GUWAHATI: If the 2016 election revolved around Narendra Modi and his vow to free the state of infiltrators, the 2021 election was all about the identity of Assamese and indigenous people. Development and employment were lesser issues.
Assam, except the Bengali-inhabited Barak Valley, erupted in protests in December 2019 when the Centre passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. Five people were killed in the protests and numerous others were injured in the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) protests that sparked a chain reaction across the Brahmaputra Valley.
Leading organizations like the All Assam Students’ Union (Aasu), Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) and Asam Sahitya Sabha expressed solidarity with the protesters to safeguard the indigenous identity for months till the pandemic brought protests to a grinding halt in March next year. The identity of the Assamese and other indigenous people took centrestage when the momentum shifted towards electioneering.
While the saffron narrative for safeguarding indigenous identity has been to resist the ‘aggression of migrant-Muslims’ of Bengali origin, the ethnic organizations switched to war-mood to thwart the CAA. The latter were in no mood to allow legalizing the entry of any foreigner on religious grounds, whether Hindu or Muslim, both of whom they termed as a threat to indigenous identity.
In the fight of ‘two civilizations’ the saffron alliance pitched the threat of the ‘one civilization’ represented by migrant Muslims as the gravest threat. Though the promise of beneficiary schemes were flagged in between by the ruling party, the BJP continued to corner the Congress-AIUDF alliance primarily cautioning voters that their win would fuel the ‘other civilization’s’ aggression to ‘take over the indigenous economy, identity and culture’.
But after all, it’s the indegenous identity narrative of the BJP, which garnered the support of a greater chunk of indigenous tribes and communities who gave a decisive mandate for the BJP-led NDA or Mitrajot for this election.
“The people of Assam believed us. We have been in favour of CAA since inception. But the opposition failed to corner us on the citizenship issue because we have been transparent on CAA but at the same time, resolute on protecting the indegenous communities. Their narrative of indegenous identity, which organizations like Aasu felt threatened by CAA, failed to convince the voters,” said Assam BJP’s chief spokesperson, Rupam Goswami.
He asserted that infrastructure development under the BJP regime has been visible and it swung the pendulum in favour of the NDA. “The identity of Assamese and other indigenous people has not been threatened by CAA, as asserted by the Opposition,” Goswami added.
Contrary to Congress’s opposition to CAA, he alleged that the grand old party was on the opposite pole in the Barak Valley. “Chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal promised that he would not do anything that could hurt his motherland. Obviously the indigenous identity of the people of Assam will remain intact,” Goswami said.
Aasu president Dipanka Kumar Nath admitted that though people have not forgotten the identity threat triggered by CAA and non-implementation of Clause 6 of the Assam Accord, it’s the BJP’s welfare schemes that helped the saffron alliance sail through.
“Perhaps the common voters felt relieved for the time being due to the numerous beneficiary schemes of the BJP-led government like free rice, direct benefit transfer, scooty for students and promise of waiving off microfinance loans,” Nath said.
He, however, said burning issues like floods and erosion, lack of adequate irrigation facilities and other bigger issues remained unsolved. “BJP’s gimmick worked. Though most departments did not have funds to usher in real development,” Nath said.