Civilization is a poll plank in Assam for the BJP. They are asking people to vote for the BJP in the name of civilization. This is strange. Apparently, civilization is an abstract concept. What an ordinary voter will make out of it? Will they understand the import of civilization? I don’t think so.

An ordinary voter needs concrete issues to vote for or against them. Making an abstract concept an election issue is quite an adventure. But we know what the BJP wants to convey to the people of Assam in the name of civilization. The word civilization is only a ploy, a cover.

Their main point is to divide the voters into religious lines and then, garner the major chunk of it.  They are saying that if the people of Assam vote for the grand alliance, their civilization will be in danger. How and why? To the BJP, when people vote for the grand alliance, they in fact vote for AIUDF which means Badaruddin Ajmal who is a Muslim. That means it will be a vote for Islam which will in the process endanger the civilization of Assam.

Now we must understand two things. What does civilization mean and what is the civilization of Assam? First, let us understand what the word civilisation means. There is a fascinating book called A History of Civilisations by Fernand Braudel. Braudel was a foremost French historian. His massive book Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philp II is considered one of the seminal works of the century.

In this book, he works on a wide canvas and presents its salient features in his study. Civilisation is another remarkable book by him.  About this book, Jan Morris, another celebrated historian said, “A work of art-far nobler than mere scholarship. Its insight are variously luminous, startling and curious…Braudel’s portrait of the planet is immensely varied and vivacious…a panorama full of emotion, excitement, humanity and even hope.”

Before we go to our common sense understanding of the word civilization, let us see what an authority like Fernand Braudel says about the meaning of civilization.

“Civilisation, vast or otherwise, can always be located on a map, an essential part of their character depends on the constraints or advantages of their geographical situation.  This, of course, will have been affected for centuries or even millennia by human effort.

“Every landscape bears the traces of this continuous and cumulative labour, generation after generation contributing to the whole. …To discuss civilisation is to discuss space, land and its contours, climate, vegetation, animal species and natural or other advantages. It is also to discuss what humanity has made of these basic conditions: agriculture, stock-breeding, food, shelter, clothing, communications, industry and so on.”

No, it is not the definition of civilization. It only throws some light on it. No civilization grows out of nothing. It is always permeated by certain conditions. It is a flux of different streams of cultures, races and religions. The essence of civilization is assimilation. There is no purity in it. A civilization is an admixture.

Now, what is the civilization of Assam? A thing called Assamese civilization is nonexistent. As such, there is no civilization of Assam. So far Assam is concerned, we don’t speak in terms of civilization, we speak in terms of identity.

There is a thing called Assamese identity. It is predominantly a cultural identity. This cultural identity is formed by a definite lifestyle and language(s). It is not that there are no religious elements in this cultural identity. There are. But these elements are drawn from no single religion but from many a religion. If someone wants to name it Assamese civilization, they can do so. But, under no circumstances it is a singular religious identity.

So this bogey of civilization on the part of the BJP is completely a falsification. It has got no basis and no locus standi. Dividing people on the basis of their religious affiliation is in fact anti-civilization. Again, the term civilization is not in currency presently.

Braudel has said it clearly, “…This being so, civilization in the singular has lost some of its cachet. It no longer represents the supreme moral and intellectual value that it seemed to embody in the eighteenth century. Today, for example, we more naturally tend to call some abominable misdeed ‘ a crime against humanity’ rather than, against civilization, although both mean much the same thing.

“We feel somewhat uneasy about using the word in its old sense, connoting human excellence or superiority. In the singular, indeed, civilization now surely denotes something which all civilizations share, however unequally: the common heritage of humanity.”

If this is the thing, how come BJP asks for votes in the name of civilization in Assam? I have no hesitation in saying that BJP stands for all the things which are anti-civilization. Assimilation is the thing.

Forget about Assam, even this notion of civilization does not apply to India. Or whether you call it culture or civilization, India is a land of many people, many cultures, many languages, and many religions. Indian identity was never a monolithic Hindu identity. Pluralism is its ethos. Same is true for Assam. This ploy of civilization for the sake of grabbing votes is nothing but trickery on the part of the BJP.

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Paresh Malakar

Paresh Malakar is a commentator based in Guwahati. He can be reached at: malakarparesh@gmail.com