The Assam Assembly elections have been largely based on the hype about the Muslim vote and the fear psychosis that all Muslims in Assam will be thrown out of the country because they are migrants. But apart from just pleasing the anti-migrant or the anti-Muslim crowd, the BJP has hardly offered anything positive
TAHMINA LASKAR | Caravan Daily
As Assam goes to the second and final phase of polls, it is a win-win situation for electoral politics. The formulaic anti-incumbency factor and the soaring popularity of a few leaders who have changed horses midstream provide the perfect ingredients of a thrilling election. However, clearly the voters who are at the center-stage of the drama aren’t winning.
Assam has a total of 126 constituencies with around 1.98 crore (nearly 20 million) voters and a little over a third of the population are Muslims. There is more to the equation than just the Hindu-Muslim calculations though.
The mainstream media has been ignoring a lot of the nuance that Assam as a melting pot of culture has to offer. Additionally, when big names like Prannoy Roy and Shekhar Gupta oversimplify such factors and base their analysis on hearsay they label all Bengalis in Assam as migrants.
Mustafa M. Barbhuiya, a Postdoctoral Scientistat Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore and a Sylheti from Hailakandi district of Assam is clearly disappointed by such analysis.
He says: “While Prannoy Roy and Shekhar Gupta sitting on the bank of Brahmaputra discussed elections in Assam one thing they definitely failed to gauge that if India is an epitome of the world, Assam is the epitome of India. We have a mini-subcontinent in Assam. That is the extent of diversity that the media missed by labelling 60% of its people as migrants. That has tremendous negative impact on Muslims living in Assam for the past several centuries!”
Coming to the point of co-existence of Ahoms and other ethnic and linguistic groups including Bengalis in Assam and Sylhetis in Barak Valley, he said: “Ahoms came in 13th Century (Ahom Kingdom, 1228–1826) from Myanmar to whom the land belongs. Ahoms themselves came from another land. An important factual fallacy in these election campaigns and a misinformation from analysts like Prannoy Roy and Shekhar Gupta is that they missed the origins of Muslims in Barak Valley who speak the Sylheti language. Syloti or Sylheti has its own script and it’s a distinct language.”
There are many others who share Barbhuiya’s views and are annoyed by the media’s simplistic approach on such issues.
Coming back to the point of polls, these elections have been largely based on the hype about the Muslim vote and the fear psychosis that all Muslims in Assam will be thrown out of the country because they are migrants. But apart from just pleasing the anti-migrant or the anti-Muslim crowd it has hardly offered anything positive and is unlikely to majorly affect the poll outcome.
The rhetoric has been based on the Hindu-Muslim communal divide ignoring secular issues like poor governance and lack of development. The anti-incumbency factor has largely been there with so many years of the Congress rule and hardly any development in terms of infrastructure and employment opportunities.
People are tired of political rhetoric of every party and that probably is the reason why BJP had reaped the dividends during the Lok Sabha polls. So in spite of all the goof ups in quoting history and geography of Assam the BJP seems to have scored some brownie points while promising development.
From the interviews that I conducted just after the first phase of the polls where voting took place in 65 seats, the rough analysis is that in Barak Valley, the AIUDF and BJP have apparently done very well.
Earlier the AIUDF, the front floated by perfume baron Badruddin Ajmal, had only one seat. This time around they might win 5 seats.
In upper Assam BJP has done well, BJP and its allies i.e. AGP and BPF might win around 35+ seats. In the second phase the predictions are that the seats are a stronghold of AIUDF but charges of corruption in ticket distribution have engulfed the party big time.
In seats where AIUDF had MLAs there is huge anti-incumbency. But in last one week AIUDF has recovered substantially. Although this time around Congress might win back its Muslim vote in those seats to a large extent, it will be difficult for AIUDF to hold the 18 seats that they won in last election.
AIUDF will win from new places and might lose some existing seats. Advocate Aman Wadud, a politically active young resident of Assam says, “It will be surprising if Congress manages 50 seats in this elections, the misrule and corruption has made people bitter”, he says.
There is a strong possibility that Congress would end up winning around 40 seats in spite of all that was wrong in their governance in the previous years for a lack of good alternative available to the voters.
So whichever way we look at the situation, it’s the voters’ loss all the way. Political maturity is lacking in the voters of Assam and adding to their woes is the poor understanding in general of the issues that plague the state.
Electoral win or loss will not bear much significance for the people unless genuine political awareness and critical thinking come up from bottom. Ethnic diversity and ethnic clashes are both Assam’s reality and the sooner we realize that all of this contributes to what kind of society we will have. So far, it has been a choice of no choice and we need to change that position as we stand at a critical crossroads in our history.