Assam atop a volcano!

Dr Devabrata Sharma

Assam is in turmoil once again. The fire ignited by the NRC imbroglio has not been extinguished as yet while CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) has added fuel to fire. People of Assam are up in arms against this divisive, fascist-communal bill, since it was enacted through legislation.

The CAA is an act which violates the very basis of Indian Constitution and, more importantly, the very basis of Indian Civilization. It kills the spirit of India by invoking the ghost of communalism and paving the way for one more partition of India on religious basis. That is why there has been a general awakening against it all over India, and more particularly Bengal, Delhi, Kerala and other states, apart from Assam.

However, while the people of India, more importantly its students and youths, are rising in unprecedented scale against this heinous bill/ act, Assam has other viewpoints about it.

For the Assamese, it is more a challenge to their Assamese identity, language, culture and their very existence. Hence their call to arms. But there are many in Assam (and elsewhere) for whom this movement against CAA has two levels; the one for secularism, the other for Assamese identity. However their opposition to CAA is marked by different admixtures; for some secularism is of prime importance; for others Assameseness.

The people of Assam, particularly those in the Brahmaputra Valley, are coming out in their lakhs for nearly a fortnight now. The magnitude, depth and reach of the movement surpasses even the Assam Movement of 1979-83 in its scale. When thousands upon thousands violated curfew and defied Indian army on 11/12/19, police barricades were put up everywhere. Young men and women fought pitched battles with the police and even para-military forces. Curfew was violated not only in Guwahati, but also at Jorhat, Tezpur and Dibrugarh.

Five young people have meanwhile laid down their lives. They belonged to five different communities; Deepanjal Das an Assamese Hindu, Sam Stafford, a Christian, Iswar Nayak, an Adibasi of Tea Garden, Dwijen Panging, a Mising tribal, and last, but not the least, Abdul Alim, a Miya Muslim. The social background of the five martyrs point out at the heterogenous components of Assamese nation-building process. As always, the old chauvinists are not paying heed to this heterogeniety and are again out to create an Assamese homogeniety. That is why the recognition of the five martyrs was not unequivocal and forceful as it should have been.

Unlike 1960 Assam official Language Movement, 1972 Assamese Medium of Instruction Movement and 1979-83 Anti Foreigners Movement, there has been no reports of major Assamese-Bengali riots or clashes. This shows the maturity of the people of Assam armed with the experiences of yester years. However against provocateurs are roaming around and possibilities of sabotaging activities cannot be ruled out.

It is true the protests escalated to militancy soon on the eve and aftermath of CAA legislation. People in their thousands gheraoed BJP & AGP MLAs, MPs, party leaders, ministers, broke down their windowpanes, threw stones and even burnt down parts of their residences. All the towns and even suburbs of Brahmaputra Valley, wore the looks of battle fronts with burning tyres and logs upon the main streets.

The rulers were quick to respond. They brought in the Army, imposed curfew in town after town, killed 5 youngmen, shot at many more, resorted to lathicharge and tear gas in countless places, closed down internet (it is nearly 10 days now!). More importantly they opted for divisive, communal politics, branding the militants as Muslims primarily, and/or Congress men secondarily. Conspiracy, to convert it into an Assamese-Bengali and/or a Hindu-Muslim conflict is still on. Not less important is the effort, from the ruling side itself, to project the AASU, the old chauvinist bandwagon, as the ONLY legitimate champion of the movement. The spontaneity of the movement is sought to be curbed down on one hand and to be channelised only through AASU on the other. The Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) led by Akhil Gogoi is being sidelined as he with few of his comrades are arrested by NIA.

The left are also in the movement, be it CPI, CPI(M), CPI(ML)-PCC or CPI(ML)-Liberation. But being organisationally weak, they are further ignored by the paid media. There is further danger of paying second fiddle to chauvinism if the left position of class politics, combined with basic stress on secularism cannot be made clear. Then they would be relegated to tailing behind the chauvinists. Some in the left seems to be scary of the possibility of getting isolated, segregated and targetted like the Assam Movement days. But that apprehension should not lead them to lose the distinctness of their politics.

The Bengalis of Assam are a divided lot. In Brahmaputra Valley they have come out against CAA, though sporadically and partially. But the number is increasing. In Barak Valley there are two trends: one is support to CAA and the other is opposition in it. However like their Assamese middle-classes are confined to the opposition to one another-language, jobs, opportunities being some of the issues involved. But contrary to the Bengal movement against CAA, Assam Bengalis are in double minds-one section still believes that the BJP would provide them with security vide CAA!

Neither the Bengalis, nor the Assamese have taken care to take into confidence the Adibasis (mostly tea garden labourers and ex-laboures) who comprise about 20% of the population. Any mass movement would not succeed without them. But the Gandhi-led freedom movement had shut them off from the struggle. The leaders of the anti-foreigners movement had ensured that the tea industry is not disturbed during the movement. The chauvinist camp among the CAA-leadership is also not expected to call upon the Adibasis to join the movement in a big way.

But, the Adibasis had joined the freedom movement inspite of Congress apathy towards them. They are joining this movement also in a big way. However, they have other agenda of their own, viz, Rs. 350/- daily wage and scheduling as tribals. It can be well expected that the rising consciousness of the Adibasis would pave the way for a solid class struggle imbued with their national consciousness.

It is important that the left takes note of the possibility of Adibasi tea workers rising in near future. All the left parties, from the CPM to CPI(ML)-PCC and CPI(ML) Liberation, are part of a joint action committee of trade unions and Adibasi organisations. So they are expected to strengthen that unity and emerge stronger from within the chaos surrounding CAA.

Not less important is the social force of Miya Muslims. Pushed to the corner of detention camps with humiliation and oppression, riots and massacres heaped upon them, the Miyas are also joining the movement in a big way. Apart from the Bengali Hindus, they are the worst sufferers of NRC. Muslims comprise about one third of the population of Assam while Miya Muslims alone are about one fourth of the population. Historically they have suffered the worst national suppression in Assam, losing thousands of lives in massacres and pogroms. No enterprise of building a broad democratic movement in Assam can succeed by shutting off this 1/4 to 1/3 population.

For a broad democratic movement against CAA to succeed there has to be a collective leadership. The one up manship demonstrated by the AASU leadership, suspected to be patronised by the ruling party itself, is bent upon excluding all other organisations, movements and peoples that are not homogenious to them.

The left, apart from remembering and reminding the Assamese-Bengali linguistic conflict begetted and nursed by the British since the 1820s, have to unite the Assamese and Bengali speakers. But that should not confine them to those communities alone. Numerically and class-wise, the Adibasis and Miya Muslims are quite important.

 Collective opposition to CAA by two prominent nationalities of Assam, the Assamese and the Bengali, and two most numerous and working-class communities, the Adibasis and Miya Muslims, may usher in the possibility of a widespread democratic movement. Whether or not the left is capable of uniting the people while standing for secularism and against fascist-communal divisive politics and for just national aspiration, would be tested in fire in the coming weeks and months.

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Vol. 52, No. 29, Jan 19 - 25, 2020