Unseemly politics over neglected xatras
After neglecting xatras and turning a blind eye to rampant encroachment of xatra lands, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has now added insult to injury. He has claimed there is not a single Bangladeshi migrant grabbing xatra land; on the other hand, it is within the xatras that RSS and other saffron agent provocateurs are to be found. Gogoi has challenged the State BJP president to ‘show just one Bangladeshi encroacher of xatra land’ and he will resign. Over the last few years, Gogoi has thrown down countless such meaningless challenges, made umpteen empty promises and volte faces which are hardly in keeping with the dignity of his office. Are bofide Indian citizens then grabbing xatra lands? What is preventing the powers-be in Dispur from finding out the identity of the encroachers through the long-promised comprehensive survey of xatra lands? After all, the Gauhati High Court has directed the State government several times to vacate xatra land from usurpers. In the past, Gogoi has even spoken about the need for setting up a xatra protection force and a public fund for xatra development. Several delegations of xatra bodies have met him to complain and seek protection against land grabbers. Now the Chief Minister says he has received no complaint from any quarter about Bangladeshi encroachers, and neither has the Revenue department given him any such inputs. Contradicting him, the Axom Xatra Mahaxabha (AXM) has stated that it has informed Dispur of the encroachment problem through various memoranda and sought measures to free xatra lands, but to no avail.
So can it be concluded that while the AXM did complain to Dispur about encroachment, it never specifically spoke about illegal migrants also being among the encroachers? Who is speaking the truth? The AXM has long been protesting how thousands of bighas of xatra lands have been usurped — by one count as much as 6, 576 bighas, mostly in Barpeta, Goalpara, gaon, Sonitpur and Darrang districts. In a survey conducted by the Guwahati-based North East Policy Institute (NEPI) covering 910 xatras, it came out that as much as 5,448 bighas of land belonging to 26 xatras have been grabbed, mostly by people of suspect tiolity. About 90 percent land belonging to Kobaikata Xatra, Bordua Xatra, Jania Xatra, Patekibori Xatra, Rampur Xatra and Bali Xatra have been grabbed by Bangladeshi migrants, according to the report. Barpeta Xatra was found to have lost 460 bighas of its land. Kobaikata Xatra of gaon was said to have only 1 bigha of land under its possession. The situation in Jania Xatra of Barpeta was such that most of its devotees had fled with their families as Bangladeshi migrants took control of xatra lands and the market that has grown up over it. The situation is the same in Sundaridiya Xatra of Barpeta, where Bangladeshi migrants were found to have taken over a 420-bigha water body and 400-bigha plot of land around it gifted to the xatra by the State government. And what was the assessment of the State Revenue department about the area of xatra land encroached upon? Less than 100 bighas!
There has been much dismay in xatra organisations about the lackadaisical manner the State Revenue department has gone about addressing this burning issue; the department reportedly does its job by dispatching letters now and then to the deputy commissioners while showing no seriousness at all about carrying out surveys on the ground. Then there is the issue of safeguarding xatras, facing increasing waves of theft, vandalism and desecration over the years. The suspicion has grown of suspected illegal migrants backed by an intertiol racket targeting precious and antique artefacts stored in the xatras for centuries. The AXM has thus been forced to consider seeking Prime Minister rendra Modi’s intervention for protecting and preserving xatras under the Assam Accord. But now Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has made this another confrontatiol issue, accusing the RSS of penetrating the xatras to play ‘xatra politics’. Even if Gogoi’s charge is true, what has prevented his government to provide some protection to xatras from land grabbers and thieves? In turn, it has been alleged that the Tarun Gogoi regime has done nothing against encroachment of xatra lands, because most of the encroachers are illegal migrants belonging to its vote-bank. Now if political opponents seek to capitalise on this neglect, Gogoi cannot escape the issue by merely pointing to the RSS bogey. The Chief Minister has ordered a probe into the alleged RSS conspiracy to block Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s entry into Barpeta Xatra during his recent visit. His political opponents are however alleging that the Congress never meant to begin Rahul Gandhi’s programme from the xatra in the first place, keeping in mind its targeted electorate! Be as it may, it is the Burha Xatradhikar of Barpeta Xatra whose words of wisdom are relevant here — keep xatras out of politics.