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Rahul Gandhi's Barpeta Satra row exposes Congress' communal colours

Shubhrastha
ShubhrasthaDec 16, 2015 | 14:18

Rahul Gandhi's Barpeta Satra row exposes Congress' communal colours

As a massive PR disaster, Rahul Gandhi's Twitter handle revealed his itinerary for Assam visit on December 10 - a day before he was to arrive in the state. There was no mention of any visit to the alleged "temple" in Barpeta.

The controversy centered around a rather impassioned Rahul alleging in front of the national media that the RSS-BJP combine "prevented" him from entering the "temple" premises. And of course, somehow Prime Minister Narendra Modi was to be blamed for it.

Subsequently, in a major embarrassment for the Congress party, their state irrigation minister in Assam, Chandan Sarkar, observed that Rahul was late, could not fulfill the basic ablution rituals required before entering the satra and the satra chief revealed that there was a prolonged wait of four hours before the politician decided to give it a miss.

Ever since then, the debate has been coloured into a communal versus secular argument. However, it is not rocket science to figure that Rahul Gandhi's visit is his typical political pilgrimage in Assam and not necessarily a genuine concern for women SHGs (self-help groups) , young students, leading media personalities and intellectuals, as suggested in his now-removed itinerary on social media.

Also, his choice of audience (population wise) during the choppered-"padyatra" was cherry picked in Barpeta. Any politically conscious citizen could see the vote banks Rahul chose to appease, address and allow his access to in a district seething with Bangladeshi migrants. In such a situation, it is extremely naïve to miss out on the implications of the threads which have laid bare the controversy at hand.

Satra is a cultural entity for Assam. Assamese society has adopted the ways of a satra since its inception some 500 years ago. Satra is now trying to conserve its identity in the wake of illegal migration in the state. Therefore, it is not a temple and definitely not just a religious symbol for Hindus in Assam.

The political severity of mis-representing satra as a temple and imposing a Hindutva identity on it can cost Congress a great deal. By stripping the local sentiment attached to a satra and by trying to communalise the issue to suit a myopic electoral battle, Rahul Gandhi has resorted to a political tactic of revealing his misinformed political personality. Satra is as much a matter of Assamese identity and pride as is the depletion of one-horned Rhinoceros in the state.

Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi preposterously claimed that he would resign if it was proved that even an inch of satra land had been encroached. However, if one were to believe Asom Satra Mahasabha offcials, more than 7,000 bighas of satra land has been encroached upon. Ali Pukhuri Than in Morigaon district has reduced from 17 bighas to a mere 11. Kubaikata satra has just one kattha of land remaining with the satradhikar.

Just a month and a half ago, in Kalsilla Satra located near Mayong in Morigaon district, a village of Bangladeshi migrants appeared overnight. No tangible action has been taken on the agreement which the district administration, this "new" village and the indigenous residents of the area signed.

Around three years ago, in Batadrava Than, out of six police officers visiting to survey the concern of illegal migration, four belonging to a particular community were lynched. In 2011, in the same satra, a mosque construction preparation overnight alarmed the district administration. The 200 metres of land was declared as a new area under social forestry by none other than Tarun Gogoi and state agriculture minister, Rockybul Hussain.

In this context, it is but natural for satra followers to be angry. It is also natural that they will register protest against the entry of a politician of a ruling party. However, it is more natural for the culturally and ethnically threatened followers to get livid by an outsider who does not want to follow the rituals (because he is late).

Therefore, it is also natural for Rahul Gandhi who had visited his vote bank to throw a crumb of appeasement for the satra followers and publicise his photo op on Twitter after realising that his dereliction has snowballed into a major electoral faux pas.

With Assam elections drawing close, even a cursory look at the Congress strategy reveals how communal inclination scripts the overall narrative of the incumbent government. Whether they are "swanky" hoardings with elite, polished "looking" youth raking up the romantic notion of choice and growing intolerance in the state or the recent Barpeta controversy involving INC heir, Rahul Gandhi, the overall atmosphere in Assam Congress politics reeks of communal tendencies.

It is within this light that Barpeta Satra controversy needs to be analysed and conclusions drawn.

Last updated: December 16, 2015 | 14:50
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