(The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
A central plank on which the political parties, especially the Opposition fought the Assembly elections or tried to make it appear so was about the most emotive issue for the people of Assam: preserving Assamese identity.
Riding on people's utmost anger over the CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) last year, parties like the Congress left no stone unturned to give it a fresh lease of life aimed at gaining popular support at the husting. The State also saw the overnight emergence of a couple of political outfits nursed, nourished and sustained by this anti-CAA sentiment that had peaked last year but somewhat petered out in the aftermath of the pandemic and consequent disruption in the state's socio-economic life.
And so with the announcement of the elections, a few political parties got into a huddle on the issue of CAA. This was followed by the framing of necessary blueprints to achieve their united objective of opposing the Act. These blueprints came in the form of stitching together entities that were known to not see eye to eye, and sporadic adjustment of seats between parties that had aired diametrically opposite views on the issue of illegal immigration throughout the Assam agitation. All these, they claimed, was to save Assam from its looming identity crisis!
The BJP too, on the other hand, vowed to do everything to preserve and promote Assam's language, tradition and culture like releasing a corrected NRC, strengthening namghars, recovering xatra lands from illegal encroachment, also promising a slew of welfare measures like creating jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities, bringing an end to the State's perennial problem of floods, and so on.
The recent elections were fought almost on the heels of the anti-CAA movement. Sentiments ran high during that period resulting in the loss of five precious lives, widespread violence leading to loss of public property and disruption in the State's economy as well as social life. The spontaneous participation in that movement by the multitudes, especially the youth made one believe that should elections be held anytime soon, the BJP would badly lose and those leading the anti-CAA movement would win hands down. But the results now speak differently!
Election results are never driven by a single-point agenda. However, since this issue about Assam' identity crisis keeps cropping up in the state's socio-political firmament, especially during elections, it might also be worthwhile to look at the results of 2nd May from this perspective. Why is it that despite such a strong anti-CAA sentiment having swept the State only last year and given BJP's stated stand on the Act, people voted for the BJP-led alliance?
The one thing that had induced the wholehearted participation of people in the historic Assam agitation was that ultimate fear, the fear of losing their identity. There were about 40 lakh illegal foreign nationals in the State, they were told, a mind-boggling figure then which could easily swamp the State's indigenous population in a matter of next 25 to 30 years! The Congress had been in a denial mode ever since the start of the agitation saying there wasn't any flaw in the state's voter list. This stance of the then ruling Congress, which was seen as an attempt to protect its vote bank, was one of the reasons why the Assam Movement went on so long claiming the lives of thousands and pushing the State's economy back by a decade! And as late as 2012 during a rally in Nagaon district Late Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi had claimed that there was no illegal Bangladeshi in Assam! And then for the Congress to now try to appear as the messiah of Assamese identity and that too in a coalition with a party whose very genesis was opposing the Assam Agitation, is something today's smart and mature voters refused to buy.
Though the broad outcome of the Assam Accord in the context of predominance and preservation of the Assamese language and culture had been the preparation of a correct NRC and implementation of its Clause 6, the current status of these two issues thirty-five years after the Accord was signed has rendered people disillusioned, making them realize that it's an andolan mukta Axom that would be more propitious for their economic fortunes rather than the intermittent protests that they see keep happening in the State.
Another probable explanation might be that people who were born after 1979-80 do not perhaps feel the same way about the illegal immigrant's issue - and hence that purported identity crisis faced by the Assamese people in the same way as those who had seen or participated in the Assam Agitation. As such it is probable that to such voters – and they constitute a huge chunk of the total voters of the State, issues like CAA, infiltration or so the so-called identity crisis may not have influenced them that much while pressing the EVM. Moreover, today's younger generation is more concerned about jobs and start-ups and loans and EMIs and hence are less likely to connect to other emotive issues like CAA! And as also is the going trend, even people from the middle and lower-middle classes and those from rural areas who now seem to take a more practical view of life do nowadays look up to their Government for jobs, subsidies, DBT, microfinance loan waivers and other freebies more than things like Clause 6 or the CAA.
Therefore, notwithstanding that the Assamese people are in general too sentimental on matters relating to their language and culture, working up public sentiment in the name of identity crisis is unlikely to sway public opinion henceforth in matters of the state polity. If anything, for Assamese identity to be preserved, a different line of thinking will have to be adopted: strive to preserve and promote our indigenous language and culture, and at the same time work to uplift an economic lot of the masses. And for this to happen what is required of any political party is to tweak their ideology: blend regional aspirations with a strong nationalistic outlook. Examples are BJD, DMK, Shiv Sena etc. Going by the election results, the BJP-AGP-UPPL combine seems to have made some moves in that direction!