Amid the surging numbers of the deadly double-mutant coronavirus cases across the country, all eyes are now set on May 2, 2021. Heated discussions on the elections in West Bengal in national TV and numerous online portals and social media platforms have already given the much-needed boost to our adrenaline rush in these trying times. The abduction case of three ONGC officials in Assam by the ULFA (I) is yet to be resolved, with one of the abducted still remaining untraced. The complicity of a number of persons in the abduction, from surrendered militants to police personnel, has been revealed by now. As oil companies are known to dish out huge amounts of ransom to secure the release of their abducted employees, the nexus behind these abductions evidently points to the involvement of some overground elements. These are the same elements who have continuously kept whining about the case of loss-making PSUs in Assam being privatised and the BJP being a party of big businesses.
In fact, the spurt in several cases of abductions in Assam preceding the Assembly Elections of 2021, is a really disturbing development. It has made a mockery of the law and order situation of the state, more so at a time when all the militant outfits except the ULFA (I) have entered into negotiated peace settlements with the Government.
Such abductions have also sent out a wrong signal to prospective investors about the state being an unsafe place to do business. With the Assembly Election results all set to be declared on May 2, the perpetrators behind these criminal activities want to project Assam as a state of poor internal security having no law and order in place. The Bengal election results are going to be of crucial importance not only for the future of this country and Bengal itself, but also from the point of view of its neighbouring state of Assam, especially Lower Assam that borders the eight sensitive districts of North Bengal. During my field-visits in Nalbari and Barpeta districts of Lower Assam which I had undertaken to collect data for my doctoral dissertation, I was taken aback after having come to know the machinations of Islam and its successes in making gradual inroads here via North Bengal and Bangladesh over several years. A person who has been born and brought up in Upper Assam or even Guwahati city cannot even fathom the sad plight of the Hindus of Lower Assam in the present-day scenario.
It is a hopeless situation, unless a clean, error-free delimitation exercise takes place here in the near future. The demographic change in this part of Assam has been made possible not just through the blessings of the previous political establishments at both the Centre and the state, but also by a network of highly influential media-barons, activists and intellectuals sitting in their posh and swanky office spaces in colleges and universities, think-tanks, etc. While their so-called “research” and “academic” papers have focussed upon issues such as dignity, and the rights to life and livelihood of the D-voters of Assam (largely Muslims) in the detention camps post the NRC exercise, nowhere a mention has been made of the Hindus from places like Barpeta and Mankachar and their precarious daily battle for survival and security. Perhaps this is exactly the way in which hypocrisy, disguised as professionalism, has been legalised by the academia in India and elsewhere too.
Correctly so, the State Legislative Assembly Elections of 2021 seem to have become the last playing-field of this Hindu-hating cabal to capture Dispur and overthrow the ruling BJP by whatever means they could adopt. Jailed “peasant activist” Akhil Gogoi recently wrote an open letter in which he narrated the formation of the Raijor Dal as a political front to uproot the “Jaatidrohi” (as referred by Mr. Gogoi in the letter) BJP from power. He went on to describe several incidents with a few bigwigs of the Congress Party and the AIUDF, which, he said, stood as an obstacle in the fulfilment of his political aspirations for the establishment of a common and united front against the BJP. As usual, the subtle card of victimhood politics that has always been played by Mr. Gogoi to garner sympathy, is something which is not to be missed. He mentioned that even after having been cured of COVID-19 last year, he continues to undergo treatment in a small, dingy room at the Guwahati Medical College and Hospital (GMCH) for several “critical illnesses”. Now what are these “critical illnesses” from which Mr. Gogoi seem to be suffering every time he is put behind the bars, seek a genuine answer.
It is quite interesting to take note of the fact that nowhere in his letter did Akhil Gogoi lament over the fact that there has been an alarming increase in the incidences of different crimes, including abductions, which have emerged as a cause of disquieting concern in the state of late. It is an open secret that surrendered ULFA militants in Assam are a part of several unholy business syndicates, often resorting to intimidation, abduction and violence to hold on to their dominance.
Both the Asom Jatiya Parishad and the Raijor Dal may at best get 4-5 seats, which is again very much unlikely. The voting preferences are decided by the voters, not what a few elite psephologists and political analysts in this country want them to be to suit their own partisan agenda. The BJP and its allies are likely to come back to power for a second term in Assam, and this is what has been irritating the new “regionalists” of Assam the most. But it has also become almost sure that the AGP will no longer be able to retain its former strength of 14 MLAs nor will the BPF or its successor UPPL occupy all the 12 seats it held in the last Assembly of 2016. However, in case of a close electoral battle, the seats in the Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR) will prove to be crucial in the formation of the next Government. Hence, both the BJP-led alliance and the Congress-led Mahajot (Grand Alliance) are laying much emphasis on the constituencies of the area.
Considering the importance of the seats in the BTR area, both PM Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah addressed two election rallies each in the area, while many of the grand alliance leaders also frequented the area on the eve of the elections.
The total tally of the regional parties, irrespective of their political hues, will not go beyond 15 seats this time. Hence, the Assembly Election results of 2021 are going to herald a significant change in the politics of regionalism in Assam. In the years to come, regionalism may just fade out forever. But considering the previous political history of the state and the ever-changing political dynamics, it may also come back with a renewed vigour in the 2026 Assembly Elections. If we take a leaf out of the recently concluded Tripura Tribal Council Elections, the latter seems highly likely. But from the ideological point of view, the BJP is already quite well-prepared to tackle any such development in the future. So, the containment of any tide of regionalism is going to be an omnipresent but unseen line of action of the forthcoming BJP Government in the state, consolidating the image of the Assam BJP as a national party with a regional face further. The ‘Nation First’ policies with a special emphasis on the security and connectivity of the North-East with other regions of the country will continue to occupy their own place of importance, and will be implemented vigorously in the years to come.
PM Narendra Modi will continue to take active interest in the affairs of the state and the region, especially with the 2024 Parliamentary elections in view. Foremost priority shall also be given to re-invigorating the Hindu cultural roots of this ancient land of Pragjyotishpur and Ma Kamakhya. Several initiatives in this direction are expected to become an active component of the state’s policy in Assam in the years to come.
Hopefully, morning prayers in school assemblies (with which the schools began till the 1970s) will come back where the chants of Tumi chitta britti moro would continue to reverberate in the air again. If this happens, it would strike a severe blow to the hypocrisy of secularism that loves to romanticise Assam as the land of Sankar-Ajan glossing over certain bitter truths that Hindus in places like Assam and Bengal cannot afford to forget. The next BJP Government should also seriously consider introducing a separate subject on culture studies both at the school and college/university levels that shall deal with the history, geography, festivals, culture and traditions of the state, along with the compulsory teaching of a local language (not necessarily Assamese, but a language which is widely spoken in the area in question). The life and teachings of Srimanta Sankardeva and Madhavdeva, and the religious and cultural sites of importance associated with these two most prominent Gurus of the Assamese Hindus, are also expected to get a fresh lease of life.
Coming to the alliance between the Congress and the AIUDF, it will be interesting to see how this relationship works out in the coming days after the declaration of the results on May 2. Up to a large extent, this is going to be dependent on which political front eventually emerges as the dominant partner. If it so happens that the Congress Party is relegated to the background, it will be difficult for them to keep the association alive for a long time. Recently, the Party had summoned all its poll candidates to a private resort at Sonapur on the outskirts of Guwahati city, where they are likely being kept incommunicado till May 2. This has been done in order to prevent any bid at what they have called ‘poaching/’horse-trading’ by the ruling BJP. However, top party leaders said that the candidates were brought together under one roof as a part of an ‘orientation exercise’. Earlier, 18 out of the 20 AIUDF candidates who contested the just concluded polls were flown to Congress-ruled Rajasthan by a chartered flight. An official statement by the party said that it wanted to keep its candidates cocooned at a place which is out of bounds for the ‘horse-traders’. Sadly, the name of an innocent animal whose loyalty towards its master is unquestionable, is now being used to describe the turncoats who are making a mockery of Indian democracy.
Such an action on the part of the AIUDF clearly indicates that the party leadership does not have confidence on the loyalty of its candidates who, it feels, may switch sides for monetary consideration. The Congress, the AIUDF, the BPF and the Left parties are all constituent partners of the opposition ‘Grand Alliance’. It is noteworthy that the BPF’s Tamulpur seat nominee, Rangja Khungur Basumatary, had created a sensation by joining the BJP ahead of the third phase of the elections on April 6. Horse-trading in Indian politics is not any party or state/region-specific. Given a chance, all the political parties without giving any due consideration to morality and ethics, are ready to indulge in it to win the battle of thrones. The fact that ideology has no meaning for a significant section of our elected lawmakers becomes evident from the fact that they are ready to switch parties if it suits their own petty interests. A basic minimum sense of humility that is required to respect the emotions with which people come out and vote seems to have been lost as a result of the increasing numbers of political defections.
While it may be true that the Congress has resurrected itself from the dead end of the tunnel by entering into an alliance with Ajmal and the Left Parties as well, but it will have to go through an arduous exercise of finding out its major constituents – the Bengali-speaking migrant Muslims, the Assamese Muslims, the Ahoms, the other five communities in the state awaiting a constitutional ST status, the tea garden community, the Hindu Bengalis, the Hindi speakers of Marwaris and Biharis, or even the other Assamese speakers. It must be clearly understood by now that success in Indian elections translates itself as the backing provided by a sizeable chunk of a block vote, irrespective of the party. This means working out a marriage of groups or one single bulk vote that stands solidly behind the party to ensure that it passes through the rough waters without having to bear much pain.
In this sense, if the Congress Party does not want to be subsumed by the AIUDF, it definitely has a big task ahead for itself. It is because of the fact that India’s Grand Old Party has already been reduced to one constituency-one leader situation, with only a token leadership among rivals to the throne. In Assam, a Congress leader today only happens to be a leader in his own constituency, hardly elsewhere. On the other hand, the support base of the AIUDF still continues to be limited to the migrant Muslims. While one section of the party wants that the traditional Deobandi prescriptions are kept intact in order for it to maintain its orthodox Islamic character focusing only on Masjids and Madrassas, there is another section within the AIUDF which talks about bringing the immigrant Muslim youth out from the clutches of orthodoxy into a modern scientific temper. Hence, it is in the face of a cultural dilemma of whether to give a boost to the process of Assam-ization of the migrant Muslims or keep them rooted through the All Assam Minority Students’ Union (AAMSU) to their East Bengali cultural traditions. The East Bengal-origin migrant Muslim youth still learn Assamese only as a language of convenience and opportunities.
On the question of the updating exercise of the humungous National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, the ruling BJP does not boast of an impressive record at all. It has now hit a roadblock with the Registrar General of India (RGI) turning down a request of the Government of Assam to continue financial support for the completion of the remaining work. But the RGI has taken a strong exception to the “inordinate delay” in completing the entire exercise, stating that the time and cost for completing the pending work and winding up the project had not been explained in the proposal by the State Government. Such developments related to the NRC have put the State Government in a poor light, as it has failed to exhibit the required pro-active stance in carrying forward the updating exercise to its logical conclusion within a reasonable time-frame.
Without further funding and logistical support, the exercise of updating the NRC is unlikely to be completed. The State Government needs to take up this issue with the Centre at the earliest after the formation of the new Government. However, in a quite curious turn of the events and reasons best known to them, both the State Government and the Centre seem to have somehow lost interest in completing the long-pending work of the NRC. With several sections of the larger Assamese community voicing their displeasure time and again with the final NRC findings (according to them, the number of illegal Muslim migrants detected in the NRC fell well short of their projected conjecture), the future course of action vis-à-vis the completion of the NRC now hangs in a limbo. The Supreme Court itself had closely monitored the updating process.
It was expected that an updated NRC would settle the vexed issue once and for all. In any case, the pending work on the NRC must be completed, even if it amounts to extending the deadline, for it is a matter of vital national interest with long-term implications for Assam. The Hindus in several districts of Lower Assam today are on the verge of losing their majority status in their own state, thanks to unabated cross-border infiltration of Bengali-speaking Muslim migrants over the decades, coupled with their abnormal growth rate. The Centre can no longer evade its responsibility of completing the NRC updating process and in no way, can the Government shirk its responsibility by presenting a half-completed NRC to the people of Assam.
When the 2016 election results were announced, the NDA alliance managed to win 38 out of 47 seats in Upper Assam, a BJP-AGP stronghold. Whereas, in comparison, the Congress managed to win only 6, the AIUDF won 2 and another seat was won by an Independent candidate. This was when the Congress Party was facing the heat of 15 years of anti-incumbency in the state, the popularity of Narendra Modi was at its peak, one of the most charismatic and resourceful leaders of the Congress, i.e. Himanta Biswa Sarma had jumped ship and joined the BJP, the AIUDF and the Congress fought separately, while the BJP cobbled together a strong rainbow coalition with the AGP and the BPF. Fast forward to 2021, the BJP is still ahead of its opponents and the NDA is expected to bag the maximum number of seats in Upper Assam this time too. But at this stage, it cannot be said with confidence whether it will be a complete sweep as they were claiming in public or as they had initially hoped for. The hard fact which has been accepted even by the top leadership of the party is that it is going to lose a large chunk of the seats to the Mahajot in the Muslim-majority areas, which went to the polls mostly during the second and the third phases.
The alliance between the Congress and the AIUDF has resulted in a consolidation of their voter bases which will deny the NDA a win in many of their sitting constituencies. A case in point here may be the seat of Sorbhog in Barpeta district of Lower Assam, where the sitting MLA is Ranjeet Dass, the State President of the BJP. The arithmetic of the alliance is so strong that Dass had to eventually abandon his current seat for the fear of losing and instead shift to a safer seat of Patacharkuchi. While their ally AGP has a sitting MLA there, the BJP managed to convince them in giving up that seat for their State President. Similar trajectories are most likely to haunt the ruling establishment in many seats of the Barak Valley and Lower Assam, which makes it an absolute necessity for the NDA alliance to win at least 35+ seats out of 47 in the first phase. Only then can they be comfortably ahead in forming the Government at Dispur post May 2.
Image Source: Zee News
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