Does BJP have a hand in the latest massacre in Assam?
By Dr Habib Siddiqui is a peace and rights activist.
There is little doubt that BJP leaders’ xenophobic speeches have catalysed targeted pogrom in Assam. Justice demands that they be held accountable for their criminal role, writes Dr Habib Siddiqui from Pennsylvania
DOES Narendra Modi, the Bharatiya Janata Party leader, have a hand in the latest killing of Bengali-speaking Muslims in western Assam’s Baska and Kokrajhar districts since Thursday evening of May 1? Union minister Kapil Sibal believes so, and so does Assam Youth Congress president Piyush Hazarika.
Addressing media, the law minister said the BJP leaders were fanning violence in Assam using morphed pictures as part of its ‘communal propaganda’ on social media. Targeting the Gujarat chief minister, the Congress leader said, ‘Modi is a model of dividing India. This is the policy of the BJP since 1984 of dividing India. The Rath Yatra, Babri Masjid demolition and all this has been a part of the communal strategy of the BJP.’
Raha MLA Hazarika said, ‘On April 1, immediately after Narendra Modi’s rally in Biswanath Chariali, a local BJP leader, Bhavdev Goswami, told a TV channel that the BJP had the support of the NDFB [National Democratic Front of Bodoland] rebels. At Sri Rampur on the Assam-West Bengal border, Modi said he would drive out all Bangladeshis after May 16.’ [The relevance of May 16 is that the BJP expects to win the marathon election held now, which ends on May 12, whose results will be declared on May 16, 2014.]
It is worth noting here that the NDFB is an armed separatist outfit which seeks to obtain a sovereign Bodoland for the Bodo people in Assam, India. It is designated as a terrorist organisation by the government of India.
According to the Assam police, the NDFB’s Sangbijit group is behind the killings in the massacre of Muslims since May 1, though the group has denied its role in a press statement.
The published reports from Assam show that on April 1, Bhavdev Goswami claimed in front of a television camera that he along with some other party workers had a meeting with members of two NDFB factions — Sangbijit and Ranjan Daimary — at Bhalukpung and they had pledged support to the BJP for the Lok Sabha polls. The BJP candidate from Tezpur constituency, RP Sarma, also reportedly told the TV channel that he was aware of the meeting. The BJP’s Sonitpur West district president Ritubaran Sarma later denied that any such meeting took place.
‘When Rahul Gandhi had a rally at Biswanath Chariali on March 27, the NDFB had declared a bandh. What more evidence do you need that the BJP is hand in glove with terror groups? Modi wants to repeat in Assam what he did in Gujarat in 2002,’ Hazarika said.
Meanwhile, the Assam minister of state for border areas development, Siddique Ahmed, has claimed that extremist elements in Bodoland People’s Front, an alliance partner of Tarun Gogoi-led state government, are involved in the recent violence in Bodoland Autonomous Territorial Districts. The BPF is also in power in the BTAD. Congress leader Abdul Khaleque has sought BPF leader Pramila Rani’s arrest for her ‘incendiary’ comment on April 30 that Muslim migrants did not vote for her party candidate from Kokrajhar seat Chandan Brahma. Chandan Brahma is currently transport minister in the Gogoi cabinet. The All Assam Minority Students’ Union Abdur Rahim said the BTC administration had planned the mayhem after the votes were cast.
An umbrella group of 21 non-Bodo organisations has also attributed the violence to BPF legislator Pramila Rani Brahma’s view on April 30.
Opposition parties have also sought immediate resignation of chief minister Gogoi, who is also in charge of the home ministry. Badruddin Ajmal, president of Assam’s largest opposition party All India United Democratic Front, has demanded the imposition of the president’s rule in the state.
Muslims are a major constituent of this group that fielded Naba Kumar alias Hira Sarania, a former United Liberation Front of Asom rebel, as an independent candidate in Kokrajhar. Non-Bodos including other tribes have never won this seat despite constituting two-thirds of the population. ‘BPF chief Hagrama Mohilary is responsible for instigating his cadres to attack non-Bodo villagers, particularly Muslims, because his party has realised it could lose the Kokrajhar seat,’ Sarania said.
According to government officials, hundreds of Muslims and other minority groups have fled their villages to safer locations fearing a rerun of the 2012 communal clashes that took the lives of 108 people. According to India Today, indefinite curfew has been clamped in Baska and Kokrajhar districts. The union home ministry has sent 10 companies of central paramilitary forces to Kokrajhar and Baksa.
As I have noted elsewhere in a 2012 article, at the heart of Assam’s troubles is a debate over the ‘infiltration’ by outsiders, which has led to ethnic tension between the state’s so-called indigenous population and Bengali-speaking people who have settled there for generations. Overlooked in this debate is the fact that all these territories were once part of British India with people — both Assamese and Bengali — living on either side of today’s border that separates Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan/East Bengal) from the state of Assam in India.
The Assamese were mostly illiterate people and so many Indians (mostly from the province of Bengal) were brought in to work as engineers, doctors, administrators, clerks, railway workers and other government related jobs. Many of the Bengali-speaking famers were also brought in to boost rice production in the area, especially around the ‘chars’ (river islands). Having lived there for generations, these so-called migrants are as Indian (in today’s parlance) as the ethnic Assamese or the tribal people are in the state.
Forgotten also in this charged-up xenophobia is the mere fact that Muslim inhabitation in Assam can historically be put at least in the early 13th century. The descendants of those early Muslims continue to live in Assam, and are mixed with other Muslims whose ancestors had moved to the territory ever since.
Unfortunately, the ensuing change in demography, rivalry for land, dwindling natural resources and livelihood, and intensified competition for political power between the ruling party and the separatists has added a deadly force to the issue of who has a right to Assam. It is all about xenophobia. Successive governments have used Assamese/Bengali Muslims as little more than a vote bank without recognising their due rights.
The latest massacre in the tea-growing Assam state comes towards the end of a marathon election in which the Hindu fascists of the BJP have been able to stoke ethnic and religious hatred. The sad fact in today’s India is: xenophobia and bigotry sells, especially if it is against the minority Muslims. Modi and Swamy’s recent visits of the troubled northeast — a copycat of (now dead) Ariel Sharon’s visit of the holy Muslim precincts of Jerusalem just before the Israeli election — where they sold the poisonous pills of communalism and intolerance provided the necessary backdrop to bring the worst amongst the Bodo people. They became the BJP’s willing executioners.
As we have seen before, in this latest pogrom, too, entire Muslim villages have been burnt down while the police and army came too late to stop the massacre of Muslims. Like chief minister Modi of Gujarat a dozen years ago, Assamese chief minister Gogoi cannot evade his culpability for the massacre of Muslims — both then in 2012 and now in 2014.
Assamese Muslims now live in fear. The Reuters reported that Anwar Islam, a Muslim who had come to buy food in Barama, a town about 30 kilometres from the villages in the Baksa district where the violence erupted on Thursday and Friday, was heard saying, ‘We are scared to live in our village, unless security is provided by the government.’ He said men armed with rifles had come to his village, Masalpur, on bicycles and had then fired indiscriminately and set huts on fire.
As I write this article on Sunday, 32 people have died, all Muslims, as a result of the latest pogrom in the BATD of the state of Assam. The district administration in the adjoining Dhubri district has opened up two relief camps. The death toll is expected to go up with many reported missing.
Targeted massacre of minorities has no place in our time, especially in a state that touts itself as a model of democracy and secularism. Such crimes only strengthen the dark forces on all sides, and often have ramifications that go beyond the sources of the trouble. The Indian government owes it to its people to rein upon such evil fascist forces that have managed to thrive unscathed, often fattened by the local government that is supposed to protect the victims. The Indian Election commission should also look into the matter of hate speech delivered by chauvinist politicians whether such speeches had violated rules during the election time.
There is little doubt that BJP leaders’ xenophobic speeches have catalysed targeted pogrom in Assam. Justice demands that they be held accountable for their criminal role. Otherwise, all those bloated claims about Indian secularism are mere hogwash and nothing else.