The Return of 'Foreigners'

The Supreme Court monitored exercise to identify genuine Indian citizens living in Assam has excluded 4 million people from the National Register of Citizens (NRC) draft list, triggering a political duel between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the motley crowd of Opposition including Congress. Now 4 million people are stateless and they are 'foreigners' again. Of the 4 million excluded people, 80-90 percent are Bengali-speaking Hindus and Muslims while the rest are Nepalis, Koch-Rajbongshis, Jharkhandi-Adivasis and some small tribes. Quite expectedly former Assam Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta who had spearheaded the six-year-long anti-foreigners agitation and was a signatory to the 'historic' Assam Accord, demanded immediate deportation of all people who came after March 24, 1971. It was a 'historic' day too for the present Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal and chauvinists of all shades, not excluding some segments of the left intelligentsia. For one thing Assam is the only Indian state, having an NRC which was first prepared in 1951.

NRC process was initially welcomed by all the communities when it was resumed under the supervision of Supreme Court in 2015 with a hope that this will end the branding of these settlers as 'illegal migrants' or 'infiltrators' and the routine harassment meted out to them. But they were disillusioned when Hindutva forces launched their well-crafted propaganda to stir the hornet's nest. The saffronites initially propagated the theory that more than one crore of Bengali Hindus from Bangladesh have migrated to India due to religious persecution in Bangladesh and out of these numbers at least 30-40% settled in Assam. They launched this campaign for religious polarisation in Assam and West Bengal and to fan Assamese linguistic sentiment. The Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his election campaign promised dismantling of all detention camps and abolition of D-category against a large section of Bengali Hindu voters and thus raised their expectation from him. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government at the centre brought the Citizenship Bill 2016 to assuage the Bengali Hindu sentiment which was turning against them for not fulfilling their election promise. They promulgated the Bill knowing it fully well that it won't pass the test of constitutional legality. A section of liberal intellectuals belonging to the camp of official left took up the same figure of migrants as propagated by the Hindutva forces and the Citizenship Bill to mobilise Assamese masses in the name of combating Hindutva design of Sangh Parivar. The Assamese chauvinist camp sided with these left liberals at the behest of the Sangh Parivar to gain ground and to snatch the initiative from the left liberals.

The chauvinist sub-nationalism in Assam has lost its grip over the masses due to change in rural peasant economy, emergence of large scale wage labourers, the transformation of new generation in middle class families to skilled labour serving the private capital, the existence of a small section of middle class deeply entrenched with finance capital as sub-contractors and petty suppliers due to involvement of MNCs and their Indian junior partners. But in this NRC process and due to political bankruptcy of official left in Assam, the discredited chauvinist forces regained some foothold within the masses by using the credibility of a section of left liberal intellectuals and the support from the state run by politicians with fascist ideology. No doubt the final draft of NRC has partially served the BJP's purpose of communal polarisation.

Both the communal-chauvinist forces and a section of left liberal forces in Assam are vociferous in appreciating the NRC process as sui generis. The criticism against the complex procedure and the heavily loaded and continuously changing rules and regulation because this entails harassment to the common masses was condemned as conspiracy of Bengali expansionism. This confusing inexplicable terminology is used to obscure the fact that the Bengalis in Assam have been margi-nalised long back in white collar job-market and in power sharing, and now the neo-liberal economic policy is constricting the space of job opportunities for all irrespective of language and religion. The extent of harassment can be fathomed by the number of suicides committed by Bengali speaking people during the NRC process.

The dominant section of Assamese intellectual class has really allowed the chauvinist-communalist combination to rule the roost with the direct backing of the state which is arrogating itself all the social space through coercive apparatuses. The so-called civil society is losing their relevance and parroting the institutionalised language. The left-based occupational organisations such as trade unions and peasant organisations are missing in both urban and rural Assam. The political hegemony on the masses is established and controlled by various socio-political, economic and ideological institutions. But these institutions are rapidly losing their credibility under pressure from neo-liberal policy drive. The toiling masses urgently need their own organisational institutions and this is the time, the left can once again rejuvenate itself by standing solidly behind the toiling masses for their democratic and citizenship rights.

The prevailing situation of lull is mainly because of the presence of armed forces especially in the minority belt and the administrative measures to contain people's collective voices. The silencing of voice of the distressed people by the show of armed power of the state is a threat to democracy.


Vol. 51, No.6, Aug 12 - 18, 2018