Culture is Independent of Religion: Former President of ASS Nagen Saikia

Nagen Saikia
Representative image

Staff Correspondent

Dibrugarh: One of the nominated members of the high-power committee constituted by the Indian government for implementing clause 6 of the Assam Accord, the ‘Mithvasha’ famed renowned litterateur and former President of the Assam Sahitya Sabha as well as former MP and prolific Assamese writer, Dr. Nagen Saikia, in an explicit interview with The Sentinel, has expressed his unwillingness to be a member of the panel.

Excerpts from the interview –
The Sentinel: Why did you change your mind after initially accepting the membership offer?

Dr. Saikia: I was always opposed to the idea of the proposed bill. Nevertheless, upon being offered membership in the Committee, I wished to use it for justifying my opposition to the bill on behalf of the Assamese people. However, when I learnt about the Union government granting Socio-culture security to indigenous communities in a bid to implement Clause 6 of the Assam Accord, I reconsidered my decision. To my view, implementing Clause 6 at the expense of Clause 5 of the historic accord would be a futile exercise. Moreover, how can the government promise reservation for the 6 indigenous communities, and thereby, safeguard the Assamese language and culture, without getting a bill to that effect passed in the Parliament?
The Sentinel: But, in view of the fact that no other government in the past had made such an offer for the protection of the 6 indigenous communities, do you think you shouldn’t have declined the offer? Was there any other reason behind the refusal?

Dr. Saikia: See, the point E of the notification itself was deceptive. The Central government should directly offer employment to the indigenous groups of Assam rather than shifting the entire responsibility for the same to the government of Assam. Moreover, had the government been really sympathetic to the plight of the indigenous groups, what kept it from taking the initiative all this while? The attempt has an undeniable connection with the upcoming General elections.

The Sentinel: Is your decision partly influenced by the fact that AASU, right at the very start, had declined being a member of the committee?
Dr Saikia: AASU was one of the most important parties to the Assam Accord. Thus, a committee without its participation would have much less significance. Not only me, but a few other chosen members have also expressed their unequivocal reservations about joining the committee without AASU’s involvement in it.

The Sentinel: In light of the Centre moving heaven and earth to get the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, passed, do you, as a luminary, see any ulterior agenda of the government behind it?

Dr Saikia: Listen, to my mind, there are two reasons. Firstly, the government, by cutting a pro-Bengali image of itself, is trying to make inroads into the hitherto impregnable West Bengal, especially after its recent defeat in 5 states. Secondly, this government carries the agenda of turning India into a Hindu Rashtra, either downplaying or ignoring the fact that one’s cultural identity is independent of the religion they follow. Most religious fanatics fail to understand that religion is for human beings, the latter is not for religion. Also, such people use religion as a mere ploy to forward their own agendas.

The Sentinel: Do you think that the relentless effort of the BJP-led NDA government to pass the bill, immune to regional sentiments, will be a cause of its downfall in the ensuing days?

Dr Saikia: The BJP hasn’t rectified its past mistakes, and is on its way to do another major blunder. Trying to impose the bill at any cost, without factoring in public views, will end up disastrously for them. Their hard-line religion-based politics will never appeal to the modern educated man, especially those of Assam – the land of Shankar and Azan. Their inordinate emphasis on religion is at odds with the fact that religion and culture are two different things. Had religion been the only determining factor, the entire European region, which is predominated by Christianity, would be one single country.

The Sentinel: Sir, what are views on Assamese intellectuals including Dr. Hiren Gohain and others who opposed the bill tooth and nail, being charged with sedition?

Dr Saikia: I would say that the government has committed one more blunder by targeting one of the most important fundamental rights. You might be at loggerheads with someone for their views and opinions, but to use your might to strangle that dissent is not at all acceptable. Such a degree of intolerance, which was vented in the form of slapping of sedition charges, is likely to cause the Assamese youth go astray.

Also Read: Knowledge of Assamese Must for Job in the State, says Assam Sahitya Sabha