The issue of National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam leaving out four million people from its final draft released on 30 July 2018 has created a nationwide stir as the Modi regime and the RSS have converted the issue of exclusion of these people as a Hindu vs Muslim narrative and created a paranoia over the threat that “Bangladeshi infiltrators” (read Bengali Muslims) pose to national economy and national security. There is absolutely nothing new in the BJP or the RSS’ rhetoric over “illegal Bangladeshi immigrants” and it’s too trite for the ears of the common people of Assam and West Bengal, however, there is something new this time, as the Modi regime is hell-bent to use the paranoia over the “Bangladeshi infiltrators” beyond the boundaries of Assam to polarise people before the 2019 general election. Due to this target of the ruling party and its ideological mentor, the RSS, the “Bangladeshi infiltrator” issue and the NRC draft has occupied centre stage in political discourse throughout the country even after a fortnight of the release of the final NRC draft.
There is a horizontal division in the political spectrum of the left, democratic and anti-fascist camp over the NRC issue. Unlike the right wing and the fascist Hindutva hate mongers, different hues of the communist movement are divided on the issue and they are standing in opposition to each other over the issue of dividing the poor using an “indigenous” vs “infiltrator” binary. Many of those who are connected with peasants and workers movement in Assam, including the new apple-of-eyes of the Ambedkarite ‘left’, Akhil Gogoi, who is imprisoned by the fascist Hindutva regime of Sarbananda Sonowal, are siding with the NRC; they are supporting it ardently with a motive to appease the overwhelming Axomiya chauvinism. Their standpoint is countered by the radical left that’s calling for the scrapping of the NRC exercise and the Assam Accord as a whole due to the reactionary class character of both.
Despite a popular support behind it in Assam, the NRC listing is a reactionary exercise that serves only the purpose of big foreign capital and its Indian comprador lackeys. Why was the NRC required? It was required because a large number of Axomiya chauvinist organisations have spread a xenophobia regarding the influx of Bengali refugees since 1947, when the British imperialists, in connivance with the reactionary Indian National Congress, the Muslim League and the Hindu Mahasabha-RSS nexus, divided India and facilitated migration on the basis of communal identity. An artificial boundary differentiated Assam from East Pakistan and a lot of Bengali-majority areas of Brahmaputra valley were joined with the Assam state and later, when communal riots broke in Eastern Pakistan, targeting Hindu households, many Bengali Hindus fled their home and their land to seek refuge in the sanctorium of Assam.
The peculiar socio-economic arithmetics of Assam
While Assam had been a heterogeneous society, where many communities and tribes migrated and finally settled, including the dominant Axomiya tribe, an antagonism over the legacy of the state remained between all ethnic groups living in the state. The Ahom kings remained free for a long time and even defeated Mughal aggression on their land. The Bodos and other smaller aboriginal people have been inhabiting the land since time immemorial. Later, during the British colonial rule, the British would bring tribal people from present-day Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh to work in the tea gardens of Northern Bengal and Assam as bonded labour. Many tribals and poor people from present-day Bihar and Eastern Uttar Pradesh were also brought by the British to work in the railways. A lot of Bengali Hindus, from the upper-caste elite and urban middle-class background, also migrated to Assam as white-collar clerical employees and managers of British businesses and administration. The Bengali Muslims were brought from the Northern parts of present-day Bangladesh by the British colonial rulers to start cultivation in the Brahmaputra valley throughout Lower Assam. These Bengali Muslims migrated to Assam much before the first batch of Hindu refugees, who arrived after the partition of India in 1947.
The educated and suave Savarna Bhadralok had accumulated all important posts during the period of British colonial rule in Assam and collaborated with the British rulers in oppressing and exploiting the local tribes and the Axomiya people. This turned a lot of tea garden workers, poor Axomiya people and aboriginal people of Assam against the Bengali Bhadraloks. After the partition of India and the colonisation of Assam by the Hindi-speaking upper-caste vegetarian Hindus from Bombay, Ahmedabad and New Delhi, the influence of the Bengalis started waning. At this point, many Bengali refugees came to Assam and for the new rulers of Assam, situated in New Delhi and Bombay, it became easy to distract the attention of the Axomiya and aboriginal people from the rampant exploitation of Assam’s resources and labour by these outsiders with a simple spark of anti-Bengali xenophobia.
These new colonial rulers of Assam wanted the people of the newly formed state under Indian Union to accept the supremacy of an Indian identity and at the same time they were keen to nip the bud of a strong communist movement that was brewing in the state against the unbridled exploitation of the peasants, tea garden and railway workers, the employees of different companies and government offices, and the aboriginal people of the state. For the Indian ruling classes, a subterfuge was required to distract the attention of the people from the inhuman exploitation they were subject to and the unbridled plunder of Assam’s resources.
The susceptible Bengali minority, who have been seeking refuge in large numbers in Lower Assam, in the Brahmaputra Valley, was picked up, demonised and blamed for all socio-economic problems of Assam. To weaken the communist movement, the Congress-backed Axomiya militant chauvinists started a series of bloody campaigns against the Bengali people, especially the Bengali Hindus, under the guise of protecting the mati, bheti, bhasha and sanskriti (land, base, language and culture of the Axomiya people). More than 50,000 Bengali Hindus had to flee from Assam between the 1950s and 1960s to West Bengal due to the incessant attacks they faced when the Axomiya chauvinist militants launched a violent ethnic pogrom against Bengalis, called “Bongal Kheda”.
From the 1950s to 1980s, the Axomiya chauvinist movement, that worked as an appendage of the Indian ruling classes despite portraying itself as a strong “nationalist” force fighting aggression on Axomiya culture and identity, helped the Indian rulers to consolidate their rule on Assam on one hand, and persecute the Bengali refugees, Hindus and Muslims alike, to create extreme divisions and antagonisms in Assam. Apart from Bengalis, the Nepalis, Biharis, Koch Rajbanshis and poor people of other communities were labelled as “foreigners” and they have been since living with the fear of genocide looming large on their head.
During the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971, a lot of Bengalis, mostly Bengali Hindus and a small section of Bengali Muslims who had fled the war-torn country and the bloodlust of the dreaded Pakistani Army and the Rajakar forces, landed in Assam as refugees. Their coming into Assam was facilitated by the Indian Government, which then used the contradiction within the Pakistani ruling classes to have its own domination in East Pakistan, which later became Bangladesh. The coming of another batch of refugees and the subsequent crisis was utilised by the reactionary Indian rulers to fan xenophobia around these refugees by running a bush telegraph campaign that accused the Bengali migrants of changing the demography of Assam and turn it into a part of a “Greater Bangladesh”. What was a wild conspiracy theory, soon found a strong footing in whole Assam as most of the refugees refused to return to liberated Bangladesh after the war as the Indian rulers, with the intention of creating more trouble in Assam, assured them a peaceful stay in India.
The RSS and its new political outfit, the BJP, entered the volatile political space of Assam in the 1980s with an aim of polarising the Hindus, Axomiya and Bengali alike, against the Muslims, Axomiya and Bengali alike. This polarisation drive was started by a number of hate speeches delivered by various RSS and BJP stalwarts throughout Assam; the most infamous one among them was by Atal Bihari Vajpayee in February 1983, which led to the notorious Nellie genocide, in which more than 10,000 (officially 2,191)Bengali Muslims were killed by the Axomiya militant chauvinists, supported by the goons of the Congress and the RSS.
It was this gory atrocity against the Bengali Muslims who have been living in Assam since the time of the British colonial rule that communalism started penetrating the Axomiya chauvinist movement, which until then considered all Bengalis, irrespective of their religion, enemies. The Nellie genocide became a grotesque reminder for the Bengali people, especially the Muslims, that they can be killed en masse with total impunity by those who are on the payroll of the Indian ruling classes. Though these Axomiya chauvinists denied their hands in the massacre, their involvement was evident everywhere.
Using the Nellie massacre and a jingoistic Assam Movement, the various militant Axomiya chauvinist organisations, including the notorious All Assam Students Union (AASU), bargained with the Rajiv Gandhi government for their share in the booty that the ruling classes of India loot from Assam. The infamous “Assam Accord” was signed in 1985 and the government agreed to the demands raised by the Axomiya chauvinist organisations of creating an NRC and to evict the “illegal migrants” from Assam. The Axomiya militants selected the cut-off date of 24 March 1971 for determining Indian citizenship. They claimed then that anyone who can prove their existence in Assam before 24 March 1971 will be allowed to stay with equal rights and the rest must be forcefully evicted.
An accord between the reactionary Indian government led by a corrupt prime minister like Rajiv Gandhi, on one hand, and a group of militant chauvinists who have shot to fame by instigating anti-Bengali riots and by executing goriest atrocities on poor Bengali people, including genocides like Nellie Massacre, on the other hand, was of course an accord of loot and plunder of Assam by two representatives of the ruling classes. The Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress and its government had managed to reach a compromise with the Axomiya chauvinist movement and the latter promised to aid the exploitation of Axomiya labour and plundering of Assam’s natural resources by the ruling classes of India by instigating communal violence against the hapless Bengali people.
Despite the signing of the Assam Accord between the Government of India and the Axomiya militant chauvinist organisations and the government’s commitment towards forceful eviction of “illegal immigrant” from Assam, xenophobic vitriol and jingoistic aggression against the Bengali people didn’t come to an end. Rather, the attacks on the Bengalis and other linguistic minorities increased manifold, especially with the aggrandizement of the extremist ULFA. Over years, all minority people faced growing attacks from one or another militant group trying to expand their sphere of influence in Assam. Under the guise of cracking down militancy, the Indian rulers clamped military rule on Assam and used the “civil war-like situation” to increase its plunder of resources and labour in Assam. The near martial rule in Assam for years saw numerous cold-blooded state-sponsored murders and violence against the common people.
The BJP and the NRC
Using its xenophobic rhetoric, the BJP has been claiming that “Bangladeshi infiltrators” pose a serious threat to India’s sovereignty and security. Since the 1990s, the saffron outfit, in collaboration with other fascist powers like the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, are inciting riots against the Bengali Muslim community throughout India to bracket them homogeneously as “foreigners”. The lack of employment opportunities that forced most of the Bengali Muslims from West Bengal and Assam to migrate to other states also became a lethal threat to their very existence. The latest brutal murder of a Bengali Muslim migrant worker in Rajasthan by a Hindutva fanatic exemplifies the risk in which the the Bengali Muslims, mostly poor labourers, live in the heartland of Hindutva fascism.
In Assam, the BJP started wooing the Hindu Bengalis, who were isolated in the state’s politics and promised them citizenship and secure stay in Assam should they vote for the BJP. Also, the BJP won a popular support in Assam using its anti-Bengali rhetoric and by collaborating with the AGP led by Prafulla Mahanta. Through the communal propaganda and vitriol spread by the RSS against the Muslims in general and the Bengali Muslims in particular, called “Miyan” in Axomiya parlance, a popular misconception was created against the community in the state and a large-scale polarisation was done to isolate the community from even the Bengali Hindus, who are generally hostile to the Muslims. Despite such campaigns, the Axomiya people generally considered the entire Bengali community as foreigners and didn’t give much support to the RSS’ polarisation campaign. Only a section of the insecure Bengali Hindus, mostly the politically backwards or the upper-caste Bhadraloks lend their support to the RSS’ cause to save their existence in the state by making the Bengali Muslims their scapegoats.
When Sarbananda Sonowal won a case on NRC in the Supreme Court and had the apex court order the state government to hasten the work of preparing an NRC, he became a champion in the Axomiya chauvinist camp. His contribution to the xenophobic campaign against “illegal immigrants” and “foreigners” helped the BJP to woo a huge support in its favour at the end of Tarun Gogoi-led Congress regime’s third term. The BJP swept the election by promising the xenophobic Axomiya urban middle-class, Bodos and elite people of Assam that the party will drive away the “foreigners” upon winning power. Also, the party kept its Hindu Bengali vote bank secure, to whom they promised a permanent solution by granting them citizenship of Assam.
Very soon after the BJP managed to win the election, the RSS presented an amended Citizenship Bill through the Modi regime in 2016, which promised citizenship to Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Parsis, Sikhs and Jains from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan and other neighbouring countries if they stay in India for six years. The bill implicitly refuse to grant Indian citizenship to Muslim refugees. This bill, of course, runs against the Indian Constitution and its secular fabric, which promises, at least in words, equal rights to people of all religious belief. This bill is now used by the BJP and the RSS to develop a Zionism-styled “Hindu homeland” concept for the Hindus all over the world, which would help them nurture and develop a large vote bank by fuelling rapid migration by Hindus from neighbouring countries. The delegitimisation and the disenfranchisement of the Muslims, who are described as “others”, will also help the BJP to polarise its core Hindutva-incensed upper-caste urban elite and middle-class votebank. This will prove a double benefit for the party that wants to continue its tyrannical rule on India forever with the support of the Hindutva-influenced state machinery and bureaucracy.
Assam was divided horizontally on the issue of the new citizenship bill as the fear of all Hindu Bengalis gaining citizenship rights naturally after the passing of the bill, which the BJP believes will see the light of the day by 2022, when the party will have absolute majority in both houses of the parliament and in almost all state assemblies of India, has irked the Axomiya chauvinism manifold. A fear of losing their own demographic hegemony to the Bengali Hindus in Assam drove the Axomiya people strongly towards the NRC. Even those who were up against Muslim Bengalis a few days back started opposing the communal division of the society and demanded that the government should not discriminate between “illegal immigrants” on the basis of their religion and forcefully evict anyone who came to Assam post 24 March 1971.
The new division within the reactionary camp of Axomiya chauvinism and the large-scale rebellion of the Axomiya people and aboriginal people against the BJP has forced the Hindutva fascist party towards retreat in Assam on the question of allowing citizenship to all Hindu Bengalis who migrated to the state. Even a large section of the left-wing, sensing an element of anti-Hindutva sentiment in the people’s discontent against the decision, supported the movement by the Axomiya chauvinists. People like Akhil Gogoi wrote fiery speech against the BJP government from imprisonment, with a veiled threat to the Bengali residents and claiming that the “foreigners” are the cause of Assam’s socio-economic problems and poverty.
Nowhere on earth have the so-called left-wing and the extreme right-wing converged so strongly as they did in Assam, thanks to the BJP’s own communal dichotomy that has now pushed the Axomiya jingoism against it and its conspiracy of instigating communal riots. On one hand, we have the extreme reactionary communal fascist Modi regime and Sonowal regime that are planning to instigate the Hindu majority against the Muslim minority irrespective of their ethnic origin and on the other hand, we have extreme chauvinists who are planning to instigate the Axomiya majority against the Bengali minority, irrespective of the latter’s religious identity. On one hand, we have the Axomiya chauvinists claiming that they own Assam and anyone whose name is not in the NRC must be pushed out, on the other hand, there are the Hindutva fascists who are claiming that the Hindus can consider Assam as their safe sanctorium irrespective of their ethnic identity and even if they don’t feature in the NRC, the government of the Hindutva fascist party will accommodate them later.
While the Axomiya chauvinists are for an impartial NRC that will drive away all “foreigners”, i.e. Bengalis, irrespective of their religion, caste, creed and class, the BJP is favouring a partial ouster and a selective approach, which has caused cleavages to appear in the political amphitheatre of Assam, where both camps have collaborated together to spread xenophobia for years. For many in the democratic and anti-fascist camp, this growing anger against the BJP and its Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016, may be a ray of hope in the nationwide struggle against the juggernaut of Hindutva fascism, the same logic can’t be considered as a morale booster by the genuine left-wing and democratic forces.
The Pursuit of Political Correctness
Despite all type of currents and undercurrents dominating the politics of Assam over the NRC and issue of citizenship, anyone representing the working class and its allies must not fall victim of the jingoistic seduction of any shade. They must strive to find the correct political course that will certainly serve the interests of the majority of the people in the class-divided society, i.e. the poor people- the workers, the peasants and the toiled masses.
If one looks into the problem of Axomiya chauvinism vs Hindutva fascism, they will realise that it’s a contradiction between two sections of the evil ruling classes and this contradiction cannot be used in favour of the people’s cause without exposing the nature of both parties. Both Axomiya chauvinism and Hindutva fascism are enemies of the people and they act in the interests of the same ruling classes that want the people to be divided into ethnic and religious lines so that their artificial antagonisms can help these rulers to augment their wealth extracted by exploiting these people.
Therefore, the correct standpoint in this political battle would be to be on the side of the people. It’s imperative that the reactionary propaganda by the Hindutva fascist camp and the counter-propaganda by the Axomiya chauvinists are jointly countered with the propagation and dissemination of the correct political line. The poor Axomiya or a poor Bodo would have no real class contradiction with a poor Bengali or poor Rajbanshi Koch. The enemy of a poor Axomiya worker or peasant is not a poor Bengali worker or peasant, but the big comprador capitalists, the feudal landlords, the foreign corporations and their lackey bureaucrats who exploit the people collectively and plunder their resources to enrich themselves. Assam has lack of employment opportunities, economic development or a large number of poor people due to the exploitation of its labour and resources by the North and West Indian comprador capitalists who are also attempting to impose their cultural hegemony on the vulnerable Axomiya people by diverting their attention towards a Bengali demon. The presence of few million Bengali people isn’t draining the resources of the state as their absence will not automatically add their meagre wealth to the kitty of the hapless Axomiya poor.
The Cheap Labour Angle
When the four million names were struck off the rolls of the NRC and therefore, sent to the queue of losing their citizenship post the appeal period that ends on 28 September 2018, it caused a lot of non-Bengalis and a section of the upper-caste Hindu Bengalis to cheer throughout India at the agony of these people at the receiving end. An ebullient gloating at the plight of these four million hapless people with an uncertain future was experienced throughout the country, manifested by the privileged elite and urban upper-caste Hindus. Though many tried to accuse them of sheer bigotry, the reason why the entire Hindutva fascist camp and its donors started cheering the exclusion, despite the list having many Hindu names, is because of the possibility of a big pool of cheap labour being created by the NRC exercise.
Even if one million people lose their citizenship rights after the NRC correction after 28 September, then too they will not be evicted from Assam and deported to Bangladesh because India neither has any such treaty with Bangladesh nor can it be proved that these people are Bangladeshi citizens. If Indian regime plans to imprison these people in Nazi-styled concentration camp aka detention centres created within the jails, then too to host them would be a very expensive matter for the state and a state-sponsored genocide of one million will draw international condemnation in the era of social-media. So, it’s evident that while a small section of the disenfranchised people will be locked in the inhuman detention centres, a large number of these “citizens-of-no-land” will be pushed into utter destitution and thereby they will be forced to sell their labour for a very low cost to survive without any constitutional rights.
The availability of such a huge cache of unorganised workers, sans constitutional rights, will be a blessing for the big comprador capitalists and foreign corporations, who would employ them by paying a paltry sum and exploit their labour for hours, knowing that these people can’t protest against the inhuman treatment. The citizen and slave concept of the Roman Empire will return to Assam and West Bengal gradually and if these disenfranchised people try to blend into the society by fleeing from the clutches of the ruling classes, they will not be able to make anything better due to lack of citizenship. They will somehow have to sell their labour for cheaper rates to the big comprador capitalists and foreign corporations to survive or become victims of jingoistic mobs.
The Only Solution to the Socio-Economic Problems of Assam
The only way to resolve the socio-economic crisis in Assam is to unite the people on the basis of a united struggle against exploitation and oppression, in a struggle against the big comprador capitalists, feudal landlords and foreign corporations. The unity can’t be achieved unless the people’s democratic activists tell the people that the NRC and its foundation, the Assam Accord are reactionary things and are brainchilds of the ruling classes who pose the real threat to the existence of the Axomiya culture. Unless the poor Axomiya and aboriginal people start considering the Assam Accord and the NRC as measures to dupe them adopted by the ruling classes, they won’t participate in a struggle to win their long-lost rights.
If the Axomiya poor people can’t recognise their real enemies, moreover, if the left-wing and democratic forces fail to politically arouse the poor sections of the Axomiya, Bodo, Bengali and other ethnic groups against their common enemies, then the Hindutva fascist rulers and the Axomiya chauvinists will ensure gradual fragmentation of the society into hostile parts and fuel a large-scale ethnic violence in entire North East India. To prevent which, the people must be taught the political knitty-gritty immediately.
The majority of the Axomiya poor, the aboriginal tribes and people of other ethnicities like the Bengalis, Hindus and Muslims, can’t be united for a single purpose and against a common enemy if they are united on ethnic lines for a “national” struggle. Only by uniting them on the lines of a class struggle against the rich, the exploiters and the oppressors, who fund both the RSS-BJP combo and the Axomiya chauvinist militants, the people can win victory for themselves and establish a free and democratic Assam where ethnic violence and contradictions will be a thing of past and the Hindutva hatemongers or the Axomiya chauvinists will find no place in the society. For such a struggle, it’s imperative that the left and democratic anti-fascist forces adopt the correct policy and condemn the Assam Accord and the NRC immediately to plunge into the mammoth task of uniting the poor across ethnic lines.
An avid reader and a merciless political analyst. When not writing then either reading something, debating something or sipping espresso with a dash of cream. Street photographer. Tweets as @la_muckraker