Resurgence of anti-CAA wave in Assam, BJP in denial?

With Assembly elections next year, party busy stirring the communal pot

Anti CAA

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will do well to recognise that it is fast losing touch with the aspirations of the Assamese people. While the party’s central command remains steadfast in its commitment to making the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) a success, the party’s leaders in the state of Assam are in a quandary given how this stand is at odds with Assam’s own decades old concerns with the subject of citizenship and alleged influx of illegal migrants from Bangladesh.

During a recent interaction at an event organised by Indian Express, Himanta Biswa Sarma, who holds important portfolios such as Education and Health, and is regarded by many political watchers as the most powerful BJP leader in Assam, brushed aside the matter saying it was “no longer a part of the main political discourse in Assam.”

It shows that the state BJP leadership is either in denial or is overtly reliant on the Modi-factor to help them stay in power. This does not bode well for the BJP given how Assembly elections are just months away.

Most of the anti-BJP sentiment in Assam is fuelled by the party’s stand on the CAA. While the BJP pushed for the passage of the act that welcomes persecuted non-Muslim refugees from three of India’s neighbouring countries; Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, people of Assam are opposed to it as it legitimises an influx of Bengali Hindus from Bangladesh.

Assam has a long and bloody history of opposing what it sees as an influx of Bangladeshis, irrespective of their religion, into the state from across a highly porous border with the neighbouring country. Such an influx is viewed by the people of the state as a threat to their demography. This was evident in the Assam Movement that led to the signing of the Assam Accord in 1985 and resulted in the update of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) with the objective of weeding out ‘illegal’ Bangladeshi immigrants from Assam.

Anti-CAA protests have been taking place sporadically across Assam. The CAA-Virodhi Samanway Samiti held a protest in Guwahati on November 17 where protesters said that CAA would ruin the heritage, culture, language, and identity of Assamese people, reported The Sentinel. On November 28, Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), All Tai Ahom Students Union (ATASU), Tai Ahom Yuba Parishad (TAYP), Sonowal Kochari Yuba Mancha (SKYM), the members of Assam Jatiya Parishad and 20 other organisations came together demanding the release of human rights defender Akhil Gogoi along with scrapping of the CAA.

Interestingly, just a week after Sarma’s remarks, a forum of parties and organisations came together in Assam on November 30, to renew their commitment to protest the CAA. The forum named Coordination Committee Against Citizenship Amendment Act (CCACAA) is expected to issue a public appeal to protest CAA on December 12, which is the first anniversary of the passage of the act. CCACAA is calling it Sankalp Diwas.

“We will not only be renewing our pledge to continue our fight against the unconstitutional law but will also appeal to all anti-CAA forces to put up a united fight against the law,” CCACAC chief coordinator Deben Tamuly told The Telegraph. He also said that families of the six people who were killed during anti-CAA protests in the state will also be honoured and that the CCACAA will seek a proper probe into their deaths.

Meanwhile, Opposition parties too appear to be sending each other feelers to come together against the BJP. In October, Congress leader Debabrata Saikia, who is the Leader of the Opposition in the state assembly, had said, “If these parties truly feel that the BJP is the principal enemy of the people of Assam and their interests, they should join hands with the Congress and jointly fight the electoral battle of 2021.” Then another Congress leader Ripun Bora then went on to float the idea of a pre-poll mahajot (grand alliance).  

Pitting Muslims against Muslims: Is BJP attempting to Divide and Rule?

But the BJP appears to be more interested in playing the communal card, though twisting it to showcase how Assamese Muslims were on their side and only Bangladeshi Muslims opposed them. At the aforementioned interaction organised by Indian Express Sarma lashed out at “Miya culture” which he said was the culture of Muslim migrants from Bangladesh. Sarma said, “It is a fight between two cultures. The so-called migrants – Bangladeshi Muslims – have started a new concept in Assam. They call it Miya culture, Miya poetry, Miya language. We have to protest the composite Indian culture and more particularly Assamese culture. And Assamese Muslims are firmly by our side.”

It is also noteworthy that Sarma recently shot down plans for a Miya museum in the state. The proposal had been floated originally by Congress MLA Sherman Ali Ahmed. Sarma tweeted his response, “In my understanding, there is no separate identity-and culture in Char Anchal of Assam as most of the people had migrated from Bangladesh. Obviously, in Srimanta Sankardeva Kalakhetra, which is the epitome of Assamese culture, we will not allow any distortion. Sorry MLA Sahab”



Now, it is well known that “Miya” is a word used for Muslims across South Asia and actually means “gentleman”. But it has unfortunately come to be used as a derogatory slur against Muslims in different parts of India. In Assam, because of the deep-rooted ethnic divide that often forms the basis of who is viewed as an “outsider”, the word “Miya” has virtually become an ethnic slur against Muslims of Bengali origin.

It is noteworthy that some Bengali speaking Muslims in Assam trace the origin of their families to Mymensingh and their parts of Bangladesh as the region was a part of undivided Bengal in those days. The British partitioned Bengal in 1905 and before that there was free movement of people across the entire region that now covers West Bengal, Bangladesh and Assam.

It is also noteworthy that Assamese people are proud of their syncretic culture and are only opposed to an influx of Bangladeshi migrants, both Hindus and Muslims, who allegedly entered the state illegally after midnight of March 24, 1971 after which the Bangladesh war began. This formed the cut-off date for the NRC as well.

Miya poetry refers to poems in Bengali dialects by Muslim poets who are attempting to reclaim the word “Miya” and are using poetry to highlight the discrimination they face in the state. Bengali speaking Muslims, irrespective of whether their families and ancestors actually hail from Bangladesh, are often dubbed Bangladeshi. The community is extremely impoverished and many live in the Char area (sandbars in the riverine region). As their homes are located in a flood and erosion prone area, they often shift from one location to another when entire villages are washed away.

Miya poetry emerged as a form of protest when Hafiz Ahmed posted a poem titled “Write down, I am a Miya” on his Facebook wall in the months preceding the publication of the final National Registration of Citizens (NRC). On July 10, 2019, an FIR was lodged against 10 poets including Hafiz Ahmed. The FIR reportedly said, “By these lines, the accused persons are creating an image of our state as a barbarian state in the eyes of the world, which is a threat to the security of the Nation in general and Assam in particular…”

But Miya poetry has drawn flak from several Assamese intellectuals as well given how the language of expression is not Assamese, but the native dialect of the Bengali Muslim poets. In the face of this criticism, Ahmed reportedly apologised. He also stated that he has been a part of the Assamese language promotion movement, so there was no question of his being against the Assamese language.

In light of all this, Sarma’s comment no only pitches Assamese speaking Muslims against Bengali speaking Muslims, it also appears to be an attempt to label any Muslim who doesn’t support the BJP as Bangladeshi.


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