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Sunday, August 19, 2012

‘Rumour-mongers’ have the last laugh


By Swapan Dasgupta

The official narrative describes them as ‘rumour-mongers’, ‘mischief-makers’ and ‘anti-nationals’. Call them these and much more but there is a hard truth that India must confront: that these vile creatures are boisterously celebrating the spectacular success of their mission.

Just look at the facts. On August 11, a mob of nearly 50,000 assembled in Mumbai’s Azad Maidan and went berserk. They torched vehicles, molested women policemen, smashed shop windows and even desecrated an Amar Jawan Jyoti while venting their anger at the persecution of Muslims in Assam and Myanmar. Within two days, following a few incidents of intimidation, a sinister message was mysteriously relayed to people from Assam and the North-east living in Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Pune and Chennai to quit the cities by August 20 or face the consequences. From last Sunday evening, the mass exodus of people began and by all accounts nearly 20,000 people packed a small bag and left their homes, their studies and their places of work and caught the first available train to Guwahati.

Even as the Government, Parliament and well-meaning citizens tried to reassure panic-stricken communities that they had nothing to fear, mobs assembled in Lucknow and Allahabad on August 17 and, like their counterparts in Mumbai, went on the rampage burning cars and smashing shop windows. In Lucknow, the mob—described by a quaint report in The Times of India (online) as consisting of 50 people “dressed as Muslims, wearing skull caps and scarves”  and “chewing paan and paan masala, which is prohibited during the fast in the month of Ramzan”—honed in on the Buddha Park and were photographed vandalising a statue of the Buddha. They too were protesting against the happenings in Myanmar and Assam.

In just nine days, these “mischief-makers” and “anti-nationals” achieved three definite objectives.

First, they demonstrated quite unambiguously that when it comes to Muslims, community prevails over geography. They made a mockery of the claim by the BJP and many Assamese leaders that the clashes in Kokrajhar were between Indians and foreigners. They flaunted, for the rest of India to see, their complete identification with the “outsiders” and “foreigners”.

Equally, they demonstrated that when it comes to Muslim interests, national boundaries are meaningless. In another age, the Caliphate in Turkey had briefly become an Indian issue. In more recent times, Palestine had become a symbol of victimhood. Now, the boundaries of rage have been extended to embrace the cause of the Rohingyas in Myanmar.

Secondly, the unnamed “mischief-makers” struck a blow at the emotional integration of India. For some time, cities in India have faced problems centred on the harassment of citizens from the North-east, particularly women. The people of the North-east have nurtured legitimate grievances about Middle India’s disdain for its people. This profound sense of alienation is almost certain to be aggravated once the victims of the silent terror reach their homes in Assam and the North-east and narrate their ordeal. In time to come, what may be remembered is not that the local police, administration and voluntary groups tried their utmost to instil confidence but that ‘mainstream’ India has become unsafe for people of the North-east, that they are being targeted on account of their ethnicity and that they don’t ‘belong’.

The emotional trauma of the 20,000 or so people who returned home in fear will take a long time to heal. Those who care to remember may ponder over the devastating impact that the profiling of Sikhs during the Asian Games of 1982 had on the psyche of that community. To avoid despondency from turning into bitterness, all steps must be taken to ensure that the majority of those who took the trains to Guwahati return to their adopted cities as soon as possible.

Finally, the conspirators who instigated the troubles must be gloating over the fragility and helplessness of the Government and the political class. Far from reacting with outrage over what happened over the past nine days, there was a disgraceful show of squeamishness. The Mumbai Police Commissioner is reported to have warned against too many arrests, a Chief Minister is understood to have pressed the Ministry of External Affairs to summon the Myanmar Ambassador and issue a formal demarche, and the Minority Commission has chosen to be in denial over the illegal immigration to Assam. Politically, the Congress is in blue funk because it is fearful that firm action against the instigators of the mob violence and the creators of the morphed photographs could have dire electoral consequences.

Even the Fourth Estate, otherwise fearless in exposing perceived injustice, has held back its punches. Part of this is understandable because exposing the whole truth also ran the risk of adding to the climate of fear and nervousness. However, to the ‘mischief-makers’ this noble-hearted restraint is likely to be interpreted as evidence of the Establishment’s fear of their muscle power and electoral power. Having successfully bared their fangs and made their point effortlessly, the ‘mischief-makers’ now know their full potential.

Within the Muslim community too, the extremists have demonstrated their ability to be the real movers and shakers. Last week, during the debate in the Lok Sabha on Assam, the MP for Hyderabad warned against a ‘third wave’ of radicalisation if Muslim grievances were not speedily. After the events of the past nine days, it is worth considering whether he was ‘warning’ of an ominous trend or trumpeting its arrival.

Sunday Pioneer, August 19, 2012 

Friday, August 17, 2012

CITIZENS WHO MATTER - Thoughtful governance has given Odisha’s people confidence


By Swapan Dasgupta

Casual visitors to Bhubaneswar, the administrative centre of Odisha, may be struck by its resemblance to the company towns that sprung up in the 1950s and 1960s when space was not an unaffordable luxury. Its remarkably well-maintained grand public buildings—the Secretariat, the High Court, the Assembly, et al—reflect the unbridled optimism and the aesthetics of the 1950s. Its rows of whitewashed official accommodation for the upper echelons of the bureaucracy, ministers and MLAs are generously spacious but don’t exude the imperial arrogance of the bungalows of the British Raj. And, to add to the enlightened ‘bush shirt’ ambiance of a disappearing age, there are many tastefully landscaped public parks, at least two outstanding museums (including the Natural History Museum which, last week, unveiled the 47 feet-long skeleton of a Baleen whale that had beached in Gopalpur) and the Rabindra Mandap which hosted performances by Shubha Mudgal and Carnatic vocalist T.M. Krishna last week.

In the past 15 years, a non-official Bhubaneswar has also emerged, driven by the brash energy of IT companies and private educational institutions. With the mining boom having produced a visible spurt in consumer spending, Bhubaneswar now conveys the image of a purposeful city, one that has easily overtaken neighbouring Cuttack in the surge to modernity. Compared to India’s booming metros, Odisha’s Capital may be a relatively small town but it has long discarded the image of being a sleepy town.  

There is a quiet, understated regional pride that permeates today’s Odisha but which is not often appreciated in the citadels of metropolitan derision. Thanks to a drastic overhaul of the state’s finances which has seen chronically deficit Budgets being turned into surplus, Odisha is no longer dependant on the Centre’s charity for everything. This has meant that the Chief Minister doesn’t have to constantly rush to the National Capital with begging bowl in hand. Elaborate welfare schemes, such as the Rs 2 rice scheme for the poor, the special assistance for the Kalahandi-Bolangir-Koraput region and programme for rural housing, can be financed from the state’s own exchequer, a detail that adds to the state’s self-esteem.

The extent to which a well-functioning and stable government can both empower and boost the self-confidence of a people is often not fully grasped by the metropolitan mindset. The perception of Odisha as a backwater that can either be taken for granted or used as a toy, regrettably, still exists. The only difference is that Odisha now refuses to be taken for granted.

A recent controversy, relatively small in nature, highlighted the change. This week, a minor storm erupted over the decision of the Governor, in his capacity as the Chancellor of the Ravenshaw University in Cuttack, to award an honorary doctorate to a notable from Delhi whose connections to Odisha were both tenuous and, it later emerged, somewhat contentious. Following protests, the honour was withdrawn. But, the Governor, it emerged, had made a habit of doling out honorary doctorates from local universities where he is the Chancellor to friends in the legal profession in Delhi. So blatant was the cronyism that special convocations of Utkal University and Sambhalpur University were held at Odisha Bhavan in New Delhi because some of those who had been honoured didn’t bother with the convocations in Odisha.

That the discretionary powers of Delhi’s foremost representative in Bhubaneswar is now called upon to account for his flights of whimsy may appear surprising to those who still cling on to patronising stereotypes of ‘simple’ Odiyas who can be taken for a ride. The surprise is unwarranted. Since 1999, the state has elected a regional party to power, each time with a thumping majority. Unlike the 1980s and 1990s, when Biju Patnaik and J.B. Patnaik alternated as Chief Minister and kept Odisha very much in the purview of national politics, the story has undergone a major modification.

Naveen Patnaik, the political innocent who was thrust into public life in 1997 after Biju babu’s death, has no doubt built on his father’s formidable legacy. But whereas the larger than life Biju babu always had one eye firmly focussed on national politics, his political heir has progressively eased himself out of a battlefield where he was only a bit player. When he was elected to the Lok Sabha from Aska in a by-election in 1997, Naveen had fought on a Janata Dal ticket. By 1998, he dispensed with the national party which was in a shambles and established the Biju Janata Dal, a regional party. Although he joined the National Democratic Alliance and had an alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party in Odisha, he extricated himself from that entanglement in 2009 and won a spectacular third-term victory. Unlike Gujarat and Karnataka where the BJP had successfully marginalised the remnants of the old Janata Dal, Naveen obliterated the BJP in Odisha.

At one level, Naveen has demonstrated a ruthless streak. At every step along his political journey, he has brushed away potential challengers inside the party and banished them into the wilderness. Odisha is littered with the political corpses of grandees who underestimated the political dexterity of the Chief Minister. The latest was Piyari Mohan Mohapatra, the proverbial juju man of Odisha politics. His coup attempt in May was snuffed out by public outrage. Naveen, away in England when the conspirators struck, was victorious in absentia.

However, my contention is that while Naveen’s guile and his reputation for personal integrity may have played its part in ensuring his dominance over the BJD, his political longevity owes much to the wider shifts in Odisha’s public consciousness. The Chief Minister has perfected the art of the regional party. Although personally a cosmopolitan who is naturally at ease in the most rarefied of circles on both sides of the Atlantic, not to speak of Lutyens’ Delhi, his political priorities are determined solely by his state. If there is a national intervention, it is because there is an Odisha dimension to it.

Delhi was always unfamiliar territory to a state where media consumers account for only 65 per cent or so of the population. By narrowing the focus of concerns to what happens in Bhubaneswar and the districts, Naveen may well be accused of enhancing the provincialisation of his state. However, the truncation of political boundaries can also be viewed as evidence of greater empowerment. What the average, concerned citizen of Odisha thinks of the goings-on in Delhi’s North and South Block has no impact. But his perceptions have a direct bearing on Bhubaneswar. By prioritising the local over the national, Naveen has offset the sense of despondency and alienation that would otherwise have crept into one of India’s most backward states. By making democracy provincial, Naveen has, ironically, enriched it substantially.

In recent months there has been intense speculation over how the BJD will conduct itself in the event of a hung Parliament in 2014. It is hazardous to prophecy the options Naveen will exercise, apart from saying that he will not support a Congress-led formation. But judging from the regional mould in which he operates, my guess is that he will prefer to also stay out of any NDA regime.  He will be content observing from the sidelines and bargaining fiercely for local benefits. Those anxious for his party’s participation must make him an offer so magnificently attractive that refusing it would mean letting Odisha down.  

The only effective pressure point for Naveen will be from below, from a people who, after 15 years, have the self-assurance to play on the national stage as citizens who matter.  

Monday, August 13, 2012

Assam will never be same again


By Swapan Dasgupta

If I was a Bodo in Assam and listening to last Wednesday’s adjournment motion in the Lok Sabha , would I be mistaken in coming to the grim conclusion that the political establishment either doesn’t understand or doesn’t care about what happens in Kokrajhar? Would I be wrong in also concluding that the niceties of democratic politics are unlikely to save the community from complete marginalisation, even in the so-called Bodo ‘homeland’?

These are subversive thoughts and I hope that in the coming years I am proved completely wrong. However, judging from the complete denial of Bodo grievances by the ruling coalition and its many friends in the Opposition, some unpalatable home truths are in order.

The most important of these is the realisation that the immigrants from eastern Bengal (now Bangladesh) who began the colonisation of Assam sometime in the 1900s, are on the verge of a total and unqualified political victory. From the position of captive vote banks of cynical politicians such as Moinul Huq Choudhury, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed and that great buffoon Dev Kanta Barooah—all important functionaries in Indira Gandhi’s dispensation—the illegals have now acquired independent clout. They can still do with all the support they get from the misplaced secularism of the mainstream parties. But the more intelligent of their leaders—and the AIDUF leader Badruddin Ajmal, MP for Dhubri is just one of them—know that far from being a valuable stakeholder in the Ali-Coolie-Bangali coalition, it is they who are on the verge of calling the shots.

The process may yet take another decade to fully fructify. However, if as many in the know suggest, anything between 11 and 13 of the 27 districts of Assam are now Muslim majority, it is only a matter of time before the political consequences of this monumental demographic change begin to be felt. No wonder some of Sharad Yadav’s pointed questions to the government regarding the demographic composition of those in the refugee camps went unanswered.

This is a demographic upheaval that neither Assam nor the rest of India have begun to appreciate. Parties supportive of the Bodos continue to invoke the Assam Accord of 1985 and press for detection, disenfranchisement and deportation of all those who entered Assam from Bangladesh after March 1971. They don’t seem to realise that these demands are now horribly dated. Apart from the fact that 41 years have lapsed since the cut-off date, the demographic shift has made it impossible for any government machinery to conduct citizenship tests on the ground. Even the register of citizens that former Assam Governor Lt-Gen S.K. Sinha proposed in the late-1990s is certain to be flawed. Evidence from the Census operations clearly show that a disproportionate number of people tell the enumerators that they were born locally.

The likes of Ajmal know that the threats of detection and deportation are empty. This is why he has no inhibition about directing his fire power at the remaining pockets of indigenous resistance. If Kokrajhar falls and the Bodo Territorial Council becomes history, the march into Lower Assam and even the Barak Valley will be relatively effortless.

There is another facet of Ajmal that warrants attention, even admiration: the deftness with which he has enlarged the cause of Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh into an all-India Muslim cause. Confronted by one of the weakest Congress-led governments at the Centre, this approach is yielding returns.

One of the most spirited interventions in the Lok Sabha came from Asaduddin Owaisi the MIM representative from Hyderabad. Apart from suggesting that the abnormal rise in Assam’s population over the years was a consequence of Hindu migration from East Pakistan and Bangladesh, Owaisi proffered the threat of Muslim militancy in the event of the community’s grievances not being addressed.

Owaisi was not alone. The aftermath of the July riots has seen the organised and unpublicised conducted tours of Muslim politicians cutting across parties to camps where the Muslim dispossessed have taken shelter. It is this group that has mounted pressure on the Congress High Command for action against Chief Minister Gogoi. It was a desire to placate Muslim sentiments in West Bengal that also propelled Mamata Banerjee to announce that the state would happily provide sanctuary to those unsettled by the violence. In Parliament, Trinamool Congress minister Sougata Roy even stated that his party disagreed with the Supreme Court judgment striking down the Illegal Migrants Detection Tribunal.

For the moment, the trends in Muslim politics are mixed. In most areas where the community is in a minority, the trend is to support and participate in the mainstream parties, particularly the Congress. However, in areas where the community is numerically strong, there is the emergence of Muslim parties. The Muslim League in Malabar, the MIM in Hyderabad, the AIDUF in Assam and the Peace Party in parts of Uttar Pradesh could suggest an emerging pattern. If this trend is reinforced and replicated in West Bengal and Bihar, we may see a shift in the pattern of national politics.

The Congress is aware of dangers arising from a Muslim electoral breakaway. This may be why there is every possibility of the Bodo cry for help falling on deaf ears. For the moment, one community has quite effectively exercised its veto in national affairs—to the detriment of the national interest.

Assam will never be the same again.

Sunday Pioneer, August 12, 2012

Why Assam is sitting on a volcano


By Swapan Dasgupta

It is not going to be a happy Independence Day for the many lakhs (estimates range from 2.5 to four lakhs) of people in makeshift refugee camps in the Kokrajhar and Dubri districts of Assam. The state, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, has ominously proclaimed, is “living on a volcano”, with the possibility of sectarian violence being aggravated by a bewildering array of armed groups linked to one or another ethnic group. Overwhelmed by incomprehension, the otherwise prickly liberal intelligentsia and editorial classes have turned away their gaze after mouthing the familiar platitudes about the need to preserve peace. Considering the magnitude of the explosion and compelling evidence of administrative lethargy, even the by-now mandatory demand for the Chief Minister’s resignation has not been mouthed with any measure of conviction.

Driving this squeamishness is the fear of taking sides. Rather than probe the specificities of the situation in the north bank of the Brahmaputra, the custodians of the national conscience have retreated behind a curtain of moral equivalence—the compassionate equivalent of the plague-on-both-houses approach. There have been lots of assertions about what the troubles were not: they weren’t ‘communal’, they weren’t triggered by forces from across the Bangladesh border, and they weren’t state-sponsored. Was it, therefore, a bout of monsoon madness that affected Assam? If not, what was it?

It is not that the answers are unknown. But it is a truth that dare not speak its name. The story of the July 2012 riots has escaped narration on the national stage because the story-line suggests inconvenient villains and incorrect heroes.

Leaving aside the competitive haggling over which community suffered the most and who struck first, what was witnessed in Assam was a general uprising of an exasperated Bodo community against an unending wave of marginalisation and loss. Equally, it was provoked by the growing belligerence of a settler community (known in many quarters as Bangladeshi Muslims and whose citizenship is contested) that now perceives itself as the dominant group in at least 11 of the 27 districts of Assam and its insistence that the special powers of the Bodo Territorial Council to prevent land alienation be scrapped. On display were two different forms of aggression. The Bodo violence was born of desperation, while the aggression of the settlers was driven by anticipation of a new conquest.

It is not unfair to suggest that is the Bodo wall that has prevented the entire north bank of the Brahmaputra from being overwhelmed by creeping settler colonisation—a process that began in the early decades of the previous century and continues relentlessly to this day. For the Bodos, one of the earliest inhabitants of Assam, the issue is not merely a question of habitat. It is twinned with larger questions of language and identity. The community which makes up a nominal five per cent of the state’s population have been caught in a pincer movement. First, there are the physical encroachments of land-hungry Bangladeshi Muslims who are already dominant in neighbouring Dhubri and who have established squatter’s rights over communal lands in Kokrajhar and Chirang districts. Second, there are the cultural threats to the Bodo language and identity from the caste Assamese.

It is true that Bodo leaders increased their community’s isolation by failing to strike strategic alliances with indigenous non-Bodo communities such as the adivasis and Koch-Rajbonshis. Giving these communities a stake in the Bodo areas would have given the resistance to settler colonisation a greater strategic depth. It may even have encouraged the Assamese to see Bodos as an ally in a common ‘anti-foreigner’ struggle.

However, this short-sightedness cannot distract from the fact that Bodos have a right to feel aggrieved by the indifference to their plight in both Dispur and Delhi. Today, the tragic predicament of the Bodos is being wished away by invoking the cruel but inexorable logic of history. In the process, what is being overlooked is that the colonisers are more than economic migrants. They are fast developing independent ambitions that may well go beyond the purview of both state and national politics. Allowing the Bodo wall to be breached may well have grave implications for the political geography of India.

Sunday Times of India, August 12, 2012 

Friday, August 3, 2012

TWIST IN THE TALE - Secular politics is harming the Bodo minority in Assam


By Swapan Dasgupta

It is an undeniable fact that in the hierarchy of what passes off as ‘national’ news, North-eastern India occupies the lowest rung. While periodic lip-service is paid to the need to rectify matters and bring this much-neglected part of India into the ‘mainstream’ discourse, the bewildering complexity of the region and its relative inaccessibility has ensured that the North-east remains an afterthought, a sort of Fourth World in the Third World.

So it was with last week’s violent clashes in Kokrajhar and Dhubri districts of Assam that left more than 50 people being killed and an estimated four lakh people being uprooted from their homes. A ‘humanitarian crisis’—the newest coinage of mediaspeak—of this magnitude should have led to a furore in the chat shows, with sundry human rights bodies joining the race for competitive indignation. After all, a far lesser crisis in the Kandhamal district of Orissa in 2009 had attracted far greater attention, not to speak of the Gujarat riots of 2002 which continue to dominate media space.

To argue, as has often been done, that the editorial classes are naturally callous and prefer to focus on a relatively small protest in Delhi’s Jantar Mantar is only part of the story. The reality is that the media loves simple categories—as, for example, Hindu ‘fanatics’ versus helpless Christians in Kandhamal and the ‘mass murderer’ Narendra Modi versus beleaguered Muslims in Gujarat. The situation in the northern bank of the Brahmaputra, unfortunately, was too complex to present as a clash between ‘good’ and ‘evil’. Was it, as many insisted, a ‘communal’ clash involving Hindu Bodos and Muslim settlers who had arrived from what is now Bangladesh? Alternatively, was it an ethnic clash involving the indigenous Bodos and Bengal-speaking immigrants? The underlying presumption was that while a ‘communal’ clash was unacceptable, an ‘ethnic’ conflict was nominally less damning.

Then there were the invariable sub-plots that excite the TV channels. Was the Assam Government too slow to respond? Why did the Tarun Gogoi Government not take pre-emptive measures after the murder in Kokrajhar of , first, two Muslims on July 6 and the retaliatory violence that led to the killing of four Bodo activists on July 20? Was there any basis to Chief Minister Gogoi’s assertion at a press conference last week that the Army had refused to act until it got a sanction from Defence Minister A.K. Antony—a process that took two days? Is there any basis to the allegation by the Bodo Tribal Council chief Hagrama Mahilary that armed Bangladeshis from across the international border had incited the violence?

The answers to most of these questions will remain unanswered, even after the official inquiry committee eventually submits its report. However, what is clear is that in trying to slot the violence into pre-determined compartments and exploring the vexed question of administrative culpability, the media and the political class are taking evasive action. There is an uncomfortable dimension to this ethnic-communal flare-up in Kokrajhar and Dhubri that decision-makers would rather not address, not least because they have no answers to offer.

That the origins of the violence lie in demographic upheaval Assam has been witnessing for the past 100 years is undeniable. Thanks to waves of immigration from the region that is now Bangladesh, the population of Assam increased from 3.29 million in 1901 to 14.6 million in 1971, a 343.7 per cent increase compared to the all-India increase of nearly 150 per cent in the same period. Public intellectuals in Assam have stressed that the increase of the Muslim population has been disproportionate. In an unusual intervention last week, Election Commissioner M.S. Brahma suggested that the details of the 2011 Census may reveal that 11 of the 27 districts of Assam now have a Muslim majority.

While the issue of ‘illegal immigration’ from Bangladesh has formed an important part of the public discourse of the Assamese-speaking Hindus of the Brahmaputra Valley, it has become a paramount issue for the Bodo-speaking minority living in the areas that constituted the undivided Goalpara district. The Bodo-speaking minority which accounts for only five per cent of the population perceives a dual threat to their existence: a cultural challenge from the Assamese-speaking majority and a physical challenge from Bangladeshi Muslims who constitute the majority in Dhubri and whose presence is increasingly being felt in the Bodo heartland of Kokrajhar district.

The emergence of militant Bodo sub-nationalism in the 1990s was an attempt to cope with these twin challenges and led to the formation of the semi-autonomous Bodo Territorial Council in 1993. However, much of the political gains from militant identity politics have been offset by the growing assertiveness of the Muslim community. The rise of the All India United Democratic Front led by Maulana Badruddin Ajmal, the All Assam Minority Students Union and the Asom Mia Parishad has triggered a frontal Bodo-Muslim confrontation. Tensions have further risen following the AIUDF demand that the BTC be abolished because Bodos no longer constitute a majority in large areas governed by it. In an astute move, Ajmal has taken care to develop links with major Muslim organisations throughout India to ensure that the concerns of his social base are easily translated into ‘national’ Muslim concerns.

Confronted with this seemingly intractable situation, both Delhi and Dispur have fallen back on homilies. Following his tour of the relief camps earlier this week, (then) Home Minister P. Chidambaram took recourse to pious platitudes: “There are people from a variety of communities living in Assam now. Ultimately, people of all communities would have to learn to live together in peace.”  There was not a word about border fencing or possible modifications to the farcical Illegal Migrants Detection Tribunal Act. Dependant on Bodo support in Dispur but equally concerned with Muslim support at an all-India level, the Congress has very little space to manoeuvre. It can merely hope that any future conflict can be averted by more efficient administrative measures. Meanwhile, ground reports suggest an ongoing process of ethnic cleansing. Bodos in Dhubri are moving to Kokrajhar, and dispossessed Muslim of Kokrajhar are moving to Dhubri. Some may even find their way into West Bengal.

In the past, India’s liberal intelligentsia has been very vocal on the so-called ‘communal’ question, particularly the harassment of minorities. Yet, the usual suspects have been strangely quiet over this monumental upheaval that has shaken Assam. The reasons are obvious. The familiar stereotypes centred on brutish majoritarianism and vulnerable minorities don’t quite fit the bill in Dhubri and Kokrajhar. What we have instead is a very vulnerable indigenous tribal minority being squeezed from all sides, but particularly by the communal assertiveness of another minority that can leverage its national clout for local advantage.

In 2004, when the religious demography of the 2001 Census showed some strange results for Assam, the intelligentsia buried its head in the sand and ensured that all meaningful discussions on the subject were guillotined. The same process is once again at work over recent events in Assam.

In 1947, the Muslim community was a frightened minority, unsure of its position in an India that never took too kindly to the painful Partition in two wings. In 2012, Indian secularism is deeply entrenched and has ensured both dignity and political empowerment to religious minorities, sometimes by way of exceptional consideration. A problem, however, is likely to arise if the empowerment of minorities becomes a byword for injustice to others. For the Bodo minority of Assam, the practice of secular politics is coming to imply the possible extinction of their very identity.


The Telegraph, August 3, 2012