Citizenship Bill

An Open Letter to Hiren Gohain

Arup Baisya

We feel proud that a towering personality like Dr Hiren Gohain always intellectually leads the masses from the front in the fight to achieve their rights. He always highlights the angst and anxiety of the Assamese people for their fear of being outnumbered by other linguistic groups. To allay this fear, he proudly writes with a vengeance that he won't be satisfied if at least forty lakhs of immigrants are not detected and deported through the NRC process. Now it seems his lofty claim has augured well even within his adversary in the Assam Ministry. His adversarial Minister who is the master of packaging and repackaging the data to create a myth for social polarisation is now in pan-India campaign trail to pander his commander in Nagpur and is boastfully propagating that forty lac "Ghuspatias" have been caught and will be deported. His desire, one hopes, is not satiated—his own vocabulary has been hijacked by his adversary.

He is an octogenarian treasured with experience from the vicissitudes of the Assamese nationality movement in Assam. He has the wisdom gathered from the oeuvre of knowledge world. One feels elated when he warns the people of Assam about the danger of fascism. But one wonders how the fight against fascism at this critical juncture finds its objective power from the hinterland of Assam, as Marx famously compared the backward strata of the French peasantry as "sack of potatoes" in the Eighteenth Brumaire? Does the changing rural dynamics of Assam not have any ramification on the nationalist world view? Strangely, how he can allow the 'Jatiyadabadi Shibir' which upholds his intellectual prowess and guidance in great esteem to call a bandh on 8th January, the day of the general strike of working people. The diverse sections of the workers in informal sectors were preparing hard to organise the strike and Marx says that the individual worker transforms into class in their strike. The 'Jatiyadabadi shibir' hijacked the workers' programme to convert it into anti-citizenship bill Bandh. The nationalist agenda would have been better served had the Jatiyadabadis extended support to the workers' movement and appealed to incorporate the anti-bill demand in the workers' agenda. Is it not an attempt to snatch the initiative from workers and sideline them to be the silent spectator? This is the real diversionary tactic of class-deviation from working class to motley groups of Jatiyadabadis who vow to represent weak regional bourgeoisie and hedonistic middle class, but in reality, transform themselves into a clique, and this prepares the playing ground for the chauvinists, the closest ally of national communalists. This phenomenon is well reflected in Panchayat election and the same is going to be replicated probably in the forthcoming Parliamentary election. Those left-oriented Bengali people who have reposed their faith in his sagacity and his ability to turn and twist the Jatiyadabadi movement to bear the democratic content with a working-class bias was assiduously expecting his intervention in an opportune moment were flabbergasted to hear the Jatiyadabadi monologue. But still, when they heard that a sedition charge is framed against him, they were perturbed and condemned the Government no less than in unequivocal terms—but thought later what else they can expect from this Government.

But what this Jatiyadabadi Monologue, which is presently revolving around Citizenship Bill, is all about. When the bill was first introduced, it was categorically identified as an instrument of communal polarisation, and Sangh Parivar brought this Bill with a specific target to polarise West Bengal's social polity to get some dividend in the parliamentary hustings and the Sangh machinery in Assam was well oiled to face the collateral damage. Now the Government spokespersons are openly claiming that this Bill cannot give citizenship to Assam's Bengali Hindu migrants. But Assam's so-called 'Jatiyadabadi Shibir' thought it an opportune moment to up the ante against the Bill with an Anti-Bengali Hindu connotation to arouse the Assamese passion. The appeal from the so-called left-democratic circle to maintain restraint and not to attack Bengali-Hindus is merely a curtain over the real picture, the picture which is to be unveiled by the communal-chauvinist foot-soldiers active in the grass-roots. The harassment of migrant labourers in Kakopathar is a case in point and the stoic silence of the two social formations, one led by AASU and other by KMS, reveals the weakness of their nationalistic fervour. Dr Gohain often claims that Assam's economy cannot bear the burden of the migrants, but he never feels it necessary to cite any economic study in support of his claim. Actually, the majoritarian ego is hurt with an apprehension of becoming a minority in its own state and this Assamese psyche is always stereotypically played by the weak Assamese bourgeoisie and professional middle class to fan chauvinist passion. This is a version of 'closed history' which is incompatible with an 'open society'. In essence, it is no different from pan-Indian Hindutwa psychology. If the Assamese psyche has some relevance in the complex demographic contour of Assam, it is more due to the internal dynamics of Assamese nationality than the external factor of migration with an alien culture. Marx dealt with the migrant question once in 1870 on Irish migration in England. His discourse was focused on the impact of migration on wage and the division of the working class into two hostile camps. The nationalist left in Assam tacitly declared that they do not belong to a Marxist camp.

The language and nationality are not built in heaven, it is the embodiment of the social relations of production and the market forces. Assamese nationality movements always put the emphasis more against their imagined alien culture than against the pan-Indian centralised power backed by imperialist forces and this makes this movement amenable to be the junior partner of the Pan-Indian ruling class. The unity of diverse communities in Assam to avert the division within the emerging working class is beyond their future vision. Their tunnel vision dissuades them from going beyond the fascist version of history and getting involved in a dialectic movement which leads from the present to the past and from the past to the future. In this movement the past is not somewhere there, in its remote finality and 'closure,' but right 'here,' 'open' and situated between the present and the future.

So, this time also, the AGP, the only regional political formation, finds it convenient to make its political manoeuvrings within the realm of NDA partners, JD(U) being the ardent supporter of all the fascist agenda of BJP barring the Bill. The Siv Sena is the new entrant in this conglomerate. The BJP in power has the entire wherewithal to rejuvenate all their overt and covert players to initiate damage control in the event of the rejection of the Bill in the floor of the Rajyasabha. When the essence of a movement is inherently anti-migrants who invariably consist of toiling masses, it remains amenable to fall prey to the fascist design of fanning anti-muslim euphoria. It is amply clear that a fair NRC cannot exclude more than a very few lakhs of post-1971 migrants. It is surprising to note that Dr Hiren Gohain never demanded to undertake the procedure under article 4 to prepare NRC instead of article 4(A) which is responsible for unimagined harassment of the citizens and human rights violations. In a civilised society, the onus of proof of citizenship should lie with the Government. This democratic principle has been brazenly trampled in Assam in the post-IMDT milieu, but it is unfortunate that the nationalist left democratic forces have remained meek in raising their voice in favour of the democratic rights of the people.

Vol. 51, No.33, Feb 17 - 23, 2019