People squirm in unease when I refer to the legacy of Nazism while discussing present proponents of Hindutva. But once one sets aside quibbles, the mindset of both camps cannot fail to strike one with their remarkable likeness.
The fundamental generic unity lies in their deep discomfort with any strand of thought, culture or language that does not agree with their paradigm of nationhood. Only purity in their eyes bestows legitimacy and stature, and therefore anything indigestible to it becomes a besetting obstacle haunting their dreams. So, Hitler thought of the Final Solution. One fears, the logic of their assumptions also pushes advocates of Hindutva in the same direction.
The attempt at purification takes the form of repeated pogroms and atrocities. These are planned thoughtfully and executed with dispatch and resolve. The consequences are met with excuses and arguments thought out well ahead. The strikes are sudden, indeed ‘surgical’, as it goes in the parlance of the tribe.
Closely linked to it are such flanking attacks as on land and livelihood. Once the targets are deprived of both they lose their ability to survive.
The eviction drive in Assam at present has assumed such a character.
The immigrant Muslims of Assam have been, for the greater part of their history, a riparian population. The river has been an extremely turbulent one, especially since the great earthquake of 1950, and heedless incremental building of embankments to contain its fury have resulted in massive breaches and erosions engulfing entire villages at times. The consequence has been the unavoidable movement of victims of erosion up the river’s length to find new shelters. They have thus spread farther up North. But both, sheer ignorance of such facts and entrenched bias, have turned this migration into an ‘alien invasion’ of sorts. The previous governments just looked away, hoping that things would settle down in due course. But the present government finds in it an opportunity to sate its thirst for purity and meet the demands of its overseas allies. Incidentally, both talk peace while planning endless wars.
In the campaign for the 2016 elections, Himanta Biswa Sarma worked like a demon, both to win seats for his newly adopted party and prove his loyalty to its creed by unreservedly driving a communal campaign. It was a clash of civilizations, nothing less, that must be won putting the party in power. He has not since relented in spreading the message of imminent peril from presence of aliens.
Soon after assuming office, he called for an ‘historic’ meeting of minds with ‘Muslim intellectuals’. However, as it turned out, only Muslims of indigenous origin were invited. Some such ‘local’ Muslim leader expressed gratification at the opportunity, though the occasion was only a crafty method of acquiring some legitimacy and some sort of secular legal justification. We are not against Muslims, the message went, but we shall have no mercy against ‘illegal migrants’.
And now the real motive has been uncorked. The Chief Minister of a state may come from a party, but he is supposed to protect life and liberty of all citizens without discrimination. A Chief Minister abdicating this constitutional responsibility is behaving strangely. He has vowed to ‘free’ the land of the state from the clutches of illegal migrants, foreign infiltrators and, resoundingly, ‘from the clutches of the enemies of Assamese nationality’. He pleads that without securing the land of temples and ‘sattras’ (Vaishnav monasteries) which have been regarded as the iconic centers of Assamese culture, Assamese nationality cannot be saved from extinction. But there are many tribes in Assam who owe no loyalty to these centers, and people from lower castes were once treated with utter scorn and demeaning disrespect by many of these ‘sattras’. Besides with the progress of modern ideas of equality and the rebellion of the undertrodden, who cared more for education and dignity, many had fallen into decay and oblivion. Now there is a concerted and determined drive from above to revive both them and a religious fervour of social and spiritual servitude. Large sums are being given away to them and religious ceremonies now have open backing of the government. But these are not enough to reclaim land lost to ordinary benighted people long ago.
The time for such forcible and selective reclamation may come, but the present eviction drive is to free government land.
It has unfortunately not been a serious concern of jurisprudence in India as to who owns the land since the departure of colonial masters. The government is a transient authority, but the State does not exist above the people. And it is the people who institute and constitute the State, not authorities delegated with the power of the people. Hence why should not the people, other things being equal, have a prior claim on the land?
One hackneyed argument with the ruling camp is that those evicted are ‘illegal migrants’. How is that proved? Do their names not occur on the NRC? In fact, one reason the NRC in Assam is being put in cold storage in spite of the Supreme Court’s brusque dismissal of the newly appointed pro-saffron coordinator’s concocted complaints against it, is that the hollowness of these unfounded allegations might be exposed. (This is the basic reasons why some of us have stood by an Assam-specific NRC in the teeth of attacks, as a safeguard for all citizens including immigrant origin Muslims).
Democratic, progressive path-finders of Assamese nationality from the 19th century downwards like Bezbaroah, Jyoti Prasad, Bishnu Rabha and Bhupen Hazarika have urged upon unity as the key to the survival of the Assamese nationality, and they have specifically stressed inclusion of the ‘new Assamese’, immigrant Muslims. The spokesmen of the government have specifically excluded them from their concept.
I have long held the view that the gory excesses of the Assam Movement (1978-85) were the results of secret infiltration of saffron activists in its ranks. As a survivor of those eventful days, I seem to sense the renewal of the same distracted passions. Indeed, there are disturbing recalls in local press about the martyrdom of eleven Assamese youths in the disputed area. Actually those were unfortunate results of clashes between two communities fomented by such demented propaganda. No one talks about casualties on the other side.
The government is now talking in two voices. Perhaps because some people are not convinced of its case. On the one hand, it says it is willing to give the ousted people land elsewhere (no one knows if one can grow rice there), and on the other hand, it says they absolutely have no claim at all. Now there is the excuse that ‘ten thousand’ Muslims armed with lathis and spears (Chief Minister), ‘six thousand’ according to his close comrade Pijush Hazarika, had rushed at the police party and the police fired in self-defence. But at the time of the incident no TV channel covering it live, nor any newspaper next day carried any footage of such a huge assault. A dangerous lie blown out of all proportion; one is inclined to believe.
The trend of events in future appears to be continuation of more such eviction campaigns, which the CM has sworn by, more unrest and tension and division, and the perpetuation of an atmosphere of distrust, fear and hatred, unless the general public all over the country and the courts call a halt. In the process, the police are certain to get more brutal, as in UP, and common citizens left at the mercy of the ruling cliques. The opposition has raised strong protests, but has not called it out on one voice.
*The author is a highly respected Assamese intellectual, a literary critic and social-scientist from Assam. Views expressed are the author’s own.
Other pieces by Dr. Hiren Gohain: