On January 4, 2020, the Assam state Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) organized a massive gathering of their booth presidents in Guwahati’s Khanapara field. The aim was to reach out for support for the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019. The event also saw the presence of, among others, the working president of BJP, J P Nadda. As is the case with most of the recent BJP rallies, this meeting also saw heavy footfalls and loud speeches by the party leaders. But, both Finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and working president J P Nadda’s speeches had some clear blunders.
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Sarma was the first to speak and within ten minutes of his speech, he mentioned that in 1979, no traders in Guwahati’s Fancy Bazar had to shut down their mobile phones due to the Assam Movement. Well, mobile phones hadn’t entered the common Assamese’s daily life way till the late 90s. While this might have been an honest mistake on the part of the minister, his next dig at the protesters of the CAA resounded his general attitude of mockery and ignorance towards the popular protests.
He said that if the protesters in Latasil were babies (by numbers), the BJP in Khanapara were their fathers. He didn’t seem to take into account the fact that at the same time as his meeting, the common Assamese folk had gathered in not just one but multiple locations across the state in protest of the Act. Just a few days back, at least one lakh people, each in Dibrugarh and Tezpur had gathered at the same time. These people were not just workers of any organization. They were common people.
Himanta Biswa Sarma went on to say that the decision to shift the cut-off year from 1951 to 1971 in the Assam Accord by the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) was a compromise and that made AASU, the real betrayers of Assam. However, he craftily avoided speaking about the reason behind this extension.
The extension of the date had originally taken place to allow the Hindus from Bangladesh on grounds of religious persecution. This means the prime reason that the BJP has provided to justify the act is null and void since it has already been established and accepted by all parties that people facing religious persecution have indeed been migrated to Assam for refuge. But this migration cannot be attributed to religious persecution any later than 1971.
Next, Sarma said that there were no protests against the previous amendments but now the protests were happening due to the vested interests and political ambitions of certain people. He failed to mention that the previous amendments were in favour of the Clause 5 of the Assam Accord like trying to define the word ‘foreigner’ or the introduction of the NRC whereas the new act totally defiles the sanctity of the accord by pushing the cut-off date forward by another forty-three years. Under these circumstances, there is no question of protesting against the previous amendment or not protesting against the current one.
He went on to conclude his speech by talking about numerous developmental work the party has done during its tenure like 4000 heart operations for children, 10,000 kms road construction etc. in the same way he does in his election rallies. His high pitched baritone almost diverted people from the fact that he was trying to justify an Act that people are protesting vehemently against by citing the work that any government is supposed to do in the first place.
BJP’s working president, Mr. J P Nadda started his speech by speaking at length on the decision of repealing Article 370 from Jammu and Kashmir and how it was supposed to give relief to the Kashmiri tribals like Changpas or Bakharwals. While trying to reach out to the tribals of the region, he didn’t seem to have thought about the fact that the rights of the Assamese indigenous people are already protected by the Clause 6 of the Assam Accord. The prime fear of the Assamese people is that this clause seems to come under direct attack of the CAA.
He also tried to bring to good light the works of the present central government. For this, he chose to praise the workings of the NIA. Even here the timing of the working president seems misplaced since a large section of the Assamese populace are already suspicious of the agency not only because of its recent arrest of peasant leader Akhil Gogoi but also because of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), under which the leader was arrested. This suspicion is also rooted in the fact that the same Act has been misused by both the Hiteshwar Saikia and Prafulla Mahanta governments in multiple instances of suppression of press and unlawful arrests.
Mr. Nadda then spoke about the pipeline from Guwahati to Barauni and how it is a boon to the people of Assam. He seemed a bit confused because even upon correction he said that the pipeline was being constructed from Barauni to Guwahati and not the other way round. Even here his comment was mistimed since many people of Assam are actually accusing the centre of being interested in Assam’s resources only and not in its future.
They are of the opinion that instead of taking Assam’s petroleum to refineries outside the state, refineries should be set up in Assam itself or the present Numaligarh Refinery be upgraded to a higher refining capacity. He addressed this too by saying that promises of setting up refineries have also been satisfied. But he somehow failed to mention the government’s very recent plans to sell the profit making BPCL to some private entity. It is worth mentioning that BPCL owns majority shares in the Numaligarh Refinery and its sale would definitely put the refinery and its employees at risk of endangerment.
All things considered, the present situation in Assam needs close observation by the people of the state. This is a very delicate situation and the decisive power lies in the hands of the people. But to exercise this power, they must be prepared to analyze all facts properly so as to avoid repeating the mistakes that have been made previously.
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