July 13, 2016

India: The road to saffron - A brief history from Assam (Rupam Sindhu Kalita)

by Rupam Sindhu Kalita

The venue of the BJP national executive meeting in Allahabad blazed with the red flowers of the Axomiya gamosa as the party celebrated it’s first-ever victory in Assam. Party leaders claimed that the choice to congratulate the national executive members with the Axomiya gamosa was a symbolic gesture to express their gratitude to the people of Assam. But there was more in store for Assam apart from the merely symbolic. The resolution adopted by the national executive on the final day had eight paragraphs on Assam, which is one-third of the document. The resolution repeatedly stresses the singular importance of the electoral victory in the state- “The mandate of Assam calls for a very special mention. Assam holds an important place in the minds and hearts of millions of BJP karyakartas across the country.” “It signifies a major ideological victory for the Party.” “This victory is hard-earned one for the Party.” The resolution underlines another factor- the threat posed to Axomiya identity by the relentless infiltration of Bangladeshis. The illegal flow of Bangladeshis into the state, according to the resolution, has reached “Himalayan proportions” and the threat of an impending demographic convulsion is very much real.
The support that propelled BJP to power in Assam merits an analysis because the distribution of political allegiance ahead of the election defied the conventional logic of communal polarisation. The Muslim population of the state is a divided house, which is why the normative Hindu-Muslim binary that operates in other parts of India fails to explain the relation between the two communities in Assam. The parties representing the indigenous Assamese Muslims (the first such Muslim was Ali Mech, a native of Kamrup who converted to Islam during Bakhtiyar Khilji’s military expedition to the region in early thirteenth century) – Sadou Asom Goriya Moriya Desi Jatiya Parishad, Sadou Asom Goriya Yuba Chatra Parishad, Khilongia Asomiya Musalman Unnayan Parishad, Khilongia Musalman Suraksha Mancha, Ujoni Asom Muslim Kalyan Parishad and Asomiya Muslim Kalyan Parishad reposed their faith in the BJP’s Vision Document in the run-up to the election. The Muslim groups also clarified their opposition to Badaruddin Ajmal’s All-India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) and described Ajmal as a ‘threat.’ While the indigenous Muslims of Assam are scattered throughout the state, the descendents of the Bengali Muslim immigrants of East Bengali origin are concentrated in the lower and middle Assam districts of the Brahmaputra valley and parts of Barak valley. The latter category of Muslims living in the state today trace their origin to the Bengali Muslim settler-peasants from East Bengal who were brought to inhabit and cultivate the wastelands of Lower Assam by the colonial state with the complicity of the Axomiya middle-class starting from the latter half of the nineteenth century. The settlers were poor, hardy peasants who soon turned the wastelands into revenue-generating assets. At the same time, they also activated a creative process of assimilation with the Axomiyas. Their decision to state their mother-tongue as Axomiya played a major role in Axomiya becoming the majority language of the state for the first time in the 1951 census. The community also threw their weight behind the Axomiyas during the language movements in 1960 and 1972. But the process of assimilation received a jolt during the Assam movement when the Muslims of East Bengali origin found themselves at the receiving end of a frenzied demand to expel the illegal foreigners residing in the state. There was growing anxiety among the members of the community and the massacre at Nellie on February 18, 1983 convinced them that their fear was indeed real. On the contrary, the composition of the leadership of the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), key constituent of the Gana Xangram Parikhad which led the movement, reflected the strong support the movement had among the indigenous Muslims. The Vice-President of AASU and the Presidents of the Kamrup and Jorhat unit of the AASU were indigenous Muslims of Assam. A section of the Muslims in the state were however sceptical of the intentions of the AASU and the All Assam Minority Students’ Union (AAMSU) was formed in May 1980 to counter the AASU. AAMSU won the trust of the Muslims of East Bengali origin and organised rallies against the anti-foreigner upsurge in Lower Assam. [. . .]

FULL TEXT AT:  http://raiot.in/the-road-to-saffron-a-brief-history-from-assam/