The discussions on Assamese nationalism have turned stale and stagnant. People who are averse to national political parties in Assam are in a quandary. They don’t know what way to go! The latest shock was the recent Panchayat elections. Noticing the bitter bickering between a section of the leaders of the BJP and the AGP, people thought that the alliance between the two parties would end after the declaration of election results. But surprisingly, the moment the dusts of Panchayat elections died down, the dirty game of mudslinging between the two parties also stopped silently. It didn’t affect the alliance of the ruling combine. I think it was played playfully to hoodwink the people.
Let us look at the history of political nationalism in Assam. Yes, there is a difference between political nationalism and cultural nationalism so far Assam is concerned. The history of cultural nationalism in Assam was positive, particularly in the pre-independence colonial times. Its roots could be traced to the imposition of Bangla as a language of education and administration in Assam in 1836 by the British. It started with the campaign for regaining the rightful place for the Assamese language as a medium of instructions and administration in Assam. This campaign also enriched the growth of Assamese literature and language.
The doyen of Assamese literature, Lakshminath Bezbaroa handled it carefully in his works, without being parochial and losing the universal literary appeal. At the time of independence of India, Assamese people again had to raise their voice against the grouping under the leadership of Provincial Congress Committee. Here, the issue was the survival of Assam. This movement was, however, not led by any regional party. Till then, no misgivings were associated with this regional sentiment of Assamese people and there was no sectarian and parochial elements attached to it.
But political nationalism in Assam started with the Assam movement. Somehow there was an inbuilt anger in the movement against the national political parties from the beginning. There were phases in the Assam movement when it called people to boycott the national political parties and its workers and leaders. There was also a tendency among its leaders and supporters to shoo away politicians and shun politics.
In fact these were clever tactics of the leadership of the movement to isolate the national political parties from the political horizon of Assam for ensuring their political base in future. The leadership of the Assam movement knew the overwhelming support it enjoyed among the Assamese people and wanted to reap political harvest out of it. That is why immediately after signing of the Assam Accord, they came out of All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and formed the Assam Gana Parishad (AGP). The rest is history.
Why the AGP couldn’t prove its mettle? They could not do so because its leaders were opportunists and hypocrites. Let us divert a little here. Even today when the preparation of the NRC is in its final stage, we don’t have a clear idea as to how many foreigners are there in Assam. We don’t even know the dimension and gravity of the problem. But this has remained the dominant narrative for Assamese nationalism for last few decades.
The BJP came to power and made some loud noises about solving the foreign national issue. And we have seen what a mesh they have made of it. Now coming back to Assamese nationalism, what have we seen our nationalist heroes doing in their alliance with the BJP? AGP’s alliance with the BJP could be described as the proverbial last nail in the coffin of Assamese nationalism. Do I need to explain it?
Let me also make a stray comment here. The BJP claims to be a principled political party. Are they showing any principles in the formation of their party and government in Assam? Arun Shourie famously said that BJP is nothing but Congress + cow. So far the composition of the BJP government in Assam is concerned, it is nothing but 45% congress 45% AGP and 10% BJP. That is all about a principled political party.
Before coming to power BJP announced with a big bang that they would deport all the foreigners from Assam once they form the government. After coming to power this turned into a whimper. Not only that, what they did next is a big joke on Assamese people. They brought the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill so that they could divide the foreigners in the name of religion and retain the Hindus here in Assam for their vote bank politics. And who presided over this decision, none but our dear Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal! Who is he? He was once the icon of Assamese nationalism!
This anti-national party icon of the bygone years completely surrendered himself to a national party with his other cohorts years ago. The AGP which still calls itself an Assamese nationalist party is in a shameful alliance with this national party which is working against the interests of Assamese identity and existence. What is the political capital of these people? Assam movement.
About four decades ago they participated and lead this movement which brought in tectonic shift in the body politic of Assam and till today they are cashing on in it duping the people of Assam. In a nutshell this is the story and history of political nationalism in Assam. At the moment it is in a hopeless and rudderless state.