DATELINE Guwahati /Wasbir Hussain
Assam, on the eve of the elections three months from now, is highly polarised on commul lines, both religious and ethnic, something the State had not seen in the past three decades. Therefore, it is clear the State Assembly polls this time is going to determine the future course of Assam's social fabric. If the campaign and the resultant social and political engineering being crafted by the various political parties come to shatter the State’s already divided society, it could create a divide in Assam’s social life that would be hard to bridge for years to come. One gets worried thinking about the consequences of deliberate attempts by the political parties to polarise voters on commul and ethnic lines.
We have witnessed, both on local television and print media, attempts by a section of politicians, intellectuals and jourlists to talk on Hindu-Muslim lines, instead of referring to people in general or the electorate in particular. I have been covering elections in Assam since 1985, the polls immediately after the historic Assam Accord, but never have I seen such blatant use of identifying people as Hindus or Muslims. I am more surprised at some intellectuals, too, joining the chorus with those who have been seeking to address issues from a Hindu-Muslim standpoint. This is certainly a new trend.
We are citizens of a country which liberally provides freedom of expression or thought. But while enjoying this freedom, we need to be cautious so as not to disturb the already complex social fabric in this diverse tion where the geography, demography, language and culture changes every hundred kilometres. We are still struggling to arrive at an acceptable definition as to who is an ‘Assamese’, the Assam Accord is yet to be implemented thirty years after it was signed, we have a huge problem of illegal infiltration from Bangladesh, our unemployment figures is really big, there is hardly any industrialization, the power situation is dismal, and infrastructure poor. This is the situation in Assam 68 years after Independence, and today our political class is only engaged in speech and action that goes to polarise our society that debars us from working hand-in-hand for the State’s progress.
In the past few weeks, one has been hearing some commentators saying that Assam does not want to see ‘Bangladeshis’ as king makers. This is stating the obvious because no sane Assamese or for that matter no sane Indian citizen would like to see a ‘Bangladeshi’ or any foreigner assuming the role of a king-maker in Assam or any part of our country. Then why are these commentators (few in number) saying they would not like to see ‘Bangladeshis’ as king-makers in Assam? Do they mean that our State Assembly has MLAs who are ‘Bangladeshis’ or are they saying that in the coming elections ‘Bangladeshis’ will contest and become MLAs and then become king-makers by supporting either the Congress or the BJP? I hope, these commentators will clarify things.
I want to make it clear that there are illegal Bangladeshi migrants in Assam. It is a real problem that threatens to alter Assam’s demography. These illegal migrants must be detected and deported. This can be actually achieved because India now has excellent bilateral ties with Bangladesh under the Prime Ministership of rendra Modi. But, if anyone is really fearing that Bangladeshi tiols could contest the polls, become MLAs and then become king-makers in Assam, they must move the Election Commission and ask it to intervene. Things must be clear. One cannot brand everyone living in the chars across Assam as ‘Bangladeshis’ today although they may be of East Bengal origin. There is a clear distinction between a settler who had migrated before 1971 and those who have sneaked in after 1971. The more one refuses to make a clear and realistic distinction, the more they would be drawn to certain political parties who seek to represent them.
At the end of the day, voters will have the last word, irrespective of attempts to sway their minds.