BJP’s game of rousing political sentiments in Assam
Though the perception in the media and the society looks like the BJP is on a tough wicket and it would lose some Lok Sabha seats in Assam, it would be foolish not to see it clearly that by raking up these sentimental issues the saffron party has succeeded in getting the message across that it means business.
Being a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) worker may mean many things in Assam. Given the mood of the general public it may mean that you can be called a traitor or someone who is trying to sell the state. It all started with the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 and if you look at the protests held throughout the state in the past two years, it won’t be hard to guess which way the wind is blowing. The mood is anti-BJP when it comes to supporting the bill. People have voiced their opinions and also what they want. Despite all these, the BJP is hell-bent at the Centre and the state to pass the bill. Why?
BJP’s stand on the bill saw party offices being broken and burnt in some places in the state and some of BJP leaders getting expelled for speaking out of turn. Even senior BJP leader Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma agreed that the party workers have gone into hiding given the mass anger against the bill. But BJP is not going to go back on the bill as it would mean not only loss of face but also of trust and votes.
The BJP understands that the Bengali-speaking Hindus who will be marked as illegal citizens in the final NRC (National Register of Citizens), if continued to be given their voting rights, will become its followers. I would call it the final consolidation of Hindu votes in Assam. Dr Sarma’s argument that 17 seats would go to the Jinnah ideology (AIUDF) will make the Hindu voters think twice before they cast their votes to some other party. This move is purely political in nature and it’s out in the open. The only way to test this project’s success is the general election which is barely a few months away from now. The BJP knows this and is testing the waters while other political parties are busy with shadow boxing and street protests. The final NRC is definitely not going to come out before the general elections, so this political stroke is surely going to get benefits for the BJP, unlike what Dr Sarma has been claiming. For BJP, after the four-and-a-half years of Narendra Modi rule and the kind of coalitions coming up in the rest of the country, each vote counts. That’s what the truth is, and they will try all the tricks in the basket to increase their vote share.
People of Assam have been very vocal about this bill. There is a unity of opinion across the state when it comes to the Citizenship Amendment Bill. A Bangladeshi is a Bangladeshi; Hindu or Muslim does not matter is what people have majorly expressed. The protests against the bill have been so overwhelming in the Brahmaputra valley that the BJP finds itself stuck between the devil and the deep sea.
But political parties are very thick-skinned and they will always play with the emotions of their voters. Deep down somewhere BJP knows, in the end, politically, it is a so-called Assamese versus the Bengali-speaking Muslims (mostly from Bangladesh). In the recent weeks it is only Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma who has been stressing and repeating that the cultural and ideological identities are different between these two distinct communities and people of Assam need to take a stand now. According to Dr Sarma, it’s now or never. And for the indigenous community to survive the political onslaught of illegal Bengali-speaking migrants, the Citizenship Bill is a bitter pill that Assam will have to swallow if the community has to remain active politically, argued Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma.
BJP knows that without guaranteeing safeguards to the indigenous community it won’t be able to get back the confidence. So, there is a three-pronged approach applied to woo the community in general. The first is the long-pending Scheduled Tribes (ST) status to six communities - they have it in the election manifesto. The second is the legislative safeguard by reserving MLA seats and other forms of reservations (jobs etc) for the indigenous community (Clause 6, Assam Accord) and the final one is the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill that would help BJP secure those 17 seats where the votes of the Bengali-speaking Hindus matter. The passing of the bill will no doubt increase a certain percentage of votes for the saffron party in Assam and in other parts of the country like West Bengal.
Though the perception in the media and the society looks like the BJP is on a tough wicket this time and it would lose some Lok Sabha seats in Assam, it would be foolish not to see it clearly that by raking up these sentimental and serious issues the saffron party has succeeded in getting the message across to the voter that it means business and has already given a shape to the political sentiment – Them versus Us.
In an election year, isn’t that what a political party is supposed to do? So what is this brouhaha about?