What are you doing about Assam, Prime Minister?
By Pushpesh Pant
05th August 2012 12:00 AM
Fifty people dead and four lakh rendered homeless. And Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi smugly and shamelessly announces that the state isn’t burning; only four out of 28 districts are affected by violence and arson. True, some of the bluster has given way to more servile whining since the prime minister’s visit to strife-torn region, but make no mistake, the bully is only lying low biding his time. Wasn’t he the one bragging not long ago when a teenaged girl was being stripped and molested in Guwahati about his own guts (in gone by youth) that scared off many a tough goon? Why couldn’t the journalists take inspiration from his example and deter criminals instead of merely recording outrages? He knows he doesn’t owe his victory to the much-hyped charisma of Rahul or international reputation of Dr Manmohan Singh who incidentally, secured his original entry into the Rajya Sabha as a person domiciled in Assam — a claim validated by his landlady, the wife of a former Congress chief minister. Before this communal conflagration singed him, he appeared much more secure in his seat than other beleaguered Congress chief ministers like Ashok Gehlot and Vijay Bahuguna. The numbers of this species are severely depleted, dwindling fast and endangering their existence. In short, Gogoi considers himself indispensable and irreplaceable.
All this should not blind us to the real roots of the problem. Bodo community’s demands have only been partially addressed. Discontent has simmered underground. Nor is their discontent the only explosive element. It’s well known that in recent decades the demographic profile of many districts in Assam has altered drastically due to illegal influx of so-called refugees from Bangladesh. Other states in the Northeast and West Bengal too have had to cope with this immigration. Neighbouring Myanmar has had to deal with similar unwelcome guests. The Arakan region is in peril of being engulfed by culturally different Bangladeshi outsiders who are constantly in conflict with the sons of the soil there.
Ironically, the relationship between India and Bangladesh is without major irritants at present and the government in Dhaka is friendly. But, this shouldn’t blind us to the presence of elements in that country inimical to our national interests. Jihadi extremists nursed by the ISI and tempted by Saudi/Wahabi petro-dollars are emboldened to assault India in myriad subversive ways. What is euphemistically described as ethnic strife has most dangerous communal substratum. This isn’t a clash between Hindus/Animists and Muslims. Foreigners masquerading as citizens complicate the picture.
Sadly, and most dangerously, the Congress and the CPI(M) along with other ‘progressive’, ‘secular’ politically correct persons have found it convenient to turn a blind eye to this. This is understandable as the ‘insecure minority’ (fast turning into a majority in affected areas) can be nursed as a decisive vote bank during elections. Local musclemen, patronised by political leaders, facilitate documentation to legitimise their presence. Bonds of shared religious beliefs or prejudice against the tribal residents of the state exacerbates the crisis. As long as helpless daily wage-earners from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar bore the brunt of Bodo ire, the media was seldom bestirred. Now that the clashes involve armed adversaries on both sides and both can claim special protection from the state as tribal or religious minority, the state and the Central governments are hoist by their own petard.
A Congress MP visiting Assam in the wake of carnage as part of a multi-party delegation of Muslim MPs has stated unambiguously that the Muslims in Assam have lost confidence in Gogoi. This has hit the headlines, and rightly so. It needs to be added that the Bodos too have lost confidence in him. It is essential to be even-handed in these matters.
Assam is slowly limping back to ‘normalcy’. Curfew will no doubt be relaxed and lifted. ‘Shoot at sight’ orders are no longer in force and ‘substantial’ relief packages have been announced. Movement of long-distance trains too has been restored. All this, no thanks to Gogoi, can hardly be termed normal. The wounds will take a long time to heal and painful scar tissue will continue to rankle. Towns and cities superficially may recover the appearance of ‘life as usual’, but remote villages will live for months under shadow of sudden death. No one knows what and when will trigger another round of revenge killings.
Gogoi’s government hasn’t only failed in maintaining law and order, it has also proved utterly incapable of providing relief to the victims and security in refugee camps. He has blamed the Centre for not deploying army in time to deflect attention.
Assam has been let down more than once by the Congress-ruled Centre. Nehru’s infamous speech in 1962 hasn’t been forgotten yet. It isn’t enough to say that events in Assam are a blot on India. The nation wants to know what is our Prime Minister doing to wash this blot away.
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