By Mridul Bora
The recent two-day visit of Rahul Gandhi to Assam, has again, as in the past - created a political storm and raised many an eyebrow. The journey started with an elderly senior lady politician giving him a peck on his cheek, which amused a lot of on-lookers. Co-incidentally, it was the second such incident of this ture, as one such encounter was also witnessed during his visit to Jorhat last year.
One fails to understand how Rahul Gandhi is able to arouse such public displays of emotion? Is it because of his political charisma or due to the fact that he is a middle-aged eligible bachelor, till date? However, things like this do not matter, in the context of Assam. It also does not matter so much, that he walked around 7-8 kms, in the 'padayatra' in Barpeta instead of the proposed 12 kms.
A heavyweight BJP leader of Assam, has already dubbed the 'padayatra' of Rahul Gandhi to be a helicopter cum walking exercise. This teasing statement understandably has political colours inherent in it and hence seems justified from his viewpoint. However for common people who do not have any fixed political allegiance, the feeling is that all tiol leaders and leading parties should take up the basic issues of Assam on priority and try to give their support, when needed.
It does not need to be reiterated that Xatra institutions are the backbone of Assamese society, founded by the great saint of Assam, Shrimanta Sankardeva, in 15th century AD. Patronised by the Ahom kings and later on even by the British, these xatras were the nerve-centers of the Neo-Vaishvism movement, which was the first attempt to unify the multi-lingual and multi-ethnic demography of Assam. Every Assamese person and each and every indigenous inhabitant of this land, carries a deep sense of reverence for these xatras. From times immemorial, xatras have been the identity, the soil and epitome of cultural heritage of Assam.
Without undermining the importance of any other xatra in Assam, the Barpeta Xatra has a special place in the heart of every Assamese. Founded by Madhabdeva, the Kirtan Ghar or the prayer hall inside the Xatra, has to be seen to be believed. All the inhabitants of Barpeta district, irrespective of caste, creed and religion, identify their place, prudently, because of the existence of this deeply significant sacred place of religion, worship and learning.
Now, coming back to Rahul Gandhi, he was supposed to have started his journey from Barpeta Xatra. Even the Xatradhikars were waiting to pray for him and bless the journey. But at the last moment, he cancelled it and went on a different route, to appease voters by announcing a Rs 1,000 crore package. His entering the shrine in trousers, would also have been forgiven, if the Congress icon, would have addressed the main problems of xatras, all over Assam, with special reference to the ones in Majuli. He should have convinced the people of Assam, that he is aware about the illegal encroachment of xatras and to provide adequate funds for their existence. He should have assured all people of Assam, that he is taking this issue of xatras and its illegal encroachment by people of dubious tiolity seriously. On the floor of the sacred place, he should have advised the Assam government to announce another Rs 1,000 crore package or more for the upliftment of xatras. He should have taken to task the officers of the State government, for failing to act properly, in rescuing xatra lands from illegal immigrants, as per Order No. CR- NO- 1649 of 1991 (Shri Kuntala Deka vs Government of Assam case), which has clear cut orders of the Honourable Gauhati High Court.
He should have respectfully remembered that his illustrious father, Late Rajiv Gandhi was a sigtory to the historic Assam Accord signed in 1985. The Accord was signed by representatives of the then Assam government, Union of India and All Assam Students Union. The protection of socio-cultural identity, language, liberty and heritage of the people of Assam, in Para 6 of the Accord - should have caught his attention, more than ever before, in protection and upliftment of these sacred institutions of Assam.
Later good sense prevailed and Rahul Gandhi did offer his prayers in Barpeta Xatra while returning after the 'padayatra'. It would have been weird if he had not done that, something similar to visiting the holy city of Shirdi and not offering yourself at the feet of Sai Baba.
However, it would be very heartening if all political parties of Assam take up the issues of xatras as a top agenda, and without aiming for mere political gains as they are doing now, sincerely work for their protection and upliftment. We expect that a more sincere, pragmatic and considerate approach is adopted by all political parties, regarding the xatras, from now on.
Time has come to appreciate the importance and significance of these heritage sites. The most ideal situation would be that both the Centre and the State should rise above parochial political sentiments and work in unison for the betterment of these sites. Every Assamese would feel happy and jubilant, if such an effort really materializes.
(Mridul Bora is an entrepreneur and a writer. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)