Assam's progress and NRC

By Prof. SP Bhattacharyya

We in Assam are at present passing through a very disturbing phase of social tension in connection with the preparation of NRC, all because of our concern about the presence of foreign nationals after remaining somnolent about the matter for decades after independence. In the enthusiasm of finding a solution of sorts, we should not forget that the problem in question is mainly a legacy of partition of India and its context is spread over hundreds of years in the past. In fact, these foreigners are sections of people both Hindus and Muslims who lived for millennia in India before they became foreigners in the very land of their forefathers because the then British masters took a political decision to divide the people of the country on the pretext of ‘Two Nation’ theory and implemented the same in a most bizarre manner before giving independence. (Soon after independence, a candidate facing an interview board was asked, ‘Were you born in Pakistan?’ and he replied, ‘How can I be born in Pakistan? Pakistan was born after me’!).
Thus when the ‘tryst with destiny’ came at midnight (August 15, 1947), the majority of Hindus and Muslims of undivided India became citizens of a secular, democratic India while our ill–fated Sikh and Hindu compatriots in the truncated parts of Punjab and Bengal became second class citizens (not of their own asking) of  the newly created Islamic State of Pakistan and foreigners in independent India. There are reasons to suspect that this ill–conceived partition was done by our erstwhile rulers to perpetuate exploitation even after physically withdrawing from the scene, mainly to serve their long term interests under the well known policy of divide and rule, using in this case, our religious difference as an excuse. Thus, a handful of people from across the seven seas not only ruled over us for almost two hundred years, but also nurtured the seeds of hatred and suspicion amongst the people of the entire sub-continent (though some of it pre-existed their arrival) which has been eating into our vitals even 70 years after independence, be it in the name of religion, language or any other real or imaginary difference. (This is not to deny their contributions in social sectors like education, health, public administration and above all in trying to create a scientific temper amongst the people of the country).
We ought to remember that the West went ahead of us primarily because of the Industrial Revolution in Europe which gave them the concept of true ‘nationalism’ and the strength and stability that followed from this was at the root of their technological superiority. But we missed the bus then, some 300/400 years ago because of circumstances largely of our own making, a detailed discussion of which is beyond the scope of this brief narration. We are now at the cross-roads of survival and extinction and the challenge and choice before us is plain and simple. Do we go about aping the western model of development (which China also seems to be doing now) with the aim of achieving their level of prosperity and lifestyle in the foreseeable future, some 40/50 years hence? With a population of more than 150 crores (by then), can we think of every member of the society driving his/her own car, living in one’s own air-conditioned flat, eating the finest food and travelling all over places for spending family holidays like they do in the advanced countries today?
In the journal, Young India in 1928, Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “…to make India like England and America is to find some other places and races of the Earth for exploitation” and the developed nations of the West have had already divided and demoralized all the known societies outside Europe and there are no new continent(s) to discover (except possibly some parts of Africa!). Some people would like us to believe that India is poised for a leapfrog to reach the western standards of development in not too distant future.They are ever so ready to sell such absurd dreams to the gullible men and women of this country in the guise of self-seeking politicians and cunning businessmen, the former in the garb of public servants and the latter by all sorts of unethical business practices for personal aggrandizement only.
All talks of zero-tolerance for corruption sound hollow under these circumstances and the dream merchants’ promised castles of dream will remain in air so long as the society remains divided into few ‘haves’ and billions of ‘have-nots’ and an ever-widening gap between them. We should not fail to realize that we are not only backward in physical and technological sense, but more so in our mental attitude. Indeed, many of the problems are of our own making, due to centuries-old slave mentality. The players of power politics, both national and international, will spare no effort to use the half-fed and half-clad millions of our people as pawns of politics. In this background, can we really hope to see a peaceful and progressive Assam once the NRC problem is solved one way or the other? Violence in man as well as animal is a basic instinct in our DNA like hunger, thirst etc. Without fellow-feeling and comradeship, the relatively stronger group at any point of time and place will always try to elbow out those weaker than them, as a result of which our development balloon may burst under internal tension sooner than later.
In the circumstances, the chances of our catching up with the developed countries, following the same path trodden by them, is indeed remote (not so long ago, Barrack Obama said: “No country can reach the level of America in a hundred years to come!). Therefore, we have to think of alternative development models based on our indigenous resources, human resources in particular, and combine the wisdom of our olden golden days with the scientific and humanitarian approach to nation-building of the West. Such a model, however, will be possible only if there is stability and social harmony based on equality, accommodation and mutual respect — something easier said than done, which may still ensure a sustainable growth and is not based on development accompanied by destruction — as has been the present trend.
(The author is Retd. Principal, Assam Engineering College, Guwahati)