TheAs­samElec­tions:The Pol­i­tics of Lit­tle Change

The only thing go­ing for Chief Min­is­ter Tarun Go­goi is his longevity in elec­toral pol­i­tics

The Economic Times - - Pure Politics -

seats. The BJP’s ‘vision doc­u­ment’ prom­ises to “(work) closely with cen­tral gov­ern­ment to achieve com­plete seal­ing of the Indo-Bangladesh bor­der in As­sam”.

The savvy 53-year-old as­serts that he is se­ri­ous about the hon­our of As­sam and the ex­pul­sion of il­le­gal im­mi­grants. Sonowal told me at the BJP’s crowded and chaotic of­fice in Guwa­hati’s Hen­grabari area that there are more than four mil­lion Mus­lim­swho­have­lived­inAs­sam­for cen­turies. He should know his num­bers – af­ter all, he is a for­mer pres­i­dent of AASU. As for de­por­ta­tions, which most As­sam politi­cians doubt willev­er­hap­pen,Sonowal­hedgeshis bets. He says the As­sam and Bangladesh gov­ern­ments will have to talk.

One sign of sim­mer­ing ten­sions in thes­tate­wasthe­vi­o­lencethaterupted won 18 to be­come the state’s main op­po­si­tion party. In the 2014 par­lia­men­tary­elec­tion­theAIUDF­won­threeof As­sam’s14LokSab­haseats,the­same as the Congress party. In fact, it is now the largest Mus­lim party in par­lia­ment’s lower house. “If there is a hung assem­bly, we will be a de­ci­sive force,” says Aditya Langth­asa, the work­ing pres­i­dent of the AIUDF.

Aj­mal, who also con­trols a formida-


ern­ment on Septem­ber 8, 2015 that amended pass­port rules to read that all non-Mus­lim mi­nori­ties in Bangladesh, if they claimed they were per­se­cuted, would be granted In­dian cit­i­zen­ship, no ques­tions asked. This was a U-turn by Modi, who had vowed dur­ing his 2014 elec­tion cam­paign to throw all in­fil­tra­tors out of As­sam.

Ma­hanta is clearly un­happy about his party’s poll al­liance with the BJP. “It was a de­ci­sion of the party,” he told me at his quar­ters in the Old MLAs Hos­tel in the Dis­pur leg­isla­tive com­plex. “We want that the As­samAc­cord­should­beim­ple­mented in let­ter and spirit,” says the man who signed the ac­cord in 1985. He ar­gues that if Modi adopts a dif­fer­ent pol­icy, he should re­ha­bil­i­tate the mi­grants out­side As­sam. “Oth­er­wise lo­cal As­samese peo­ple will be­come a mi­nor­ity in As­sam.”

Bangladesh’s Hindu mi­nor­ity to­talled 20 mil­lion in 2013, and they could all seek asy­lum in In­dia un­der the new cit­i­zen­ship rules. Ma­hanta asks how As­sam can bear that bur­den. “Cer­tainly I am dis­ap­pointed… (Modi) swore he would not give an inch of In­dian land to Bangladesh. Now he has also given away land to Bangladesh.”

Still, Ma­hanta feels it was im­por­tant for op­po­si­tion par­ties like the BJP and the AGP to come to­gether to top­ple Congress.

As­sam’spovertyan­de­th­ni­can­dreli­gious schisms have not ben­e­fited the Com­mu­nists. In 1978, just be­fore the anti-for­eigner ag­i­ta­tion erupted, the Left par­ties to­gether won 28 seats in the state assem­bly. They have never tasted such suc­cess since. Al­though the Left par­ties have put up 59 can­di­dates this elec­tion, their lead­ers are not brim­ming with con­fi­dence.

In 2001 the Left did not win a sin­gle seat; in 2006 they won just two; and in 2011 they went back to zero. Their cadres came un­der fierce at­tack when­theBodotrib­al­slaunchedtheir own protests in 1979 (the Bodoland Peo­ple’s Front is now an elec­toral ally of the BJP and the AGP).

Is­faqur Rah­man, a se­nior mem­ber of the Com­mu­nist Party of In­dia (Marx­ist) state sec­re­tar­iat, meets me at the de­serted He­dayet­pur of­fice where a for­lorn sign reads “There is no al­ter­na­tive to so­cial­ism”. He says iden­tity pol­i­tics and eth­nic di­vi­sions have made things dif­fi­cult for the com­mu­nists. Even in the tea gar­dens, which used to once be strongholds, trade unions have dwin­dled from59to25. TheCPI(M)ha­sonly119 full-time work­ers in all of As­sam.

“It is very dif­fi­cult to at­tract the younger gen­er­a­tion,” Rah­man tells me as he lights up an­other cig­a­rette. The se­nior leader com­plains good-na­turedly that he him­self has to get by on a monthly stipend of just Rs 5,000.

Rah­man is still bet­ter off than the home­less in Guwa­hati. Walk­ing the crowded and ram­shackle streets of the state cap­i­tal, step­ping care­fully over ce­ment planks cov­er­ing open and stink­ing sew­ers, I re­call a shock­ing state­ment from the Guwa­hati city boss and chair­man of the Hous­ing Board. Dwi­jen Sarma, a Go­goi man who was re­fused a ticket for the elec­tion, boasted that his pic­ture was ev­ery­where in Guwa­hati. What achieve­ment was he proud­est of ? “I have put up roofs at bus-stands so that the home­less can sleep some­where at night”.

It was time to look else­where for clues to As­sam’s fu­ture.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.