After targeting Muslim shopkeepers, Muslim vegetable sellers, with a questionable allegation of “spitting on the vegetables” (they sell), and bad-naming the food made by Muslim restauranters (or cooks/chefs), for spitting in the food they vend, even making extreme alleging that they “mix” contraceptives in their Biryani, fertilizers is what now the Bengali Muslim community in Assam has been accused of. By none less than the state’s most powerful man, its chief minister.
On May 19, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma made another directly anti-Muslim slur while warning the audience about the overuse of fertilisers in farming. Instead of addressing it as a health concern for all, Sarma painted it in communal colors, saying, “When we started governing Assam, we informed the public that there is a rise in heart, kidney disease in the state due to excessive use of fertilisers in various food items,” Sarma said in Guwahati. He said that the state was fighting “fertiliser jihad.” The Assam chief minister’s catching new “fertiliser jihad” phrase attempts to link the state’s primarily Bengali-Muslim vegetable growers to some sinister and malicious plan.
The video can be viewed here:
Now, Assam C.M Himanta Biswa Sarma, Assam invents, “Fertilizer Jihad” !
“Power is okay, and stupidity is usually harmless. Power and stupidity together are dangerous”.”
― Patrick Rothfuss pic.twitter.com/r5Nl7ea2MV
— Ramandeep Singh Mann (@ramanmann1974) May 21, 2023
It is essential to note that this was not first time that Sarma has brought up “fertiliser jihad” in reference to farming. Even while campaigning for the 2021 Assembly elections, when he was the Health Minister in Sarbananda Sonowal’s government, he had said that Assam was under a “chemical and biological attack” from “a section of people who live in Kharupetia and Dalgaon”. Even then he had levied accusations of launching the attack through their produce to lead to an “increase” in kidney and liver disease.
Notably, the region he had referred to, located in Darrang district, has a predominant population of Muslims of Bengali origin and is one of the most significant contributors to vegetable growth in the state, supplying vegetables to other parts, including Guwahati.
“People of Jorhat, Sivasagar and other Upper Assam districts are dependent on vegetables from Kharupetia and Dalgaon. But those farmers use dangerous chemicals for quick production and preservation of vegetables,” Sarma had further said previously.
The Bengali-Muslim community living in Assam have been the target of Sarma’s diatribes. A former Congressman, now a Hindutva posterboy, he has been pointedly targeting the community for some years e. From the recent “crackdown” on child marriage, where the Assam government had targeted and isolated the Muslim community and put them behind bars, to openly being referred to as encroachers, Sarma is the visible face of an aggressive anti-minority politics in in Assam.
Earlier, he had used the bogey of “love jihad” and “land jihad” against the community. Last year, Sarma had called for a law against “love jihad” while campaigning for the Gujarat Assembly polls in November 2022. During Assam election manifesto for the assembly elections, in the beginning of the year 2021, the BJP’s chosen campaigner from the North east had also decried of “land jihad” in the context of occupation of land by allegedly illegal settlers. Additionally, last year, Sarma had also said that Assam was becoming a hotbed of “jihadi activities”, and that Muslims youths were being indoctrinated in madrasas by “imams from outside the state”. Also in the year 2022, after a deluge in Assam’s Silchar, a theory had been floated in Assam that the said act was conducted by the miscreants to destroy the river embankment as part of a “flood jihad”.
Reactions over the “Fertiliser jihad” remark
The Opposition was quick to note the anticonstitutional and discriminatory aspect of Sarma’s remarks. Minatul Islam, the general secretary of the All Assam Minority Students’ Union, (AMSU) said it did not behove the dignity of the CM’s office to talk like this. “In truth, the work of feeding most of the state is done by the minority community, specifically Miya Muslims. And this Kharupetia belt is one of the main areas. They toil through the seasons to grow their crops,” he said, as reported by the Scroll.
Islam further said that the uncontrolled use of fertilisers was a fallout of governmental failure, and a grave problem and challenge was thus being trivialized through such statements by Sarma. “Fertilisers and pesticides are health hazards and the state’s food and agriculture departments should take steps to control this and impose limitations and ensure their scientific use. The government is not able to do this… Once the term jihad is used even for this and the whole responsibility is attached to a particular community, a serious issue is made light,” Islam said, as per the Scroll.
Congress Barpeta MP Abdul Khaleque also reacted to the Sarma’s statement and said that the Chief Minister is targeting Muslims “with the aim of getting votes through hate”. “He should go ahead and stop all forms of jihad, but production still has to happen. The increase in production won’t come just by speaking. It’s true that there are problems with fertiliser use, but if this is ‘fertiliser jihad’, and if he wants to do organic farming, the people involved in ‘fertiliser jihad’ should not be used for it,” he said, as reported by Indian Express.
GOI subsidized fertilisers to ensure food security
The Indian government subsidises fertilisers to improve its yields. Fertiliser subsidy in the budget estimates for 2023-24 was Rs. 1. 75 lakh crore, about 43% of the overall subsidy bill of about Rs. 4 lakh crore. Subsidies for food and fertilisers, which are linked, make up almost 90% of the subsidy bill. Therefore, Sarma’s position on fertilisers is inconsistent with the GOI’s encouragement of their use. Indeed, India has have a problem with a lopsided approach to fertiliser use. However, that’s the result of the subsidy policy that has resulted in excessive urea use, which calls for the need of a subsidy reform. Blaming farmers or giving this issue a communal color by suffixing the word “jihad”is meaningless and solves no agenda than the Hindutvapropaganda of creating a communal divide.