One of the hallmark of democracy – largely accepted as the best form of political system – is its scope for change. The elected class is held accountable and answerable through periodic elections. Nobody can escape that. Hence in India every five years the electorate exercises its highest political right and elects people who will govern the country. The choice is based on what respective political parties promise for the upcoming years. There is also an underlying expectation that this party will deliver where other parties failed.
The BJP government was voted to power with overwhelming majority to ensure that they could provide governance with a change and solve the long standing problems that the state and the people have been facing. As the new government completes almost two years of being in power – it is not too early to analyse a few issues about what the new government has delivered. In 2016 elections the government gave the call of ensuring safety of the indigenous people and their rights.
Their coalition took on board different political formations representing the various ethnic communities. BPF which was earlier a part of the Congress government also allied with BJP. The call of the election was – Jati, Mati, Bheti. The newly elected government promised the electorates that it will safeguard the identity of the Assamese nationality (Jati), the land of the state (Mati) and the foundation of Assamese nationalism (Bheti).
The government started on a positive note. Despite electing a national party the people were initially assured that the government will work for safeguarding the interests of the indigenous communities. However in two years the government has traversed long distance from what was promised to the electorate. Some of the policies initiated by the government would force us to rethink what their Election manifestos promised.
To start with the Government promised to safeguard the identity of the Assamese community. The long drawn Assam Movement and the Accord that followed had certain provisions to ensure that the community did not become a minority in its own land. The interest of the Axomiya Jati is to be safeguarded. But rather than moving towards implementing the relevant clauses of the Assam Accord to safeguard the interests of these people, the Central government introduced the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill,2016 which will eventually pave the way for granting citizenship to the Hindu Bangladeshis who were already in Assam or might immigrate in the future.
The Assamese community struggled long for safeguarding our culture, identity and language. The memories of the Bhaxa Andolan or Language Movement is still fresh in the minds of those who were at the forefront of the Movement. At that critical juncture the neo Assamese or the Na Axamiya community put their weight behind the Assamese and provided a fertile ground for the creation of a greater Assamese society. Similar battle-lines are being drawn again. If the Citizenship Amendment Bill is passed, Assam will have to house a large number of Hindu Bangladeshis and the Assamese language will itself again pitted against Bengali. It is futile to expect the newly induced Hindu Bangladeshis to accept Assamese language and culture as they have been fighting for long to safeguard their own cultural identity.
Coming to the next crucial aspect – Mati, Assam loses large tracts of land due to annual floods and river erosion. Scarcity of land resources has been a constant cause of many a clash that the state has suffered from. In such a scenario the Government promised to safeguard land. One step was to free the Professional Grazing Reserves and Village Grazing Reserves from illegal encroachers. But a sizeable number of the evicted people are erosion affected people who have lost their land to the mighty Brahmaputra. Landlessness, poverty, lack of livelihood opportunity forced these people who belong to diverse ethnic backgrounds like Koch Rajbongshis, Bodos, Adivasis, Axomiyas to inhabit government land. While government can procure land for public utility, it should have been preceded with providing some rehabilitation and compensation to the displaced people.
The Assam Movement brought forth the bitter fact that the state earns very less revenue from its oil and tea production. The Assam Accord promised to address this. But rather than ensuring that the oil fields of Assam work in an efficient way, the new government gave over a number of oil fields to the private sector stating low productivity. Interestingly one of the companies that won the bid Megha Engineering and Infrastructure could not complete a previous project worth Rs 2400 crores in time.
While land continues to be the cause of many conflicts, large tracts of land was given over to Patanjali. Around 150 acres of land in Balipara near Tezpur was given over to Patanjali for constructing a Herbal and Mega Food Park. It is again demanding 33 acres more. It is to be noted that Patanjali was already allotted around 3828 bighas of land in Chirang district in the BTC area. This was followed by massive protests as this will lead to largescale eviction. While claims were made that this enterprise will create jobs, the company has been already accused of bringing employees from outside the state.
Coming to the question of Bheti or the foundation of the Assamese Community, Assam is known as the land of Shankar-Azan. Syncretic culture is the hallmark of the community and Assam is enriched by diversity that different communities contribute. But differentiating between immigrants on the basis of religion, introducing controversial policies like compulsory Sanskrit which is not even the root of many tribal languages of the region, will eventually loosen the secular ethos of Assamese identity and threaten the communal and ethnic harmony that has largely prevailed. The need of the hour is to remind the present government of their electoral promises and ensure that no policy that will risk the integrity of Jati, Mati and Bhetiof Assam should be initiated. Political pragmatism cannot override indigenous rights of the people. And ultra right wing politics has no place in Assam which has carved its own kind of co-operative mechanisms in the larger political spectrum.