Even as the state of Assam has been witnessing widespread violence ever since the CAB was tabled in the Lok Sabha, PM Modi has tried to soothe Assamese people by reiterating his government’s commitment towards preservation of Assamese culture. He tweeted, “The Central Government and I are totally committed to constitutionally safeguard the political, linguistic, cultural and land rights of the Assamese people as per the spirit of Clause 6.”
Therefore, by reiterating the government’s commitment towards Clause 6 of the Assam Accord that seeks to enact the “constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, as may be appropriate, shall be provided to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people,” PM Modi is trying to calm the frenzy that has gripped parts of Assam.
The Central Government and I are totally committed to constitutionally safeguard the political, linguistic, cultural and land rights of the Assamese people as per the spirit of Clause 6.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) December 12, 2019
While PM Modi has made a passionate appeal and even Union Home Minister, Amit Shah has promised to uphold the spirit of Clause 6 of the Assam Accord, it is the panic and fear-mongering that is continuously creating tensions in Assam. One of the leaders of the protests, Akhil Gogoi has also been arrested from Jorhat. Apart from irresponsible media coverage and debates fanning the flames, Congress and AIUDF have been the ones making provocative remarks and patronising the anti-CAB stir in the state. Both the parties have specific political objectives to achieve and the statements by leaders from both the parties show that they are the ones actually pushing Assam into the crisis that the state is in.
The student unions are on-ground and leading the protests in the state with political patronage and there are two main factions leading these protests- the All Assam Students Union (AASU) and the All Assam Minorities Students’ Union (AAMSU). There is a clear dichotomy that can be read into the objects that these two factions are trying to pursue.
AASU is the organisation that had represented the Assam agitation against the illegal migrants in the state between 1979 to 1985. It is also the organisation that had signed the Assam Accord of 1985. They, therefore, represent Assamese chauvinists, who have a clear agenda. They want all ‘outsiders’ including illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and Bengali Hindus to be excluded from Assam. Their main aspect of activism is the protection of Assamese culture and language of the state. And with the passage of the CAB, they fear that the indigenous culture and language of Assam is under threat with the passage of CAB. They have also sounded apprehensions about the possibility of Bengali Hindus flooding the Brahmaputra valley with the passage of the CAB in the Parliament. It is because of the chauvinistic nature of protests that the Bengali-majority Barak Valley has not witnessed major protests and agitations post the passage of CAB in the Parliament.
The AAMSU, the other prominent student union leading the protests, on the other hand, has been opposed to both the CAB and the NRC. Thus, while AASU wants Assam to be rid of everyone which the Assamese chauvinists see as ‘outsiders’, the AAMSU wants to maintain the status quo. In fact, even former Assam Chief Minister, Tarun Gogoi had claimed that it was AAMSU because of which the NRC got delayed. The AIUDF also seems to be airing sentiments both against the NRC and the CAB. The political outfit which is pretty influential in the state has already drawn fire for its sympathy towards the Muslim illegal immigrants. Though AIUDF supremo, Badruddin Ajmal has maintained that the Bengali-speaking Muslims are not Bangladeshis, the party continues to draw fire for appeasing the Bangladeshi Muslim vote bank, which is, of course, a major political asset that the AIUDF does not want to lose. Therefore, the party is using the protests over CAB to keep Assam on the boil and also to avoid NRC. In fact, BJP’s key person in the North-East, Himanta Biswa Sarma has even alleged that the vehicles being used in the anti-CAB stir are financed by Badruddin Ajmal.
While the issue is a local one for the AIUDF, the Congress is pursuing an even larger political objective out of the ongoing stir in Assam. The party has been acting in a totally bipolar manner and has taken two irreconcilable lines of protest against the CAB. It has been arguing that the CAB is violative of Article 14 since it discriminates on the basis of religion, which in itself is a an elementary and flawed understanding of the constitutional provision, but even if that argument was to be accepted, it would not solve Assam’s issues.
What Congress has been arguing implies that it would have supported the CAB had it not been restricted to non-Muslims persecuted in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan as then it would not have amounted to an assault on the Constitution and its “secular” values, but then it would have made no difference to the state of Assam as the Bengali Hindus would have still acquired citizenship.
The other argument that people like Gaurav Gogoi within the Congress are making is that the CAB is against the spirit of special constitutional protection afforded to the North-eastern states and the CAB. The Congress stand itself is incoherent and irreconcilable. Congress leaders like Manmohan Singh and Tarun Gogoi, in the past, have demanded citizenship for refugees of religious persecution.
For the Congress, the issue is not limited to Assam. The manner in which Rahul Gandhi tried to trigger panic with a provocative tweet reading, “The CAB is an attempt by Modi-Shah Govt to ethnically cleanse the North East. It is a criminal attack on the North East, their way of life and the idea of India. I stand in solidarity with the people of the North East and am at their service,” shows that the grand old party is looking at the Assam agitation as an opportunity to bring down Himanta Biswa Sarma and Assam CM, Sarbananda Sonowal, both of whom have emerged as tall leaders in the Assam and North-east. The larger conspiracy is of course to inflict damage upon the credibility of the Modi-Shah duo. This also explains the irresponsible Kashmir comparisons that the Congress has been making.
As Assam passes through a tough period, it is clear that the issue is not as simplistic as it is being portrayed. There are political machinations and vested interests involved, which are not allowing tempers to calm down in the state.