Plain-Speak - Arup Kumar Dutta

This is betrayal of the worst kind and a signal reminder as to how little the wishes and emotions of the Assamese people mean to those at the helm of this nation. Today, the Look East Policy, which the BJP merely rechristened as the Act East policy, remains unimplemented, the problem of perennial floods remains unresolved....

There is a saying in Assamese which goes ‘Kaaloro kaal, biparit kaal, horinai cheleke baaghar gaal.’ Roughly translated, it means, these are incongruous times when the deer licks the cheek of the tiger!

Come elections, and these incongruities and contradictions are revealed in stark black and white. For instance, the State Assembly election scenario in Assam is so riddled with them that it would take far more space than provided by this column to list them in totality.

The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) party, an entity that was born of the sacrifices made by an entire generation of Assamese, takes the cake as far as incongruous actions are concerned. Clearly, a couple of individuals with a small group of loyalists have taken over this party. These individuals, in turn, have handed over all decision-making vis-a-vis these elections to the BJP powers in Delhi.

What else explains the fact that not only the number of seats this party would contest in the elections as well as which seats, but also the candidates to be given tickets, has been decided not by any executive body of the AGP, meeting in Guwahati, but by a BJP-dominated meeting in Delhi? The sight of two so-called AGP leaders present in the Delhi meeting trying to stealthily take a peek at the list held by a BJP stalwart would have evoked laughter had the implications not been so grave for the people of Assam!

We have a number of regional parties in India, the genre to which the AGP belongs. Some of these have alliances with all-India parties. The AIADMK, for example, has forged an alliance with the BJP. But this it has done as the dominant partner and it is the saffron brigade which is the supplicant as far as seat-sharing is concerned. Above all, the AIADMK has not travelled all the way to the national capital to have its list formulated by its ally.

Similarly, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) of Naveen Patnaik in Odisha is an ally of the BJP at the Centre and has supported a number of controversial steps implemented by the NDA Government. Yet this party has, at the same time, not hesitated to draw swords against the BJP, the result being that the latter is today poised as Odisha’s main Opposition.

The fate of the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) of Nitish Kumar in Bihar illustrates yet another aspect of regional-national party alliances. At the beginning the JD-U was the State’s predominant party and had called the shots when the BJP, which did not have much presence in Bihar, struck a strategic partnership with it.

But in the last Bihar Assembly elections, it had been the BJP which emerged as the dominant component in the ‘alliance’, and today calls the shots! The similarities with Assam are uncanny. There had been a time when the Congress and the AGP had vied for dominance in the State, with the BJP nowhere in sight. Yet today it is the BJP which has the AGP in its pocket, and can aspire to hundred plus seats in these Assembly elections.

There is an uncanny similarity also with the current developments in the AGP and those in the BJP when Narendra Modi had first set foot in Delhi from his stint as Chief Minister of Gujarat. He and his loyalists had swiftly pulled the rug from under the feet of senior BJP leaders like Lal Krishna Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Jaswant Singh and Yashwant Sinha, reducing them to ciphers.

Similarly, no doubt guided by BJP strategists, the current AGP leadership has craftily removed senior leaders, including two-time Chief Minister and founder member Prafulla Kumar Mahanta and former president Brindaban Goswami, from wielding any influence on the manner which the party functions. That the latter, after an initial bit of bravado, has meekly eaten the humble pie exposes the iron grip which the BJP has over the AGP.

Which brings us to one of the most telling incongruities – the AGP, the outcome of an Assamese nationalist movement that shook the entire country, resulting in the martyrdom of no less than 860 individuals, has allied itself to an entity that has brought into being the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, which portends to be the final nail in the coffin for the survival of the Assamese race!

At the other end of the political spectrum, we have the ludicrous posture of the Congress party, attempting to position itself as the saviour of the Assamese people and coining the slogan ‘save Assam’ as its war cry in these elections. One needs hardly to point out that this is the party which has had the longest stint in power in this State.

Within that span it had done its best to destroy the Assamese as a race! This party had single-mindedly encouraged illegal migration from Bangladesh so as to enlarge its voter base, thereby completely changing the demographic profile of the Northeast. Having pushed the Assamese race to the brink of oblivion, to pretend now to be their saviour is like a mechanic first destroying a piece of mechanism and then posing as the one who can repair it!

During the phases when the Congress was in power corruption had seeped inextricably into public life, with the climax reached by the arrest of the head of the Assam Public Service Commission for taking bribe to place undeserving candidates in the ACS list!

And, of course, we have the redoubtable BJP which is engaged in this election war with all its guns blazing, even as it reiterates promises which it has no intention of fulfilling. We all remember, of course, the pre-election promises which had been made by the BJP leaders while campaigning in the 2016 Assembly elections, that illegal infiltrators from Bangladesh would have to leave bag and baggage if that party was voted to power.

With both the Congress and the AGP having failed the Assamese people on this all important issue, little wonder that a major segment of them had taken this bait and voted the saffron party to power at Dispur in the last Assembly elections. The failure of the BJP to deport a single illegal infiltrator had been one of the many failures of the present State Government as well of the one in Delhi.

On the contrary, purely with the intention of creating its own vote bank, the BJP has enacted the infamous Citizenship (Amendment) Act, which not only adds to the Northeast’s burden by legalizing a section of Hindu Bangladeshi immigrants who have already illegally entered, but also leaves the door open for hordes of illegal Hindu immigrants to come to this region in the future and acquire instant legal citizenship.

This is betrayal of the worst kind and a signal reminder as to how little the wishes and emotions of the Assamese people mean to those at the helm of this nation. Today, the Look East Policy, which the BJP merely rechristened as the Act East policy, remains unimplemented, the problem of perennial floods remains unresolved, unemployment continues to be rife despite past promises of creating lakhs of new jobs and the industrial scenario remains bleak despite grandiose events such as ‘Advantage Assam’.

Which brings us to what perhaps is the biggest incongruity of all. The BJP has been handing out lollipops to a targeted section of the people. It is understandable that these so-called ‘beneficiaries’ would remain devoted to the party in the hope of getting more lollipops in the future.

But the irony is that a sizeable section of the educated segment of the Assamese middle-class had become and continues to be fanatical adherents of the saffron brigade, inherent communal prejudices being the underlying cause!