‘‘Citizenship Question and Assam Politics’’

Hiren Gohain

This has refternce to Arup Baisya's article [in Jan 28-Feb 3, 2018 Issue of Frontier] "Citizenship Question and Assam Politics". Well, it gives wrong information on many vital points and fails to grasp the extremely complicated and explosive nature of the subject he is dealing with. No wonder he makes the outlandish claim that I have become the "cementing force of chauvinist groups".

For his information and that of readers I have recently been the target of at least two major hate campaigns on TV social media and press by Hindu chauvinists. These two camps are united on the issue of Demonising Muslims. Whereas people like us have spent our lives in fighting for justice to genuine Muslim citizens who number several millions. The NRC had originally been the only mutually acceptable instrument for peace and harmony between the native Assamese and the Muslim immigrants from Bengal under British encouragement, then East Pakistan and later Bangladesh. While signed in 1985 between Govt. of India and leaders of the stormy Assam Movement, the Muslims of immigrant origin fought it tooth and nail for 15 long years, until they realised dogmatic obstinacy would only push them deeper into a bloody morass. Under Centre's diabolic plans they were also becoming victims of tribal militancy massacring up to a hundred people at one go. The atmosphere of vicious hate, dark fears and blind mutual slaughter is something he could hardly have known as he must have been a little child then. Owing to untiring efforts of civil society groups, certain Muslim clerics and public intellectuals, peace among mutually hostile and warring groups was at last established in early nineties of the last century. All groups agreed that a National Register of Citizens, NRC, should be prepared on the basis of such a list drawn up during the 1951 census. To prevent serious injustice and harassment the cut-off date was made 25 March 1971.

What is disturbing is Baisya's apathy towards BJP's grand design, the fabrication of Hindu Rashtra. The immediate gain is garnering Hindu votes by playing on Bengali Hindu hopes and fears. They are not averse to starting riots before or after elections to bring about polarisation on purely communal lines. The majority of native Assamese are not in favour of such communal conflict today. Hence, apart from some fringe groups a rabid anti-Muslim sentiment has not gained ground though RSS forces are sparing no pains to lay its foundations here. Our efforts to keep immigrant Muslims and native Assamese together is meant to prevent communal fires from engulfing all. I fear Congress will not intervene in such a situation out of same electoral calculations.

As for his dismissive attitude towards Assamese 'little nationalism' he follows the unfortunate lead of Dr Amalendu Guha, whose otherwise excellent work Planter Raj To Swaraj I had reviewed in EPW in 1978. In commending that work I had mentioned this as a serious flaw. He did change the tone considerably in later editions. It must be understood that the use of the term 'little' in this case does not imply illegitimacy or futility. Guha had valorised big Indian chauvinism unconsciously by scorning Assamese 'nationalism' as petty bourgeois pipe-dream. Even the ordinary Assamese masses would not agree with him. It has been the product of historic struggles though it has been cleverly diverted from time to time by collusion between Indian big bourgeosie and Assamese leadership. It is now known, thanks to Rajat Shetty's book, that the RSS had infiltrated the Assam Movement and given it a vicious anti-Muslim turn. Assamese 'little nationalism' represents the aspirations of an unjustly thwarted weak nationality.

There is hardly any point in ignoring the basically democratic aspirations or allowing it to go astray. Why help it morph into an arm of Hindu Rashtra?

Baisya again wrongly stated that I had first echoed Guha's line and have now turned right about. I was the first writer to have warned against its chauvinist and fascist tendencies in a national organ, way back in EPW in 1980. ("Cudgel of Chauvinism", January 1980, EPW) By 1982 I had revised my views and become aware of suppressed democratic elements in it. A mechanical class analysis cannot do justice to it. Today I am putting in a lot of work to maintain peace and amity among communities with my colleagues in civil society.

People outside Assam are being falsely persuaded that the resistance to Hindu Bangladeshis being dumped on Assam in lakhs, may be as many as 30 lakhs and above, is fuelled by chauvinism (Bangladesh census figures of last thirty years, or so shows a startling fall in number and proportion of Hindus and not all of it because of persecution). What right does anyone have to threaten the very existence of small native communities by dumping outsiders in such immense numbers by wielding state power? Why should the Assamese and indigenous people pay for the sheer negligence and incompetence of the Indian state which fails to protect the interests of minorities in neighbouring countries and protect the borders of the country? If the state is so ardent to play host to such so-called refugees, first let it settle them in other developed States where they pose no threat to local interests. Humanitarianism must not mean sniffing out local identities with an historic past.

Lastly, Baisya should not be allowed to get away with the innuendo that we oppose all Bengalis. Assam accord guarantees the rights of all citizens prior to 1971, irrespective of language and religion. Even some native Bengalis realise this and have spoken against this planned inundation of Assam by aliens. This looms over the natives of Assam like towering high dams that might sweep them away under a vast surge of water. 

Vol. 50, No.39, Apr 1 - 7, 2018