In its official vision statement published for public consumption on its website, the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) till late on March 26 night asserted its primary vision statement - "to sabotage our millenial heritage and composite culture". The declaration of this statement needs to be deconstructed in the light of the electoral atomosphere in Assam.
|AIUDF's website which mentioned the controversial point but which has now been removed.
Assam goes for the first phase of polls on the Apil 4, followed by the second phase on April 11. By now, it is quite clear from the mood of the people of the state that they will choose a government which lays a roadmap for swift development. But even more important is the rather vexed question which a retired IPS officer in the state asked Home Minister Rajnath Singh during one of his official visits to Assam, "Development for whom?"
It is pertinent here to introduce a few statistics comparing the 2001 and 2011 census data for Assam:
1. In 2001, the Muslim population in Assam was 30.9 per cent. After a decade, it has risen to 34.22 per cent.
2. In 2001, there were six Muslim dominated districts in Assam. In 2011, this number has increased to nine - Barpeta, Dhubri, Karimganj, Goalpara, Darrang, Bongaigaon, Hailakandi, Nagaon and Morigaon.
3. Dhubri district has recorded the highest Muslim population of 79.67 per cent in the state, shrinking the Hindu population to 19.92 per cent.
4. The highest growth rate of Muslim population has been in Barpeta district, where it has grown at 11.73 per cent between 2001 and 2011. In this district, the Hindu population has declined to 29.10 per cent.
5. In Goalpara district, the Hindu population has remained stagnant at 34.50 per cent while the Muslim population touched 57.52 per cent.
6. Nagaon is another district where the Muslim population has grown by at least four per cent.
This statistical context is important in order to trace the root of these questions. The apprehension with respect to the development narrative of the state stems from a deep rooted psyche of regional sentiments in Assam. Some of my personal experiences involve being shocked at hearing a vegetable vendor at one instance and a cab driver in another articulate with fear and finality that Assam will be the "next Kashmir" in no less than a decade if the present condition continues unabated. When probed, all seem to refer to these hard census statistics.
In fact, it is within this deliberative framework that the last Assembly elections were fought in Assam. Chief minister Tarun Gogoi had asked, "Who is Badruddin Ajmal?" With this statement alone, he was able to consolidate those votes that till date, since the unfortunate Nellie massacre, most obviously gravitate on the borders of insomniac insecurity; that of indigenous citizens of the state losing their historical claim over Axomia Aai, that of being ousted, culturally, from their own homeland.
It is also within this framework that one needs to look at AIUDF's official website that claimed for as long as one year that articulated its vision "to sabotage our millennial heritage and composite culture". Their website was last updated in September 2015.
The vision of sabotage as articulated by AIUDF needs to be analysed as such:
1. "Sabotage" is an act of complete destruction for political and/or military intent. The question is: What does Ajmal want to sabotage? Whose culture does he mean when he uses the adjective "our"? Is it Indian, considering the ideology of his party AIDUF? Or is it Assam's culture that he wishes to destroy?
2. The Muslim question in Assam is starkly different from what it is in the rest of the country. In Assam, which is on the verge of a cultural civil war, as senior journalist Rajeev Bhattacharyya prefers to describe the situation as, the question of Muslim votes is divided into indigenous and foreign - xilonjia versus bidexi. To quote Wasbir Hussain, another senior journalist, "If you ask an Assamese Muslim man to choose between a Mumbai Muslim bride and an Assamese Hindu bride, he would choose the latter." The question, Wasbir says, is not religious in Assam but cultural. Therefore, when AIUDF says that its vision is to destroy the composite culture of Assam, it is worth a shudder down the spine of every indigenous citizen in the state.
3. The kind of clout Ajmal holds in those districts of Assam which share the porous international boundary with the state is disturbing. His vision statement is threatening. Fraught by the influx of Bangladeshi infiltrators, Assam's unique identity and history seems vulnerable and endangered. The condition invokes the legend of Lachit Borphukan's fight against the bidexis and heralds emotions only those sensitive to the nuances of Assamese culture will appreciate.
Ajmal, an MP from Dhubri, issued a clarification on March 26 lying blatantly that his official website was hacked. However, no aware citizen of India can agree to this false explanation for logical reasons:
1. A hacked website almost always has illicit content - commercial or explicit. AIUDF's website stayed untouched apart from that one defining word in their vision for the past one year. There is ample reason to believe that the act of letting this vision statement the party's priority for almost a year has been a deliberate attempt to polarise the Muslim vote base through an act of emotional appeal - almost militaristic and political in nature. Perhaps, the preparations for these Assembly elections were underway in the style of a classic articulation by Gogoi - grand understanding.
2. A hacked website does not suddenly guarantee the aggrieved user an access to its content. Ajmal's website was updated immediately when the controversy snowballed to prime time stories in Assam on electronic media.
It is to be noted that except India Today TV journalist Rahul Kanwal, no "famous" prime time journalist addressed the deep concern.
And this dear readers, is the problem with the Indian brand of secularism. I shudder at the thought of a BJP official website making a claim as grave as this - and that too at the run up to one of the most crucial Assembly elections Assam has seen post-independence.