A Leftist Perspective

Assam–Unity and Conflict

Arup Baisya

The unionised working class in large industries and organisations was almost completely dismantled through structural adjustment programme of neo-liberal economic policy by 1990s and thus the objective foundation of left politics weakened. The Soviet Russia collapsed in 1989 and with this the socialist dream for a soviet-styled economic model also collapsed. The effect of these two-fold historical changes caused the retreat of the left from world politics. The world-wide rise of identity movement under the leadership of bourgeois section of the diverse identities pushed the defeated working class into backstage and the working class movement became contingent to the identity movement. But along with the neo-liberal economy reaching to its dead end the identity movement under the leadership of petty and proto bourgeoisie is also reaching to cul de sac. The rising protest of the large section of the populace who are ostracised and excluded is gradually taking a working class dimension. From the occupy wall street movement post sub-prime crisis and the present Gilets Jaunes or Yellow Vests movement in France and its reverberation throughout Europe reveal the participation of the new working class as a dominant force.

The history of capitalism reveals that the uneven development is ingrained in capitalist economy. The backwardness of Assam is hinged on its backward productive forces in agricultural rural economy. Assam's agricultural economy is mostly a small peasant economy and the small peasants are Raiyats directly under the state Government, but the patriarchal peasant could not be transformed into bourgeois peasant mainly because of the failure of the peasant movement in seventies to understand the political aspect of the movement for a radical democratic restructuring of the state. Due to the ignorance and prejudice of the peasant masses, they were swayed by the chauvinist movement led by rural petty bourgeoisie and regional proto bourgeoisie in late seventies and early eighties. The last year's economic survey revealed that Assam is the least irrigated state and the Government report said that state is likely to be hotter by 2.2 degree centigrade and extreme rainfall, drought and more floods by 2050. The report says that observations indicate that over the last 60 years (1951 to 2010), the annual mean temperature in the state has increased by 0.59 degree centri-grade and annual rainfall has decreased by 2.96 mm every year. The report has warned of more frequent and severe floods, higher losses and damage in the forestry sector, and increasing freshwater scarcity. It also points out that the effects of such drastic climate change will be felt most strongly by the poor. It indicates the skewed development model that being followed in a backward state like Assam.

The final defeat of the peasant movement in late seventies sealed the fate of Assam's agricultural economy and hindered the development of agricultural economy to follow the peasant capitalist path. Due to the penetration of the finance capital into the rural economy during the neoliberal phase of development and simultaneous withdrawal of the Government expenditure in agricultural development promoted the cash-crop production for private agri-business in limited scale and ruined the small farmer economy. And this turned the majority of the rural population into wage workers who participate in the developmental activity under the tutelage of global capital—the reserve army of labour thus produced through displacement tries their luck as migrant workers within and outside the state. This phenomenon is most prominent in lower Assam than in Upper Assam.

Within a short period of time after BJP's coming to power in both the state and centre, this new working class had been disillusioned and started losing faith not only in the ruling party but also in the state institutions. Assam was witnessing strikes and demonstrations by the diverse section of the working class including the modern and mental workers frequently, and the media was agog with the reports of police action against the demonstrators in state's power centre in Dispur. Instead of theoretical and programmatic endeavour to transform the reformist agenda of the working class into a political battle, the Assamese section of all variants of left in Assam barring few exceptions along with petty bourgeois democrats have sided with the chauvinist camp this time while the dissident voices were muted and thus betrayed the cause of working class emancipation for a democratic struggle. The BJP and Sangh Parivar acted as hobgoblin to use the NRC process to orchestrate state sponsored violence against the minorities. The phantasmagoria of the revisionist left-nationalists are built around their oft-repeated renderings like "Assamese language and culture are at stake due to the burden of the migrants", "Save Assam from being Tripura or Kashmir" and this diabolical political discourse were designed to hit the Achilles heels in Assam's socio-polity to widen the rift between the working class belonging to diverse communities. This vulnerability on linguistic fault-lines has been inherited from colonial legacy which disrupted the assimilation through social interaction and autonomous development of social relation of production. British colonial power did this to ensure their administrative control over the vast expanse of natural resources for their loot and plunder. The post-independence Assamese regional ruling class in tow with national big bourgeoisie has been treading the same path of disruption by their majoritarian politics of coercion with similar economic interest. The reproduction of social metabolism is controlled through unchanged property relations. It was inevitable because the essence of the historical continuity of the state is to forcefully protect the decision making power of the ruling class with all its might at its disposal—the 1947 marked the discontinuity by replacing the colonial power with Indian comprador big bourgeois-landlord ruling class who shared power with regional bourgeois or proto bourgeois class as junior partner.

The left-liberal nationalist created an aporia over their role on exclusionary politics by not opposing the divisive politics swaddled in categorising the citizens as original-inhabitants (OI) and non-original inhabitants (NOI) in NRC process. The feeble voice of protest from the left-liberal nationalist circle against the administrative harassment and tribunal process for D-voters that caused many suicides and pauperisation of the citizens instilled a sense of distrust in the minds of the linguistically and religiously ostracised minority communities. Thus these nationalists got trapped in overarching fascist design of the Sangh. They did not take stand against the dismantling of the democratic content of the citizenship act 1955 and never demanded to restore the civilisational norms of 'citizenship by birth' which was withdrawn by BJP regime in 2003 and thus their message against the unconstitutional citizenship Bill was mired with anti-minoritism anti-immigrant biases. This was inevitable because the democratic identity movement cannot be built on the class-power of bourgeoisie who are deeply entrenched in global capitalist chain, it must be built under the working class leadership in this era of imperialism. Under any circumstances, the unity of working class must be the yardstick to ensure the victory of any democratic movement. The anti-bill movement has lost the plot because they were theoretically playing at the hands of the fascists who were bent on using this bill as a tool for religious polarisation, neither for providing citizenship to Bengali Hindu Dalit migrants nor for settling the Hindus from Bangladesh in Assam. During this anti-Bill movement, Buddhist Chakmas in Mizoram, the Bengali Hindus in Assam and Meghalaya were apprehensive of chauvinist attack, Muslims apprehended that this might be turned against them any time by the anti-muslim chauvinist camp within the movement, and in its continuation, the chauvinist demand of withdrawal of the policy of giving PRC to Assamese indigenous tribes got momentum in Arunachal Pradesh under the leadership of the constituent of anti-bill nationalist conglomerate. The possibility of building resistance movement against the fascists by ensuring the working class unity and upholding federalism has been lost. But has the objective reality changed? Has the working class shed their demand and postponed the agitation once and for all. Can the democratic aspiration of the Assamese middle class be revived?

The answers to the first two questions are in negative and third one is affirmative. Because nothing has changed structurally, the defeat of anti-Bill movement was ingrained in the ideological plank, and the apparent camp division within the communal and chauvinist forces has now vanished. The defeat of the working class for a democratic movement is due to the ideological bankruptcy of the left and liberal camp. This working class can rise again soon with their protest and demonstration and hoist the flag of democracy for building resistance if the left and liberal can do the course correction. What are those corrective measures?

Firstly, and must categorically say that people have accepted the year 1971 as a cut off year in the specific context of Assam to establish peace within various communities at a tumultuous time. People must categorically oppose the division of citizens on the pretext of original and non-original and uphold the democratic and civilisational criteria of providing citizenship by birth. People must demand that all the voters of 2014 voter-list should be prima facie considered as citizens. Let the state prove it otherwise. It's a blot on democracy where citizens are divided on the basis of original and non-original, the essence of which is similar to the fascist design to divide the citizens on religious line. Will the state be held accountable for the suicide of more than forty people and pauperisation of hundreds of families through skewed Tribunal process, harassment during on-going NRC process and dehumanisation of the human being through D-voters and detention camp? It is indeed a more potent fascistic behaviour of state than the citizenship bill with religious connotation.

Secondly, the idea of resolving the aspiration of the Assamese identity to remain as a dominant linguistic nationality in the state of Assam with the help of state power and state machinery is undemocratic and chauvinistic. The social interaction within the realm of social relation of production can only ensure the democratic path of flourishing of the Assamese language and the building of Assamese nationality. The centralisation of power in Delhi hinders the smooth transformation of the social relation of production to facilitate expansion of Assamese language and culture through social interaction. The social polity of Assam is in the midst of an intense contradiction between forces of modernisation and antediluvian forces. But the Assamese regional bourgeoisie and the middle class prefer to surrender to the forces of centralisation and to resolve the linguistic aspiration through coercion of other linguistic groups. This chauvinist mindset which was visible during the anti-Bill agitation of the left nationalists needs to be changed and for that, the broadest possible united front of all democratic forces must be formed on the common agenda on citizen's rights, democracy and federalism. It is unfortunate that the Assamese nationalists thought it more urgent to fight against the migration than the withdrawal of special status category of Assam by the centre.

Vol. 51, No. 40, Apr 7 - 13, 2019