A flag March and a Curfew unlike any other takes Guwahati by Storm: Why did it Happen?
A flag march by the Army in a disturbed area of the country is basically a gesture or a measure of confidence building, something that would convey the message: “Don’t worry, we are here to look after you and you need to fear nothing.” Well, this morning (morning of 12th December), the Indian Army did stage a flag march in Guwahati only to further fan the already inflamed sentimental feathers of the indigenous Assamese community.
The question today on everyone’s mind is why Assam (or at least its Brahmaputra Valley) is behaving the way it is over the “much desirable” Citizenship Amendment Bill or CAB that has been welcomed by the rest of India. Much ignored that Assam is by the mainstream Indian media, this question is understandable as mainstream India indeed does not know of Assam’s demographic problems.
In a nutshell, the state’s not-too-distant history of the 1960s and 1970s had witnessed unfiltered and unabated infiltration from across the border with Bangladesh – poverty-stricken Bangladeshis crossing over a porous border by the hordes over many years so as to drastically alter the demographic characteristic of Assam whereby the local, indigenous population began to fear being usurped off its land and culture. Prior to 1971, or in fact prior to India’s independence, such cross-overs had continued whereby Assam found itself being forced to absorb such immigrants creating tremendous pressure on its land. But Assam was the only state in India that felt impelled by circumstances to offer its home and hearth to people who did not belong here. The consequence of this was a savage six year long agitation from 1979 to 1985 which left 855 dead and scores injured besides creating havoc with many a career.
The physical remnants of this entire slice of history of invasion and agitation culminating in the historical Assam Accord of 1985 signed between the student leaders spearheading the agitation and the government of India led by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi is that today, there is confirmed and continuing existence of illegal migrants in Assam and the threat of usurpation continues to be felt by the indigenous Assamese.
In short, since 1985, and through several governments, nothing has been done to address the issues of illegal infiltration or to implement the clauses of the Assam Accord. The indignation is huge today and it all stems from the promises of each and every political party to check the rot – a solid political card that played on the emotionally charged Assamese psyche. The Assam Accord had two telling clauses that were accepted in good faith. Clause 5 specifically pertained to detection, deletion and deportation of illegal migrants present on Assamese soil. Clause 6 pertained to safeguard of Assamese identity, culture and literature against the onslaught of this illegal infiltration.
And so, what prevails today within the indigenous Assamese society that mainly dominates the Brahmaputra Valley is a feeling of betrayal by the same people whom they voted to power since 1985 and these included governments by the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) twice, and the Indian National Congress (INC) several times. What they sought in the Bharatiya Janata Party was some trust and some respite and this was natural seeing the proactive nature of governance that the 2014 Modi-led regime seemed to offer. However, things became suspect towards the end of the 2018 when the same “trusted” BJP which the Assamese had voted into power at the state level in 2016 started acting against the hallowed Assam Accord on two counts. One was the 24th March, 1971 cut-off as an acceptance date for all the illegal migrants who had come prior to that and who would be accepted as citizens. The second was that such illegal migrants would not be discriminated as per their religions and it would not matter whether they were Hindus or Muslims; illegal migrants would be treated as foreigners to be detected and expelled if at they came after the mentioned cut-off date. The “trusted” local BJP leaders, towards the later part of 2018, started virtually shoving this idea of the Centre down the Assamese society’s throats. Their rhetoric was clear and they did not spare any platform to address the public of the virtues of having or giving citizenship to Hindus from the neighbouring Bangladesh. To top it all, in a rather poor PR exercise, the Assamese society understood that the doors have been opened to Hindu Bengali infiltration for all times to come. The greatest indignation stemmed from the fact that the Central government was showing undue haste in passing the Bill into a law in the last session of Parliament in January 2019 before its tenure was set to end and fresh elections announced in April through May of the same year.
The sense of betrayal was complete when the local BJP leaders displayed super tactlessness with their words and rather their condescending nature did not go down well with the emotionally-charged Assamese people.
On 12th December last, curfew was imposed on the city of Guwahati. The Indian Army staged a flag march. Well, the confidence was lost as it was no longer a case of an issue that had turned contentious but a matter of disbelief that trusted leaders of the BJP had done a solid U-turn at the behest of their masters in New Delhi. The flag march did nothing to instil confidence and the Army being deployed did not push fear into Assamese hearts. Rather, it was a curfew that was defiled by the people and unlike any curfew seen anywhere in India. People had no fear in coming out of homes by the hordes and taking on the army in as peaceful but vociferous a manner as they could.
Today the CAB stands as a law – a historical one at that – but all of what has happened over the last three days necessitates a deeper introspection by the powers who can, at their will, usher in peace and harmony into Assam again.