Assam is the Northeastern state with utmost influence of Indo-Aryan culture. The Hindutva has contaminated the caste-class privileged folks of Assam so much in the past 6 years that they have now reflected the North Indian Islam phobia and misogyny greatly. Take for example the case of a BJP affiliated guy opposing serving of beef to the tigers in Guwahati Zoo, Formation of Hindutva organisations like ‘Ram Sena’ and ‘Bharat Suraksha Manch’ in Assam, elated party members at Dibrugarh when a state minister promised them an anti-love-jihad law or spewing venom against the minorities as a whole, all these reflect the deeply rooted problems in the Assamese society which previously were dormant.
The question that arises now, is this utter Hindutva, misogyny, and sense of superiority new to the caste-class privileged Assamese folks? Assam has a long history of violence and unapologetic apathy towards the downtrodden of the state. Instigated by few Hindutva elements decades back, the violence on linguistic and religious minorities during the Assam Andolon has left deep scars in the social fabric of the state. Nellie Massacre in 1983 or the recent killings of Bengali-speaking Assamese in Doomdooma of Tinsukia district in the year 2018, the hatred towards a particular community seem to go hand in hand with the social fabric of Assam. This hatred gets more intense in the mind of a caste-class privileged Assamese when he moves to the Char-Chapori areas of Assam and comes across the Miya Bengali-speaking population of the state.
These have given rise to an anti-Assamese language sentiment in the Bengali-dominated parts of the state. Be it heckling of the residents of Brahmaputra Valley at Barak Valley (Bengali speaking dominated region of Assam), extending support to Citizenship Amendment Bill by the Indian National Congress affiliated MP of Barak Valley region, Sushmita Dev, or the anti-Assamese language abuses hurled by the BJP leader Shiladitya Deb, reflect that a peaceful co-existence of all the communities is not desired by both the privileged sides of the fabric (when I say communities I also include the tea garden workers who are in a dilapidated condition for more than a century but hardly finds any space in the greater Assamese culture).
Various hyper regionalist bodies played a role in this division of the masses, who were then also equally devastated by the violence ingrained in their lives by the Liberation-seeking ULFA. What followed was a three terms long tenure of Congress Government in the state. Before that though, the toxic regionalist sentiments in public did catch fire enabling the Asom Gana Parishad to be in power, but the scar of silent killings it was involved in made the masses opt for peace and prosperity through the Congress Government. The Congress Government heavily militarized the entire state and resorted to undemocratic means of dealing with extremists. These steps were gladly welcomed by the caste-class privileged Assamese fraternity of the state but the rural population had to pay a huge price in terms of being brutalized by the military violence, illegal disappearances, sexual violence by the armed forces, illegal killings, incarceration, etc. In the later terms, Congress got involved in utter misuse of people’s mandate and engrossed itself in high-profile corruption cases. Gradually the governance had turned to be pathetic and further the Congress had nothing more to offer to the public of Assam. Hence, being tipsy under the promises made by the national chowkidar Narendra Modi, the mass of this state opted for a new government in 2016, the BJP.
In the last five years of the BJP Government’s term, Assam has seen intense polarization of the public in terms of Hindus-Muslims, Assamese-Non Assamese, pro-anti Bengalis, pro-anti Ajmal, pro-anti CAA, pro—anti-NRC, pro-anti Pakistan, and the list continues. After a series of fascist measures, a brutal implementation of NRC, state-sponsored murders of the downtrodden traveling with documents upon receiving production notice by the Foreigner Tribunal, introducing and operating the most uncivilized concept,’ The Detention Camps’, murders of Bengali residents in the Detention Camps, a strong anti CAA mass protest, brutal attacks on the CAA protestors, state-sponsored murders, incarceration of activists, cracking down on the progressive poets and painters, restricting the freedom of the press, terminating the contract of publishing government advertisements with the pro-people media houses, a brutal lockdown and a lot of communal propaganda, the State election is on the door.
Assam election starts with BJP posing a robust model of Hindu-Muslim propaganda-based campaigning. The BJP has formed an ally with Asom Gann Parishad and the UPPL (recently came to power in the Bodoland region of Assam). Congress came forward to an alliance with the left-affiliated parties, Ajmal’s AIUDF, and a regional collective. The alliance has taken up the issues of secularism, saving the ethos of Assam, a law against CAA, and social justice to the tea garden workers and the minorities.
The inception of two new regional progressive (self-proclaimed) parties have come to light this Assam election. One is Asom Jatiya Parishad (AJP) formed under the leadership of an ex-AASU (a toxic regionalist students’ union) leader Lurinjyoti Gogoi and the other is ‘Raijor Dal’, formed under the leadership of Akhil Gogoi of KMSS, a peasant organisation and Srinkhal Chaliha of ‘Veer Lachit Sena’(another toxic regionalist body operating in Upper Assam).
The AJP has been following the regionalist line of politics whereas the line of ‘Raijor Dal’ is not yet clear. Sometimes they claim themselves to be Marxists while at the other times they have been claiming to follow the same regionalist line as the former.
For the first time in the history of an Assam election, AJP has come up with a promise of Universal Basic Income for the unemployed youths of the state in its manifesto. This step is welcoming as such a progressive scheme is mandatory to strengthen socialism in a state. The Raijor Dal came up with a promise of 10 Bighas of land to each of the landless citizens who came to the state before 1971 (the baseline for citizenship fixed as per the Assam Accord). The AJP and Raijor Dal have agreed to an alliance and are planting their candidates accordingly.
Why I said that the ideological stand of Raijor Dal is not clear yet because it has two component-organisations in it. One is KMSS, founded by Akhil Gogoi in 2005, this is a Marxist organisation struggling for the land rights of the farmers, implementation of NREGA, and campaigning against corporate and government corruption. The organisation also played a great role in mobilising masses against the anti-people environmental policies of the State and took the lead in the anti CAA protests of the state.
The other is Veer Lachit Sena. Founded by a staunch regionalist Srinkhal Chaliha (Assamese version of Garga Chatterjee) who rose to fame after his offensive statement about kneeling the Bengali residents of the state and serving a short prison term under the charge of sedition, the organistion is mostly operative in the parts of Upper Assam. They have been taking a stand against the CAA but their stand is in no way progressive. They sound very radically regressive in their stands and I doubt if they ever read or took the stand in favour of the liberated ‘Bor Axom’ dreamt by Veer Lachit Borphukan? After AASU, this is the organisation that reaffirms my belief that regionalism and nationalism are different faces of the same coin, both toxic and anti-human.
Interestingly both the organisations (ideologically poles apart) came together to contest this Assam election. Understandably, the organisations can unite based on a common minimum program and this unison can be a result of the same. Even in the last Bihar election, CPI-ML Liberation had contested jointly with RJD (CPI-ML Liberation leader and the ex-JNUSU president is alleged to be killed by Sahabuddin, an RJD leader). Similarly once staunch oppositions, the Left and Congress have come together to contest the elections in Assam and West Bengal. Similar is the case with the alliance of AIUDF and Congress in Assam. The ‘common minimum program’ in all these alliances is driving the fascist BJP out of power.
The Indo-Aryan culture’s infestation in Assam has made the grip of the Hindutva fanatics even stronger in the state. Under such circumstances, it is a must for the opposition to be united against the common enemy (read BJP). But the way the events are unfolding this Assam election raises huge questions about the integrity of these regional political parties contesting the BJP.
The first instance is repeated denial of bail to the incarcerated chief of Raijor Dal, Akhil Gogoi. Akhil Gogoi is incarcerated in the Guwahati Central Jail since December 2019. He is charged with UAPA and is being repeatedly denied bail by the lower, appellate, and the apex courts. It took a democratic protest by the prisoners of the Guwahati Central Jail in mid-2020 following which Akhil Gogoi with covid-19 infection was shifted to Guwahati Medical College for treatment. Since then he is in staying in the hospital premises.
It is no rocket science to point out that the BJP has already taken the charge of the courts and orders are passed by the Judiciary at the behest of the ruling party. Also, the to be considered fact is that Akhil Gogoi’s candidature for the upcoming elections had been announced with the inception of Raijor Dal. Now, releasing Akhil Gogoi on bail would have helped the ruling BJP to go for an anti-Akhil Gogoi campaign against him. They could have given fire to the charges filed against him to create an unpopular stand of him among the masses. Not granting him bail is helping Akhil Gogoi to generate sympathy votes which might help him win the upcoming elections. Now, is the BJP so stupid to jail him and help Akhil Gogoi generate sympathy votes which might pave his way to victory? Or is there something else cooking up between BJP and Raijor Dal?
The second instance is the recent letter issued to all the parties by Akhil Gogoi. In the letter, Akhil Gogoi has urged the opposition not to split and to contest the election against the common enemy, BJP. But he also urged the Congress and Left parties to discontinue their alliance with AIUDF. Gogoi has alleged Ajmal of AIUDF to be communal and compared him with BJP. Co-incidentally Himanta Biswa Sharma, BJP’s star campaigner in Assam is also continuously spewing venom against Ajmal. Now, is this coincident that Akhil Gogoi is adding up to the venom spitted against Ajmal by Himanta Biswasharma? (Note: In the year 2014, Akhil Gogoi had urged the public to vote for BJP and AIUDF so that Congress can be made oust from the state. Which Marxist organisation other than CPIM West Bengal urges the public to vote for a rightist party so that a Centrist party can be toppled?)
The third and final instance is that Raijor Dal has planted candidates in Bokakhat, where Pranab Doley is contesting independently. Pranab is a mass leader involved in agitations against anti-people policies of the state. He is contesting against AGP stalwart Atul Bora. Pranab comes from a marginalized community and is representing the rights of the marginalized, something which KMSS had claimed to be working for. Planting a candidate against Pranab by Raijor Dal strengthens the doubt on a BJP-Raijor Dal nexus.
What adds to this is the brusque bustle in the political parties owing to the ticket distribution. This bustle has touched all the parties and alliances. While party members of UPPL, an alliance of BJP has locked down one of its offices at Bhergaon owing to their discontentment of surrendering the seat to BJP, Congress Party workers had locked down the party office of Rangia owing to their discontentment in surrendering the seat to CPIM.
Akhil Gogoi, a Marxist whose utmost importance is to appease the popular public, owing to which he went to the extent of defending detention camps. His party has promised ten Bighas of land to the landless who have their name in NRC. Wondering if in power what will be his stand against the detected Bangladeshis who are living a life with merged income in Assam? Will he send them back? Will his actions follow the principles of Marxism which preaches uniting the oppressed of the world? Does Srinkhal Chaliha have even the minimum sense of progressiveness which his party preaches? Or he still holds to his fantasy of kneeling the Bengali-speaking residents of Assam? Amidst this Hindutva spree are Congress and Left seriously hoping to win considerable seats in this Assam election? Did the BJP involve the entire opposition in a nexus to ensure its stronghold or its schemes other than the polarisation will work wonders again? Amidst all these doubts the sophisticated dance of democracy continues in Assam!