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Assam’s election war 2021

By The Assam Tribune
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Swapnanil Barua

Cash grants without addressing a specific deficit amongst the BPL beneficiaries is a squander of public money. The Congress is silent on what it proposes for the culture and security of the Assamese speakers in its five guarantees. However, the Congress making a political presence in the recent times is an achievement in itself.

It may be a calculated decision not to end the forthcoming polls on All Fools’ Day, but most voters feel that elections continue to be a game of fooling the people repeated every five years, till perhaps the day of ‘you can’t fool all people for all times’ actually happens. The results too will come on another kind of May Day, perhaps as a distress signal given in wireless signalling, which is also called Mayday. Assam is all set to go to the poll process in the coming weeks as the 126 playfields get divided amongst the five groups of teams – the Assamese speakers, the non-Assamese speakers, the hills and plains tribes, the migrant Muslims and the tea tribes. In the non-Assamese speakers, the Bengali Hindus, the Hindi speakers and the Gorkhas form the sub-groups. In the 126 constituencies, tea tribes hold sway over 30 constituencies, the migrant Muslims over 30, the hills tribes over 5, the plains tribes over 17, the Hindu Bengali over 7, the Gorkhas over 2, Hindi speakers over 2, leaving the rest 33 to the Assamese speakers. The contesting teams in the tea group is the BJP and the Congress, in the Muslim Migrants group it is the Congress-AIUDF combine versus AGP-BJP combine, in the Hills it is the BJP versus the Congress, in the plains tribal constituencies, it is the BJP versus the BPF-Congress combine in the 12 Bodoland seats and the BJP versus Congress in the rest. In the non-Assamese speakers’ group, it will be the BJP versus the Congress. It’s only in the Assamese seats that the constituencies will see triangular fights between the AGP-BJP combine, the Congress and the regional parties.

The forthcoming Assembly polls will see the rapid slide of the control of the Assamese speakers in the political affairs of the State. This decline began in 1972 elections when Muslim migrant and tea tribes’ candidates began filling up the seats where they had numerical superiority, driving out the Assamese candidates who had represented them since the 1952 elections. While the constituencies with significant tea tribes population may see a few Assamese speakers getting elected this election, it will perhaps be the last time when Assamese speakers will represent the tea tribes in the Assam Assembly. This will mean that Assamese speakers will lose political control over Upper and Northern Assam. In the 30-odd migrant Muslim seats, their own people will be representing the constituents in the State Assembly, indicating a maturity of democracy. The loss of political power for the Assamese in Middle and Lower Assam will be complete in this election. Of the 46 seats at stake on the third phase of the elections on April 6, Assamese speakers and tribals can hardly expect more than 20 seats, the majority going to the migrant Muslims. Whether the results of the forthcoming elections will confirm the death of Assamese hegemony over the political affairs of Assam will be known a day after the warnings of another mayday as flashed by both the BJP and the regional parties in their own ways – the economic control having been lost much earlier.

On the poll issues front, the BJP is rattling its sabres to protect the 61% Hindu population of the State against the ever-increasing assault of the migrant Muslims and Christian proselytising among the tribals and the tea tribes. It is also trying to increase the Hindu population by regularizing the Hindu refugees through the CAA. The BJP is also proffering a sub-plot of protecting indigenous culture and its institutions in its cultural war against the predominantly Muslim migrants, who educate themselves in Assamese but maintain the cultural habits of their country/ province of origin, despite staying in Assam for the last 120 years and more. The results of the 2021 census will confirm if the Muslim population in Assam is increasing on a percentage basis against the Hindu population of the State, but the fear remains. This battle of BJP is seen by some as promoting a religious divide and being anti-secular, while all agree that Muslim migration has led to a demographic change of the State, endangering the indigenous. The battle against the migrant Muslims has failed in the NRC exercise after having failed earlier through the PIP scheme of the Chaliha Government in the 1960s and the Assam Agitation of the early 1980s. In fact the meek surrender in signing the Assam Accord led to Assam accepting 1971 as the cut-off year for regularization of illegal migrants while it remained 1951 in other States of the country. The political safeguards of Clause VI is a non-starter as it paves the way for the Hindu camp to be divided into indigenous and non- indigenous groups, thereby weakening the group. The BJP cannot afford a chink in the armour at this stage in the battle against Muslim and Christian expansionism. In the Hindu group, the race relations between the Assamese speakers and the tribals are at best cordial, the tribals thwarting all attempts to subsume themselves into the larger Assamese identity. Further if the BJP can keep its hold over Assam, it can have a foot in the Northeast and also prevent the areas of Central Bengal covering 100 Assembly constituencies becoming hotbeds of Islamic radicalism. With the Chinese eyeing the Northeast and the Bay of Bengal seas hawkishly, the Northeast gets an increased consideration in the national security scenario. The interest shown by the Prime Minister with his frequent visits and also the visits of senior Central ministers are a covert expression of their concern. If India has to be saved, Assam and Bengal elections have to be won – that is what the BJP is proffering as of now. In Assam regionalism matters and therefore the AGP and UPPL have been roped in to give a local face and partnership to further the long-term goals of checking Islamic radicalization and Christian proselytising.

Against this clearly thought out goals, the Congress has a weak agenda. It wants to present a secular face without a defence against a growing Islamic radicalism and Christian proselytising in Assam. It cannot fathom whether it can stand up to the radical pressures of Mullahs and Maulavis as and when it comes. Its five guarantees are as old as Nehruvian socialism alone dead and gone after the 1992 reforms of Manmohan Singh. The guarantee of government jobs is a post-dated cheque on a failing bank, especially after opening up the economy to the private sector since the economic liberalization of 1992. The government per se is decreasing in size worldwide. Cash grants without addressing a specific deficit amongst the BPL beneficiaries is a squander of public money. The Congress is silent on what it proposes for the culture and security of the Assamese speakers in its five guarantees. However, the Congress making a political presence in the recent times is an achievement in itself. They were taken up for dead till recently. The BPF cannot be wished away, while the AIUDF remains a mystery political party. What it wants for its constituents and how different it is from the Congress in its approach to migrant Muslims is still not clear. The only thing that is clear about the party is that it wants its political presence in the State Assembly and Parliament, but under the command and control of the Ajmal family.

The other regional parties are trying to gain a foothold in the 33-odd Assamese constituencies without themselves nor the Assamese speakers knowing what is their agenda in concrete terms, other than the leaders trying to become MLAs.

The second of May continues to be ominous, but for whom?

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