Way back in the early 80’s of the last century, former chief minister of West Bengal late Jyoti Basu termed the Assam Movement against foreigners as being “like a picnic”. Historically and factually speaking, the achievement of the movement finally turned out to be a mere piece of paper called Assam Accord which is already in its 35 year and as toothless as ever before.
From the bitter fact that virtually all the major clauses of the Accord continue to be distant dreams in terms of realisation, one may look back about four decades down the lane and seriously weigh if Jyoti Basu’s comment on the movement was on the right track.
A similar scenario erupted across the length and breadth of Assam in the second half of 2018 when millions took to the streets in protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 (CAB), forcing the ruling BJP to maintain a low profile.
In such a backdrop when the political horizon seemingly appeared to the gloomy for the ruling dispensation, the Assam government was compelled to hold the panchayat polls as per the order of the High court. It was a time of juxtaposition of protest by millions against the CAB and the panchayat election.
Significantly, the very people who were opposing the Bill on the streets rushed to the polling booths to vote in favour of the BJP overwhelmingly in the panchayat polls. Having swept the polls, there was no looking back for the saffron brigade and all thrust was made with accelerating momentum to get the contumacious Bill passed in the Parliament. Luckly for the State, the greater strength of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha came in as a roadblock for the Bill.
The landslide victory at the panchayat polls was a Herculean booster to the BJP. It was an acid test for the party to assess its strength at the ground level. It was a clear indication that the vast majority of the rural folks were with the saffron brigade.
Further, as the 2019 Lok Sabha election process got underway, the saffron party could muster the guts to declare in its election manifesto that the CAB would be re-introduced in the Parliament if the party was voted back to power.
Virtually every super heavyweight of the BJP, beginning with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, announced in countless number of election campaign meetings that CAB would be brought back. It has never been a secret that the purpose of the CAB would be to facilitate the Hindu foreigners (read as Hindu Bangladeshis in respect of Assam and the NE) to settle down in this part of the country and in due course become Indian citizens.
It came the D-Day, the poll day, the litmus test day for the people of the NE. And the people of Assam gave an overwhelming mandate (9 out of 14 Lok Sabha seats) to the BJP; the remaining NE States also sided with the BJP with greater or lesser strength.
It was indeed a referendum of sort on the CAB for the people of the region. Registering a record turnout and through its massive mandate for the saffron party, the people of Assam clearly sent the signal that, at least in principle, they were not opposed to the CAB. The results also reflected that the people of the other NE States were also perhaps not too worried about the CAB.
With several Assam BJP leaders taking to wild bombardment of the final NRC, the prospect of speeding up the introduction of the CAB has gained momentum. Already the saffron camp has unofficially announced that a new version of the CAB would be introduced in the Parliament soon.
The announcement about the advent of CAB has triggered a chain of protest in several NE States. Significantly, the protests this time around are on a much smaller scale, while Assam draws a nil. At this juncture it may also be stated that the leaders and organisations that raised the loudest cry against CAB on the earlier occasion went silent on the Bill since the announcement of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. One wonders what ‘magic’ might have caused those leaders to go into hibernation.
Setting records straight, it must be stated that the BJP played no hide and seek in the matter of CAB. The party made its intention on the Bill as clear as daylight through its manifesto and announcements in several election meetings prior to the 2019 polls. The ball was in the people’s court and the electorate of Assam gave a huge mandate to the saffron party that projected the CAB as its trump card.
As of now, the reality check causes an observer to question if through its 2019 mandate the people of Assam have forfeited the right to oppose the CAB. The question also arises if the people of Assam have decided to sort out the complex issue of ‘jati, mati aru bheti’ for the Hindu Bangladeshis.
Again, while all final calls on issues on Hindutva emanate from Nagpur, perhaps the people of the State are of the view that the advent of Hindu Bangladeshis would have no impact on the demography or languages of the indigenous people of Assam.
As of now, in the light of the numerical strength in the Parliament enjoyed by the BJP, its allies and supporting parties, the CAB may be on its course towards becoming a reality.
Again, one never knows; in the backdrop of the 2019 mandate, one only feels that Issues like demography, language, the great culture weaved by Mahapurush Sankardeva and the ‘jati, mati aru bheti’ factor of the indigenous people may recede into the backburner while CAB makes a soft landing in a red carpet milieu amidst rollicking Bihu and Bagrumba.
Or recalling Jyoti Basu, is it that we only love ‘picnic’ and that too in huge measure? One may only state that politics is serious business with a positive outlook. Negative or casual politics can only lead to disaster.