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‘Modi wave' subsides in Assam

‘Modi wave subsides in Assam
If the BJP was confident of winning next year’s Assembly polls in Assam, it is doing everything that it should not. Recently, Pradyut Bora, a member of the BJP’s National Executive and former Convener of the party’s IT cell, resigned, criticising its style of functioning. Narendra Modi, he says, has damaged the party’s democratic image, while Amit Shah was accused of being individualistic and authoritarian.

Bora states that all power is concentrated in the hands of the duo, so much so that External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj “barely knew” that her Foreign Secretary was about to be sacked. Bora was also critical of the attempt to rope in the highly controversial dissident Assam Congress leader Himanta Biswa Sharma into the party.

As if this was not embarrassment enough, all the five BJP members in the State Assembly, too, voted for the government-sponsored resolution calling on the Centre not to change the existing pattern of Central assistance to Assam as a “special category” State. The resolution was adopted unanimously. Under a special category, Assam receives 90 per cent of all its central assistance in the form of grants and 10 per cent as loans (90:10). The other states, though, receive a 70 per cent of all its central assistance in the form of grants and 30 per cent as loans (70:30).

Even now, the Centre does not follow the 90:10 ratio for special category States in five specifically centrally-funded schemes; These are:

(1) Command Area Development Scheme (pattern of assistance being 50:50);
(2) Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (70:30);
(3) Rajiv Gandhi Panchayat Sashaktikaran Yojana (75:25):
(4) National Mission on Agricultural Extension and Technology (75:25); and
(6) Assistance to State for Infrastructural Development for Exports (80:20)

This is an issue on which all Assamese people are united. If the original funding pattern is not restored, it will definitely be a major issue in next year’s elections. BJP spokespersons, however, deny the charge that the party’s popularity has declined. They point out to the massive victories the BJP achieved in the recently held civic elections. Critics, however, say that the success was due more to infighting within the Congress rather than the BJP’s increasing popularity. If a united Congress had fought the elections, the results, they argue, would not have been as flattering for the BJP.

BJP has lately made some gains in the Bodoland areas of the State, where several Bodo leaders have joined the party. This may be due to the fact that the Bodos are resentful of the significant Bengali Muslim presence in what they consider to be “their” territory. Several armed clashes between the Bodos and Muslims have taken place in the past two to three years. The Bodos look upon all Bengali Muslims to be “Bangladeshis” or illegal infiltrators. The BJP supports the Bodos in their bid to drive them out.

The dream of “achche din ayenge” that the BJP had sedulously created before last year’s Lok Sabha polls is evaporating like a mid-day mirage. Prices of all commodities – from medicines to cereals to vegetables – are steadily rising, while official propaganda dishes out statistics of Wholesale Price Index (WPI) and Consumer Price Index (CPI) that  have reportedly shown downward trends. This is a hard reality that stares down at people every day and no propaganda can change it.

The Centre has also alienated large segments of the electorate in Assam by undertaking a fresh exercise to prepare a National Register of Citizens. The National Register of Citizens (NRC) will be based on the first NRC prepared in 1951. The second NRC, now being drawn up, will include all those who were recorded in the first NRC together with their progeny. It will also draw up all those that came to Assam before March 25, 1971 from outside India or from anywhere else in India and settled in Assam. March 25, 1971, is the so-called “cut-off” date because on that day Bangladesh declared its own Independence. Therefore there could be no reason for the people of the erstwhile East Pakistan to migrate to India for fear of persecution. This is the official stand.

Those who came to Assam after the cut-off date and have been residing in the state ever since, even if they are Indian citizens, will be permanently disqualified to vote. Traders and businessmen from other States, labourers, even officers serving in different all-India cadres like IAS or IPS – all will be disqualified, to go by the Centre’s present stand. This has created strong resentment among different sections of the local populace. Since the move has been made by the BJP-run Union Government, the anger is against the BJP. If the Centre does not change its stand, the people affected will resist.
It has already antagonised the about-to-be disenfranchised Bengali Muslims and Hindus. They fear that they will be declared “infiltrators” and driven out of Assam. As Bangladesh will never accept them, their prospect of being forced to take shelter elsewhere, especially in West Bengal, looms large before them.             
Barun Das Gupta

Barun Das Gupta

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