The overwhelming feeling in the aftermath of the Silapathar incident is that however we all may yearn for a greater and harmonious Assam, its interests cannot be served by the brand of mischievous politics being thrust upon it. We have seen the havoc decades of cynical vote-bank politics by the Congress has done to the social fabric of the State. If Bangladeshi Muslim settlers have long been cultivated as a bloc, the Congress also bent over backwards to keep the Bengali (including Bangladeshi) Hindus in Barak Valley happy. Public memory being what it is, few would now recall the memorandum the Tarun Gogoi regime shot off in April 2012 to the then UPA government, pleading for ‘Indian citizens’, who had fled religious persecution during Partition, ‘not to be treated as foreigners’. But after the BJP stormed the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress government in Assam alarmed at the saffron party’s headway in Barak Valley, moved the incoming NDA regime with a cabinet resolution that those from Bangladesh taking refuge here ‘should not face the threat of deportation’, that they ‘be granted citizenship in the same manner as in Gujarat and Rajasthan’. Such opportunistic double-speak by the Congress had then drawn the ire of AASU, AGP and other regiol organizations. It is hardly surprising that the RSS-BJP upped the ante further by aggressively pursuing the Sangh Parivar objective of making India a tural destition for ‘all persecuted Hindus’, as a consequence of which it has been moving to amend the citizenship law. Likewise, Badaruddin Ajmal’s AIUDF too has been upstaging the Congress by projecting itself as the sole representative of Muslims in Assam. Meanwhile, our ears are being assailed with a new pernicious formula — that if Bengali Hindus join hands with Assamese Hindus and other indigenous peoples, ‘the outsiders can be kept out’. The upshot of all these machitions is that political parties in Assam are manipulating faultlines pitting Hindus against Muslims, Assamese against indigenous groups, extremists against Hindi and Bengali speakers, and now a conspiracy to exhume the Assamese-Bengali conflict buried for last four decades.
Make no mistake, the attack on the AASU office at Silapathar after a rally by Bengali refugee groups was certainly not some unforeseen mob eruption. It appears to be a calculated move by some quarters to dislodge AASU from its high moral ground, due to its principled stand on not differentiating between Hindu and Muslim refugees who came to the State after 1971. Once the AASU is pitted against a little-known entity like Nikhil Bharat Bangali Udabastu Samanway Samitee (NBBUSS) which rallied at Silapathar, any Assamese vs Bengali clash can be ascribed to the students organization. The AASU has refused to be provoked however, with indigenous entities including several Bengali students and youth organizations lending it unstinted support. AASU leaders have rightly held the State government to account, for it is indeed mysterious how the NBBUSS was allowed to hold a public meet and take out a rally in Silapathar, when its leaders including Subudh Biswas had made their aggressive intent known beforehand in social media as well as on the ground. Biswas has been seen earlier in saffron circles; the NBBUSS posters in Silapathar called for annulling the Assam Accord, removing the ‘D’ voter tag on Bangladeshi Hindus and freeing them from detention camps, and amending the Citizenship Act of 1955 to make citizens of Hindu refugees. Because the BJP at the Centre has also been espousing these objectives, rabble rousers like Biswas were given a free run by the State administration. But public peace cannot be held hostage to such malcontents from outside who have little understanding or regard for the State’s inclusive ethos. Sadly, regiol forces in Assam have been on the retreat; the State has long been a supplicant for Central finces. With the Centre tightening purse strings further, leaders in Assam have little heart and spine to take a strong stand and safeguard their State’s interests from arrogant Central power seekers. But we must demand more backbone from our leaders; people of states like Tamil du, Bihar and West Bengal have done so, thereby forcing the Centre and rest of the country to accord them more respect.