The indigenous communities are not safe and secure as the Mughal aggression is still on – Himanta Biswa Sharma.
Mughals have been a constant reference, a significant metaphor in Assam politics. As a metaphor, it conveys different meanings depending on the political context.
The use of metaphors in politics is not new. In fact, metaphors can persuade people by invoking certain images, memories which in turn helps in political mobilisation.
Metaphors also reflect political realities. The constant reference of Mughal as a historical metaphor in Assam politics reveals the ideologies aspirations conflicts among various actors.
The defeat of Mughals at the hands of Ahoms continues to evoke the image of an independent Assam that thwarted external threats.
Various Nationalist organisations continue to invoke the historical battles where Mughals got defeated of which the battle of Saraighat remains the most prominent.
In fact, Udayon Misra identifies the struggle against Mughals as a significant factor that helped in forging Assamese identity and unity during that period.
Assam’s politics is marked by a sense of alienation from the Centre, which springs from the troubled history of negligence and a sense of internal colonization by the Indian state.
However, the degree of the sense of alienation has not remained the same.
The Centre has managed to assuage it at times and has failed at the other times. However, a sense of coloniality has always persisted and in times of stress, leaders have often invoked the glorious Ahom history to denote the independence that Assam enjoyed historically.
In fact, achieving such autonomy continues to remain a significant goal in Assams politics.
In its extreme version, the demand is, for complete independence by secession from India, made by ULFA.
So in this context, the Mughals and their defeat signifies Assam’s glorious past that averted any outside threat, but recalling of such memories reflect the current struggle.
By invoking that part of history attempts are made to unify in a common struggle for autonomy, against an external force- the hegemonic Indian state.
Manoj Kumar Nath in his book Asomor Rajnitit Musalman argued that Muslims, as a community in Assam, has itself become a political issue; specifically, during two phases- first, during the Assam movement and second after the removal of IMDT act by Supreme Court till 2006 elections.
The amount of controversy, conflict and struggle that CAA and NRC have generated, it must be viewed as the third phase during which ‘the Muslim question ‘has become salient in Assam’s politics’.
Hindutva forces in Assam has developed gradually over time. In fact, RSS and its various wings have been working at the grassroots in Assam for decades.
Such grassroots work has enabled it to appropriate many secular symbols and icons of Assamese society- the Brahmaputra River, Shankardeva, Lachit Barphukan, Namghar etc.
The invocation of Mughals by Hindutva brigade signifies a critical turn, in Assam’s politics. It is an attempt to unify and assimilate Assam’s peculiar history into mainland India’s history that in turn conforms to the Hindutva’s imagination of the past.
This in turn holds the potential to blunt the anti-Delhi edge in Assams’ politics and also silences the non-Aryan/Hindu elements that have contributed towards the development of Axomiya identity and society.
Such assimilation and communalisation of history erase the significant historical realities.
Not all Mughals remained enemies, some of them even stayed back and later on became a significant part of Assamese society.
Today’s Khilonjiya Axomiya Musalmanare descendants of Muslim/Pathan/Mughal soldiers who were left behind and who decided to stay back in Assam after the wars were over.
While portraying Mughals (read Muslims) as the enemies it is ignored that many Muslims were part of Ahom army who resisted the same Mughals.
Ahoms appointed a significant number of Muslims in higher ranks.
Muslim Saint Azan Pir preached his philosophy of communal harmony in our society during the Ahom period.
His creation Zikir and Zari (devotional songs) are appreciated by both Hindus and Muslims alike. Of course, a communally distorted history has no place for such realities.
It is interesting that NRC which springs from the aspirations to resolve Assam’s citizenship crisis has been hijacked by Hindutva brigade. This, however, seems obvious.
Anupama Roy argues that the centre prefers to maintain its sole authority over determining the questions of citizenship in India.
The NRC in this sense seems to be the meeting point of two contradictory political imaginations- one is of Hindu Rashtra and the other is of foreigner free Assam.
To assume that centre would give in its area of “citizenship determination ”, an issue which is also linked with state sovereignty and that Assamese nationalists could drive home the project of NRC without significant hurdles laid down by the centre is ignorance of political realities.
It is in this context that the use of Mughal as a metaphor becomes meaningful. If language holds the power of constructing reality, the metaphorical use of Mughal aims at unifying and homogenizing two contrasting political imaginations which ultimately ensures the continuance of centres dominant gaze in determining the political problems of Assam.
Mughals as a metaphor in Assam’s politics represent the pull between two contradictory struggles – one is the struggle for autonomy and the other the struggle for co-option.
In fact, pre/post-independent political developments in Assam has been a play between these two opposites.
While the desire to identify with Hindu civilization has always been there among a section of Assamese middle class – it was during the colonial period that attempts were made to consider Axomiyajati as a part of the great Hindu civilization which in turn led to the alienation of tribal populace.
The use of the same metaphor by Hindutva brigade and the positive response of various tribal organizations is both confusing and worrying. Would medieval India’s history now determine their political aspirations?
In opposing and rejecting Assamese middle-class hegemony and assimilationist ideology, they must not forget the fact that Hindutva is as much hegemonic and assimilationist as that of Assamese middle class’s.
However, there are also differences between the two and not one and the same.
Assamese middle class’s chauvinistic aspirations have alienated different groups in our society. Such divisions, in turn, has enabled the Indian state to play it politics and re/ensure its continued dominance in areas that matter to the state- citizenship, security, resources share, cultural policies, development etc.
There is a need to build and work towards merging this gap between different communities by building a relationship of trust and put up a common struggle against the hegemonic Indian state.