Again, some days ago, the controversial Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Pravin Togadia came to Assam and created yet another hullabaloo in the state. He visited an arms training camp organized by the outfit in Hojai in central Assam and photographs of the same appeared in the local print and electronic media, creating much controversy. In an attempt in ‘damage control’ some RSS and BJP leaders are now saying that such camps are necessary for self defense today. However a question lingers on – who after all are the enemies of the nation against whom they are arming themselves to the teeth? Who after all will be targets of their ‘defensive’ war? Would not the same VHP and RSS create a ruckus and call it a Jihadi or ISIS training camp if the minority people in the area take cue from them and organize a similar arms training camp for their youth? It goes without saying that any such arms training camp organized by whichever community will only spread communal poison in a state already engulfed in various ethnic and group conflicts. Such trainings whatsoever have no relevance to the struggles for livelihood of the poor and the toiling masses. This kind of politics is nothing but a ploy of inciting one community against another by a section of people with vested interests.
Mr. Togadia is infamous for his provocative statements which often create communal tension and polarization in the areas he visits. There was a time when it had seemed as if the extremists like him had been cornered in the Sangh Parivar. But now he has returned with a vengeance. He and people of his ilk make no secret of their desire to turn India into a Hindu Rastra, although the constitution clearly states that we are a secular and democratic republic. Mr. Togadia has now said that the 70 lakh “illegal Muslim Bangladeshis” in the state (a fantasy figure, given the fact that the total number of Bengali Muslims in the state is no more than 60 lakh) should be kicked out of the state with the direct deployment of army and other paramilitary forces. Whoever has even a bit of knowledge about the reality and history of Assam knows that a substantial number of Bengali Muslims came to the state even before independence. It is true that the government failed to properly identify and expel all the foreigners who illegally came to India after partition. Till 1971, while the Hindu refugees from East Pakistan were often given refugee status and provided with jobs, the Muslim refugees were sought to be expelled as illegal foreigners. It is generally believed that these policies by and large failed in fixing the migration question. However the Assam Accord of 1985 had given another opportunity to resolve the problem and unfortunately we are yet again at the verge of floundering this opportunity as well because of the rise of communal politics. It has been thirty two years since when the accord was signed and yet till today it remains under-implemented. Then came the proposal to update the National Register of Citizens in Assam which could contribute to identifying the genuine citizens. But now it increasingly appears that communal forces do not want the problem to be resolved at all. Our concern regarding the future of Assam is much less than the effort we put in to complicate the possibility of resolving the complex issue in light of the history of Assam. The need of the hour is to find practical and progressive solutions to safeguard the existence of Assamese nationalities that have been facing multiple assaults from all fronts. Both Hindus and Muslims should restrain themselves from indulging religious fundamentalism, for the sake of Assam and the Assamese.
It is well known that for any resolution of the ‘Bangladeshi question’, the Bangladesh government must be made a stakeholder in the process, but so far Bangladesh has been flatly denying the existence of any large scale presence of illegal Bangladeshi nationals in Assam. In recent times, especially after the election of Awami League to power, there has been a marked improvement in the Indo-Bangladesh relations. Multiple rounds of discussions between the two governments have been held so far on various matters but the question of ‘illegal’ immigration – a matter of life and death for the state of Assam – has not been touched at all. In such a scenario the demand of Mr. Togadia whose own party is in power and which has done nothing to engage Bangladesh on the question, to deploy the army to ‘shoot to expel’ an entire population appears not only supremely hypocritical but also schizophrenic and can be made only by a communal fascist zealot. Unfortunately the number of such zealots is increasing day by day.
When we look at the present situation of the people of Indian origin, i.e., Indian immigrants living in various countries, it is glaring that they are not only a prominent player in the economies of those countries but also have managed to gain political prominence. Even though there are only 1.5 lakh citizens of Indian origin in Canada, there are as many as four ministers in the present liberal government of Canada who are Indians or persons of Indian origin. Even in Uganda, where Idi Amin had forced a mass exodus of Indian people, at least 50 thousand Indians are still there and their economic prosperity is worth mentioning. Migrants are not necessarily enemies of the host countries. Politicians may attain power by divisive communal and ethnic politics but a country cannot further itself with these means. Hence religious fundamentalists from outside Assam, be they Togadias or some cow-belt Muslim leaders must not be allowed to fish in the troubled the waters of Assam. Any neutral analysis would show that the current situation in Assam is grave and allowing it to worsen any further would mean the annihilation of the Assamese nation itself.
When I had visited Israel a few years ago, what struck me was the desire of the common people to maintain peace and inter-community harmony in their everyday lives, even though the Israeli state tries its best to maintain the discord. I had also gone to Pakistan in 2004, as part of the team of Indian journalists with the then Indian PM Atal Behari Vajpayee and I saw a similar picture there. There were indeed some politicians, journalists and educated people whose sole obsession with Kashmir had irritated me, but I was humbled by the love and care of the common Pakistani citizens. I was happily amazed to see so many ordinary people who wanted to make friendship across the borders of two historically enemy countries. When the joint statement of Musharraf and Vajpayee had declared that henceforth visa norms will be relaxed, hundreds of small traders had surround us and would enquire about various shops and suppliers in Delhi and Jalandhar. I got very emotional when a panwala refused to take money from us when he came to know that we are Indians. I got the lifelong lesson that in this small country, just like any other country, the common people want to forget past animosities and build friendship but the politicians and religious fundamentalists want perennial hatred and war. Back home also, in the middle of the Ayodhya controversy, I had visited the city and was surprised to see how the common Hindu and Muslim working people were carrying on their everyday relations despite the provocations of the merchants of hatred. There are 50 thousand Muslim voters in the Ayodhya Vidhan Sabha constituency alone. I saw that the Muslim working people were offering their prayers to Ramlala through their services, if not through rituals. I found that it was Muslim tailors who would stitch the dresses for Ramlala idols, it was Muslim water suppliers who would provide water to the hotels in the city where pilgrims came and stayed, it was Muslim tangawalas who would take you to various temples and other tourist sites in the city. The continuing peaceful coexistence of these working people from the two communities was a tight slap in the face of the religious fundamentalists who wanted divisions, hatred and riots. I had gone with the then MP of Ayodhya, Mitra Sen Yadav and met many such people from both the communities. I saw the same picture in Ajmer Sharif dargah, where most of the traders in the vicinity of the dargah are Hindus. They have been living peacefully with their Muslim brothers.
It is the merchants of hatred and fundamentalism who are responsible for much of the sorrow in today’s world by spreading communal divisions and animosities. It is these very forces who throttle the right to free speech, endanger democracy and make our polity irresponsible and authoritarian. It is in the interest of the common people, democracy and the country as a whole that a resolute struggle against these forces of hatred be waged today. Time is already running out.
******[Translated by Mayur Chetia. This article was originally published in the Assamese daily, Axomiya Khabar]