Lost opportunity to be regained

Arup Kumar Baisya

More than forty lacs people has been excluded from second and final draft of NRC. Out of these forty lacs, few lacs of people belong to linguistic groups like Nepali, Koch-Rajbongshis, Jharkhandi-Adivasi and small tribes, the rest overwhelming majority are Bengali Hindus and Muslims. From media reports, one can guesstimate that the 80-90% of the excluded people belongs to Bengali speaking Muslims or ‘Miya’ in local parlance and Dalits especially the Namasudras and good number of Kaivartas. This second deciphering of community pattern of those excluded is important because of the fact that these communities faced merciless chauvinist frenzy during the Assam movement. They were the most vulnerable section of poor and landless peasantry at the time of Assam Movement and now they constitute the overwhelming majority of daily wage earners.

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 have been disillusioned when Hindutwa forces launched their well-crafted propaganda to stir the hornets’ nest. Sangh 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 polarization in Assam and West Bengal and to fan Assamese linguistic sentiment. The PM 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 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 from Hindutwa camp and the Citizenship Bill to mobilize Assamese masses in the name of combating Hindutwa 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 have lost their 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 Indian compradors and finance from international Bank like ADB and World Bank, and the fatigue within the masses due to repeated and long drawn out failed and violent chauvinist experiments. 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 forces with fascist ideology. The Sangh Parivar was expecting that NRC could be manipulated through bureaucratic chicanery to exclude tens of lacs of Muslim masses, and thus politics of religious polarization and the forces of communal-chauvinist forces could be consolidated. The final draft of NRC has partially served the purpose of Sangh Parivar, lot more yet to be played out before the denouement.

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 marginalized 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 rapid proletarianisation and precaritarisation have given rise to an objective reality of unconscious unity among the toiling masses of diverse communities in their work-place. This objective reality could have been transformed into a real democratic struggle against centralization of power in Delhi, abolition of special status category, privatization of natural resources etcetera to ensure overall development and democratic nationalism. But the dominant section of Assamese intellectual class missed this opportunity, albeit for the time being, and treaded the path to facilitate the chauvinist forces to regain their foothold within the disgruntled masses. They allowed the chauvinist-communalist combination to rule the roost with the direct backing of the state which is arrogating all the social space through coercive apparatuses. The so called civil society is losing their relevance and parroting the institutionalized language. What we presently observe in the rural landscape of Assam is to a great extent similar to the Myron Weiner’s pregnant observations of West Bengal in his survey done in 1959. The left-based occupational organizations such as unions and peasant organizations 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 organizational institutions and this is the time, left can once again rejuvenate them by standing solidly behind the toiling masses for their democratic and citizenship rights.

It is necessary sometimes to take one step backward to take two steps forward. The people with all their angst and anger are terrified and leaderless. The state is flexing their armed muscle to terrify the masses especially the much ostracized minorities. The left and democrats must show their courage to demand to consider 2014 voter list as one of the valid document for NRC updating process for these 4007071 people who have been excluded from final draft. The 1997 voter list has been revised on the basis of Assam Accord and 1971 as cut-off year to prepare 2014 voter list after verification of documents.

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 jubilation and the mood of festivity in the chauvinist camp in front of the pitfalls of the wretched of the earth in this land of Assam reveal the civilisational crisis. The silencing of voice of the distressed people by the show of armed power of the state is a threat to democracy.      

Aug 03, 2018

Arup Kumar Baisya [email protected]

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