One of the clichés that you encounter while covering terror is ‘One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’ but in the complicated world of geopolitics, it is often found to hold true as well. This logic is also used for development, what’s development to you and I could spell disaster for a thousand others.
This dichotomy was evident when I was in Majuli, popular as the world’s largest river island. A number of people I spoke to wanted a bridge to the nearby Upper Assam town of Jorhat. While travelling on a medieval boat from Jorhat to Majuli, most of the commuters said they would vote for anybody who promised them a bridge. So when Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised them one, I congratulated a local resident. But my attempt at starting small talk got me a sharp rebuke when he called me ignorant of local needs. For him and many others, a bridge signaled the end of Majuli as the socio-cultural religious capital of Assam.
Migration Takes Centre Stage
Much of this election has been about poriborton or change. There was an unmistakable undercurrent vouching for change in the urban constituencies. Hence, where change and development are almost used interchangeably, it is important to note the various aspirations of the voters of Assam, when they exercised their franchise in April. Urban voters whether in Jorhat or Guwahati had similar aspirations. They want more jobs, better education and improved urban facilities. A refrain which came time and again was: why do our kids have to go out of the State for education or jobs? Why can’t this migration stop?
There is another migration which is spoken about, election after election in Assam: the illegal immigration from Bangladesh. While those emigrating from Bangladesh are both Hindus and Muslims, a fine line clearly divided them. BJP which spoke the loudest against illegal immigrants, made a clear distinction between the two. While Hindu refugees are welcome, Muslim immigrants were called the root of all evil.
Since ethnically it is almost impossible to distinguish between an illegal immigrant and a Bengali Muslim living in Assam for over 70 years, their insecurities are only growing. In the last ten years, there was a tendency amongst the community to vote for the AIUDF, perfume baron Badruddin Ajmal’s party. Ajmal is a Bengali Muslim and is seen by the community as one of their own. But election fatigue seems to have set in lower Assam, AIUDF’s stronghold. A certain amount of disillusionment coupled with a desire to back a bigger party appears to have convinced them to go with the Congress this time. For many, the only ‘poriborton’ that they are looking for is to live in a land they can call their own, without any fear of backlash.
Inclusiveness Only Way Forward
The problems in the Bodoland Territorial Area Districts are unique in their own way. While here Bodos and non Bodos are pitched against each other by political parties and insurgent groups, both want sustained peace in their land. BTAD today is one of the most violent zones in Assam. Most of those who cast their vote on 11th April had a prayer on their lips wishing that none of their loved ones are lost to mindless militancy.
Thus, whoever assumes the control of Dispur post 19th May will have to be mindful of all these aspirations. Assam, like India, is not a homogeneous land and hence governance too would have to be heterogeneous.
By Subhajit Sengupta