar Maizvandary while interacting with Indian mediapersons in Delhi said, 'Dhaka will not embrace the missed out lot because it considers them to be genuine Indian citizens.'
There are no major investments in Assam. The state is reeling under unemployment. The unemployed youths are looking up to government sector. This sector has become saturated.
The plight of two paper mills—Nagaon Paper Mill & Cachar Paper Mill is known to one and all. Though Modi government assured of reviving these twin mills, unfortunately it has failed to keep its promise. The employees are yet to get their salaries.
Industry Minister of Assam Chandra Mohan Patowary while answering to a question in Assembly told that the state has over 15 lakh registered educated unemployed youths. Obviously BJP will have to bear this brunt because at this juncture it's in power both in Delhi and Dispur.
The irony is, once again these core issues have been hijacked by citizenship bill. Will it be wrong to say that this controversial bill is a means to put these burning issues under the carpet?
In 2014, Congress made the same mistake by trying to corner BJP with secularism vs communalism debate. This helped Modi play the victim card and with just 31 per cent he managed to sail through.
NRC has attracted the attention of the opposition parties and the sudden love of TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee for the embattled Bengalis of Assam stands testimony to this observation.
BJP is getting stronger in West Bengal with each passing day. It's vote share is rising and this has alarmed Mamata. Without wasting time she has joined the bandwagon. Her lone aim is to contain BJP in West Bengal's 42 Lok Sabha seats.
In the midst of these politics, it's the common people who are suffering the most. Following the NRC exercise in Assam similar demands are being raised by the other Northeastern states.
In fact by taking a leaf out of the ultra-jingoist elements of Assam, various Manipuri bodies have started issuing warnings to the non-Manipuri community with the message—leave my state.
The national highway projects in Northeast are moving at a snail's pace. Certainly these issues are not getting the desired attention because the political parties have already set their own agenda.
The much publicized NRC exercise is over. 40 lakh people have been left out. Now, they have been given another opportunity to prove their citizenship. Even if for an argument's sake it is believed that 30 lakh people will be able to clear their names, what will happen to the remaining 10 lakh people? Will they be allowed to remain in Assam?
If the answer is yes, why the state invested so much of its time, energy and tax payer's money on NRC? Congress followed a 'go slow' approach and BJP decided to take the controversial issue to its logical conclusion hoping this move will earn plaudits.
The strategy has boomeranged because it has antagonized even the Hindu community as a large chunk of them failed to make it to the final draft NRC.
Modi promised in 2014 that he will solve the problem of D-voters. Sadly, he has failed to deliver on this front. Around 1,200 families, including children are languishing in detention camps meant for D-voters. There is a misconception that Hindu Bengalis are only based in Barak Valley.
In many pockets of Brahmaputra Valley the Hindu Bengalis are going to play a very significant role. Can BJP woo them yet again in 2019?
The Grand Old party is now in a state of dilemma. Neither it can afford 'soft Hindutva', nor can it follow 'hardline Hindutva.' Congress can no longer claim to be the lone voice of the Muslims because Ajmal's AIUDF is a formidable political force in Assam.
The new entrant is Trinamool Congress (TMC). Mamata's sudden outburst against NRC is nothing but an attempt to corner Modi. The long and short of the tale is that all the parties are banking on citizenship bill to corner each other.
This has now become the narrative. The real issues are getting buried. The stage is set. The countdown for 2019 has begun. It's time for campaigning that will be done in poetry. What about governance? Of course it will be done in prose.
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