On Assam Election


Out of 9 seats that Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won in Assam, six are from Brahmaputra Valley, two from Barak valley and one from N C Hills Autonomous District Council. The center of gravity of anti-cab movement was upper Assam and the people with east-Pakistani origin in Barak Valley were emotionally attached with the pro-CAB policy, while affected people due to the complex NRC process and skewed tribunal process are mostly from Lower Assam. The bellicosity of a section of chauvinists, Jatiyatabadis and left nationalists to fight against the CAB without talking about the rights of the effected citizens who are mostly linguistic and religious minorities left enough space for the BJP to use CAB to fan communalism and chauvinism simultaneously. The communal and chauvinist psyche was pampered by meticulously designing the political discourse against illegal migrants targeting the Muslims and the grassroots cadres launched the campaign for an overarching Hindu unity surrounding the instrument of CAB with the simultaneous assurance of protecting Assamese language and culture by implementing certain provisions of Assam Accord, and thus the left nationalists, who were silent on the issue of blatant violations of human rights and unimagined harassment of citizens in the NRC and Tribunal process was sidelined. But this brand of politics was not very effective in lower Assam where the non-BJP parties performed well in the election. Another important factor that worked in favour of BJP in both Upper Assam and Barak valley was the almost total swing of tea-garden votes in favour of them. The congress despite having the presence of their union in tea-gardens failed to address the longstanding desire of the tea-workers for wage-hike and minimum wage. BJP with their two-pronged strategy could successfully win over the hearts of the Teagarden community. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Pracharak could instill a crude form of Hindu pride through their diverse forms of social activities launched by their tea-garden sakhas and BJP Government offered a meager one-time cash transfer scheme for each account-holder of Teagarden people.

But this is one part of the story. Assam is predominantly an agricultural and industrially backward state. But as the agricultural economy is in tatters and due to the dismantling of big industries like HPC and the shrinking of job avenues, there is a meteoric rise of internal and external migration of workers in the service sector. The opposition failed to address the vulnerable and precarious economic situation prevailing in Assam. BJP and Sangh Parivar could successfully resuscitate the suppressed ego of those precariats, who were uprooted from their community village life, with a sense of muscular national pride which was epitomized by Mr. Modi. The BJP could attract the middle-class people with a mixed bag of Hindu nationalist ideology and superficial development work like construction of Highways, urban roads, etc.

But it is important to note that the people of lower Assam rejected BJP's politics and voted overwhelmingly against Bodo chauvinism, minority bashing and harassment of citizens in the name of NRC and Tribunal process because various mass-organizations were involved in constantly organizing the protest movement against the Government policy of both state and centre and the people were disgruntled by the BTC rule. But their protest movements failed to transcend the geographical and community barrier for constructing a discourse against the Government policy on the citizenship question both at the centre and the state and to generate a sense of collective assertion to establish the rights of the people due to the overemphasis on the piecemeal solution of the Citizenship question. It is true that lower Assam has a concentration of Muslim minority population who voted overwhelmingly against the BJP, but without the votes of other communities including the Assamese speaking people, the victory of non-BJP parties would not have been possible when all the non-BJP opposition parties were pitted against each other. ooo

Vol. 51, No. 48, Jun 2 - 8, 2019