Pushing Hindutva in Assam

Print edition : September 15, 2017

THE Assam government’s decision to name all model degree colleges to be set up under a Central government-assisted scheme as “Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Adarsh Mahavidyalaya” has sparked off angry protests across the State.

However, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led (BJP) government is unfazed by the protests and refuses to budge. The State BJP, on the other hand, has articulated a fresh narrative of its slogan of “jati-mati-bheti” (nation-land-property) to defend the decision, but this has only added fuel to the fire.

The BJP had used the slogan effectively during the 2016 Assembly elections to exploit Assamese voters’ fears of being overwhelmed by illegal migrants from Bangladesh and losing their land and property to them.

State BJP president Ranjit Kumar Dass told mediapersons that while using this slogan, his party never referred to Assam alone but to the whole of India. “Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyaya was a philosopher. He is an ideologue of the BJP. We must shed the narrow outlook with which we are trying to look at Assam. We are part of Indian society and Assam [is] a soul of Indian society. If Assam needs to be protected then India must be protected first,” he said.

On August 4, Education Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma made the State government’s decision public after Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal appointed five principals and 93 assistant professors to the model degree colleges in the districts of Goalpara, Bongaigaon, Biswanath, Darrang and Karimganj.

The previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre released Rs.18 crore on October 18, 2013, to the Tarun Gogoi government in Assam as the first instalment of its share of Rs.48 crore for setting 12 model degree colleges in the State. Under the model degree colleges scheme mooted in 2008-09 during the UPA-I regime, the Centre shall provide assistance to the extent of 50 per cent of the capital cost, limited to Rs.4 crore, for each college. The colleges are to be set up in 374 educational backward districts of the country where the gross enrolment ratio in higher education is less than the national average.

Students and youth organisations such as the All Assam Students’ Union, the Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuba Chatra Parishad, the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti, and the Students’ Federation of India, along with opposition parties, leading intellectuals, litterateurs, artists, scientists and educationists, have joined the protests and demanded that the government abandon its decision and name the colleges after cultural, literary icons, freedom fighters and renowned personalities of Assam who have contributed to education and society in the State. The Asom Gana Parishad, a partner in the government, has opposed the decision and sought a review.

Even those who backed the BJP in 2016 because they wanted an end to the 15-year-old Congress rule in Assam have accused the party of hoodwinking the people.

By ignoring the protests and not budging from its position, the BJP has indicated that it could start pushing the new definition of its slogan when it seeks votes for the 2019 Lok Sabha election.

The party and the Sonowal government have already started facing uncomfortable questions on the issues of expelling illegal Bangladeshi migrants, sealing the porous India-Bangladesh border (IBB) and preparing a National Register of Citizens to protect the interests of the indigenous people of Assam. A recent report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs on border security might explain why the BJP is trying to change the narrative.

The report, titled “Border security: capacity building and institutions”, which was presented to both Houses of Parliament on April 11, says: “The Committee notes with anguish the extremely slow pace of construction of fencing along IBB. The Ministry was able to complete only 21 km of fencing in 17 months since July 2015.”

“The Committee feels that, at the current pace, the Ministry would not be able to seal the India-Bangladesh border by its target date, i.e. March 2019,” it added.

On floodlighting of the IBB, the report states: “The Committee notes that almost 528 km of border, where floodlighting is feasible and has been sanctioned, is yet to be floodlit. The Committee also noticed lack of floodlights along several stretches during its study visit to the IBB. Lack of floodlights on the border allows the smugglers to perpetrate their devious activities during night. The Committee, therefore, recommends that the Ministry must fast-track the floodlighting project and complete it at the earliest. The Committee also recommends that, as a short-term measure, the Ministry must provide adequate long-range night-vision equipment to all the border outposts situated in areas that lack floodlights.”

The BJP appears to be testing the waters to see if its idea of nationalism with Hindutva as the core agenda, camouflaged in Assam by its alliance with regional parties and slogans like jati-mati-bheti during the 2016 elections, can be pushed aggressively with an eye on the 2019 Lok Sabha election.

Sushanta Talukdar

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