Illustration by Arindam Mukherjee
Illustration by Arindam Mukherjee
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Assam will be a key issue for BJP in 2019. But it could end up as a toxic cocktail that targets Hindus as well.

Don’t ask me to tell you a story about Rwanda. Wikipedia would tell you more than me. You might not even need me to tell you stories about the great massacre of Nellie, 35 years ago. It’s part of our political folklore now. Let me tell you, instead, about less familiar places: Khoirabari, Gohpur, and Sipajhar. These places on the north bank of the Brahmaputra must be remembered when a deeply polarising debate over the National Register of Citizens in Assam is raging.

In the killings of 1983 in the Brahmaputra Valley, about 7,000 people died. A little over 3,000 of these were Muslims slaughtered in Nellie in a few hours early on 18 February morning. The rest were scattered all over, and mostly Muslim. In the three places we mentioned, those killed were almost all Hindu. And by fellow Hindus.

A picture of Shekhar Gupta, editor-in-chief of ThePrintSo why were Hindus massacring Hindus if the anger was against “foreign nationals” (read Muslims)?

Like most things in the northeast, it’s a complex story. Let’s lift the layers. The attacking Hindus were Assamese-speaking, those massacred were Bengalis. The linguistic and ethnic hatred was as vicious as the communal bloodlust. Where the two impulses got rolled into one, as in Bengali Muslim enclaves like Nellie, the story was simpler as Assamese Hindus killed Bengali Muslims. Everybody was at everybody else’s throat. The BJP, and a well-meaning Supreme Court, have stirred the same deadly cocktail.

Four million people have failed to make the cut in the final NRC draft. They’ve been described differently, depending on whether the BJP is speaking as the government or a party. Home minister Rajnath Singh says it’s only an interim first draft. Amit Shah calls them “ghuspethiyas” (infiltrators) in Parliament. How will you read this if you were on this list? You will feel targeted.

Next, the finance minister (and the real chief minister, never mind the title) of Assam, Himanta Biswa Sarma, told us that about a third of these 40 lakh are Hindus. The BJP’s solution: The new citizenship bill whereby Hindus and Sikhs from neighbouring countries would be given Indian citizenship as a norm. Even if this law passes, let’s see how the “indigenous” Assamese react to this. This, sharing space with Bengalis, Muslim or Hindu, isn’t what they wanted. Remember, they were killing them both in 1983. Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, a former chief minister, Asom Gana Parishad chief and a junior BJP ally now, has already expressed disagreement with this.


Also read: In Assam, NRC is now National Register of Confusion


From all estimates, chances are that no more than half-a-million of these 4 million will ultimately be left out in the final tally. There’s an anomaly in the process that can’t sustain. The Gauhati High Court, in its wisdom, sanctified the “indigenous” demand that certificates granted by village panchayats be not treated as proof of citizenship. Now, what other evidence would these poorest of people bring from a pre-Aadhaar past? The state government didn’t appeal against this. It would have ended all the fun, you see. Someone else knocked at the SC’s door. It didn’t approve the high court order, but passed the buck back, asking the high court to draw up the norms for which panchayat certificates will be legitimate. It was in this confusion that the Supreme Court rail-roaded the preparation of the NRC. If any reasonable view is taken of these certificates, hardly any proven “aliens” will remain. This isn’t what the BJP would want.

The court had gone by the spirit of the 1985 Rajiv-AASU/AAGSP peace accord. It promised an NRC with 25 March 1971 as the cut-off year for determining citizenship. What this meant was, anybody who had come to India before that date would be a legitimate citizen. This was based on the Indira-Mujib Agreement, whereby Bangladesh had agreed to take back all its crore or so refugees from India. Almost 80 per cent of these were Hindu. Indira Gandhi wanted them all, Muslims and Hindu, to return.

It was in 1985, 33 years ago, when Rajiv signed the accord with Assam agitators, promising the NRC on this basis. For all the various reasons, the NRC wasn’t made until now. Two more generations have grown since. Can you deport or disenfranchise them now? Even the BJP knows it won’t happen.

If anybody from the BJP says there is no politics to it, ask them if they didn’t hear Amit Shah’s speech. He is to be given full marks for transparency as he laid out his pitch for the 2019 campaign. Since claims of “vikas” are always less tempting than their promise, “nationalist” polarisation will be the BJP’s vehicle for a second term. The issue in Assam will keep festering until then. The BJP will keep calling millions ghuspethiyas and, by implication, extend the insinuation to all Bengali-speaking Muslims in the country.

The expectation is that the “secular” opposition, pushed along by its Left-intellectual support base, would ultimately be baited into defending these, and by implication, the infiltrators. The subtext will be: They are pro-Muslim and anti-national. Congress sees the trap, but doesn’t have an answer. If 2019 is set up as a vote for or against Muslims, the BJP has it in the bag.


Also read: Assam’s citizens’ registry mess shows ‘India is for Indians’ notion is hypocritical


Assam for Amit Shah, therefore, is just a giant dog whistle to rouse the “nationalist” faithful all over the country. Amit Shah and the BJP know their electoral politics better than anybody else. But do they know Assam?

I will take you back 35 years, to my little room in Guwahati’s Nandan Hotel. My four visitors had an aura of power with humility. They were also bewildered. The leader was K.S. Sudarshan, then “Bouddhik Pramukh” (intellectual chief) of the RSS. He rose to Sarsanghachalak later.

A couple of the rest, northeast “specialists” in the RSS, now occupy key positions between the Sangh and the BJP government. The reason they had sought me out was to figure out how come so many Bengali Hindus had been killed in the Assam riots early that month. How can these Assamese not make the simple distinction between “Muslim infiltrators and Hindu refugees?” How could they kill so many Hindus in Khoirabari, Sudarshan asked. I explained the ethnic and linguistic complexities in Assam which made the massacres, in a brutal way, secular. “Kintu Hindu toh arakshit hai,” (but the Hindu is unprotected), Sudarshan said.

That conversation is recorded in my 1984 Assam: A Valley Divided, (page 121-22). The RSS then launched a patient campaign to re-educate Assamese agitators. The last assembly election, as I wrote in my ‘Writings On The Wall’, was the trophy of its success. The BJP in Assam now consists almost entirely of former AASU and later AGP converts, including the chief minister and his more powerful colleague.

But like they did in their youth in 1983, they will again struggle to deliver on the NRC on RSS/BJP terms: Target Bengali Muslims, embrace the Hindus. The BJP has decided to use Assam as its key to 2019. As demonetisation showed us, the Shah-Modi duo can take big risks. Risking economic damage for political benefit, however, is one thing, stoking old fires in complicated Assam is another. It’s possible that things will remain calm, but if they don’t, it will again be Hindu against Muslim, Assamese against Bengali (Hindu or Muslim), Hindu against Hindu and Muslim against Muslim.

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27 Comments Share Your Views

27 COMMENTS

  1. Instead of targeting BJP for today’s situation in Assam, can you tell why successive Congress Govts did nothing on Assam accord which their great leader signed, all these years. Also do you and your left echo system believe that govt should do nothing on illegal immigrants and please let us know which country in the world allows free immigration? Can or opposition or the left echo system offer some solution to the problem other than damaging public property. And lastly why should there be any opposition if Hindus and other minorities from Islamic countries who entered India to escape religious persecution which we all know as fact, are given a preferential treatment for a specific period for citizenship? Can we deny historical context behind this development as regards these three countries are concerned? So be honest to yourself and stop peddling these insinuation which are much more damaging than the cause you are apparently referring to.

  2. All bakwas and one side of story.
    Mr. Gupta has written whatever here but basically he is against the idea of Democracy and supports Chinese COMMUNISM.
    All he writes is against majority HINDUS as his funding father’s sit in US and Russia.
    When time comes he will be against Muslims and other religion people except christianity.

  3. Mr.Gupta and others,
    After going through the posting and comments,I came to a simple conclusion:
    Be broad(you can have your interpretation) minded,open your borders so that anybody can enter at any time and welcome them with popular chhapi(recently demonstrated by RaGa) as you all say that is Indian culture.

  4. Hay sekar

    U r sitting in ac chamber and writing this shit

    U r prestitute and appears that u want tobe in lime lite

    ModI sir is working g for all u and opposition are dividing us

  5. BJP will have absolutely no qualms in setting Assam on fire if it will it to win the election. It did similar thing in Haryana, making a coalition against Jats, result of that was Haryana riots which costs over Rs 40,000 Crores ( a little over $6 billion ) in property loss and over 40 human lives, and Haryana society stands fragmented today. Part 2 of the same saga was Ram Rahim related riots cosint another 30 plus lives and 100’s of millions in property loss. A similar strategy by BJP was alienated the Maratha community. In nutshell BJP has no scruples.

  6. Mr. Gupta, first update your knowledge of grammar… “Hindu aarkshit hai” means “Hindu is protected” and not “unprotected ”
    It shows that you give meaning of your desire to each word and situation, grow up Mr. Gupta, NRC is all about illegal Bangladeshis and Rohingyas, inland people are much grown up and happy in peaceful coexistence, unlike your deliberate sinful attempt to create rift between them as Assamies and Bengalis. We are ashamed today to call you as Indian.

  7. Very apt analysis of the situation. No wonder the BJP is playing as per RSS ideology. They know their failure on the front of vikas.

  8. Prof PK Sharma, Freelance Journalist,Barnala (Punjab)

    The BJP duo of PM Modi -Mr.Amit Shah are crazy to ensure second term in the Lok Sabha Polls due in May,2019 !

    Ironically, finding themselves on a very slippery wicket in wake of odds very badly against them they are at their wits
    end to explore “catchy ” and “attractive ” issues ! But even then they are busy employing all tricks and tactics at their
    disposal to come out victorious in the run up to the Marathon-2019 !

    Going seems quite challenging and herculean this time unlike 2014 ! Amazingly, they exhausted all their magical and
    utopian feats in one go then in the hope that these will work wonders at least upto 2039 elections-you see a giant leap
    forward !

    They may not ever imagined even in their dreams that they will run short of ploys and there can be any paucity of issues and
    ideas !

    Now panicky, nervous and shaken from within, they pounce upon every development and event as an issue to yield them
    rich political and electoral dividends !

    The fact cannot be denied that they will be living in fools paradise if they see a silver lining for them in this complex-burning
    NRC Assam issue ! This issue too will boomerang recoiling on them like the ill-conceived,ill-planned and ill-executed decisions
    of Demonetisation, GST, Foreign Policy, Unemployment ,Poverty, Deteriorating Law and Order and Mishandling of Insurgency
    and Trans Border Terrorism in Kashmir Valley !

    Buried under the burden of too many failures, wrongs and blunders on various fronts, they are a confused lot leaving no stone
    unturned to reap the political mileage of anything that comes their way !

    The best National Interests yearn for credibility, trust, truth, seriousness and sincerity in their ” Democrats “at the steering of the
    nation ! Do these two “gentlemen” adhere to these values and criterias or not in National Interest is a debatable question ?

    Prof PK Sharma, Freelance Journalist
    Pom Anm Nest,Barnala(Punjab)

  9. The national registry and forty lakhs missing is not a confusion, it is going to be a complete annihilation of national peace and unity. One day they will turn to TAMILNADU and say all Old Sri lankan tamils shall be out. Many Punjabi have to go back to Pak . Many Napali have to leave Coorgaland and leave West Bengal. Panjayat President can not certify. Addhaar can be proof. Bring your ancestry proof. What kind of skulls that rule this nation? Poor have no voice, no proof of existence and many are dead or alive , none other than their his friends or family knows. This government is hurting NOT THE HUMAN SENTIMENTS, THEY ARE HURTING THE HINDU SIENTIMENTS TOO.
    Trump ‘s drive is justified. Hitler’s anti-jew theory is acknowledged as right. Indian sentiment is bleeding

  10. Nothing but bumkam!!!
    With journos like these we don’t require enemies. How can any nation justify a free run by immigrants especially with the unfettered enfranchisement. This is nothing but selling the country. Congress stooge!!!!!

  11. The Congress and the left feed the entitlement and castist rubbish and the BJP, communal one. There is little to chose between!

  12. I want the writers view on the plight of thousands of kashmiri pundits who were either driven away from their houses or butchered by the Muslims in kashmir. Just because they were Hindus. He doesn’t mention anything about them. The kashmiri pundits are living like refugees in their own country for decades.

  13. बात कुल मिलाकर इतनी की मुस्लिम्स ने धर्म के नाम पर 1947 में पाकिस्तान बांग्लादेश ले लिया उनके लिए भारत वापसी क्यों। जो हिन्दू वहाँ रह गए उनका क्या हश्र हुआ किसी से छुपा नही मुट्ठी भर बचे हैं। कभी उन पर भी कोई विवेचना कर दो। अगर अनुभव चाहिए तो कुछ दिन वहाँ बतौर हिन्दू रह कर देख लो

    • But the current India was not based on Hinduism. It’s an democracy with secularism! The Muslim who didn’t accept the idea of a Muslim Country are living here! This country doesn’t belong to Hindu (Though this is not a religion) but for people who are secular. You people are stupid!

  14. One is curious to know from you as to who is responsible for the convoluted mess in Assam? It’s simplistic to argue about the presumed path being paved by BJP. But one can also argue about the demographic transformation and it’s effects on Assam’s future.

  15. A very brave and succinct warning. Any body who knows Assam will not play with this fire. Hope the present ” blind men of Hindoostan” reads this piece and understands the implications. Other wise we will have to pay a very dear prise.

    • Gupta ji is back again to spread misinformation.In the Parliament,Amit Shah was not allowed to speak and hence he did a detailed Press Conference answering all the doubts.But; Cleverly Gupta ji has picked up 1 word “Guspaithiye” and built the Whole narrative accordingly.Gupta ji shud muster some COURAGE to talk about Blood Bath & Civil War Statement by Mamata di..

      • Yes agreed. Spreading only one side of the history. Who was in power during 80s when the massacre, the word used by SG? Always distorting the facts and history for the benefits of his own theory

    • The Shah-Modi duopoly have tastedpower, have enough vendetta and hatred / intolerance of persons who do not fit into their definition of Indian, and their successful leadership of the Gujarat riots, will leave no stone unturned to ensure their return. Even if India is up in flames and they trigger a conflict on our borders they will then cry hoarse about patriotism and nationalism to stay in power.

  16. So if one has to believe Mr Gupta !! R there no tresspassers in Assam and across India ?? Consequent to this Modi-Shah wouldn’t find it easy to shun legitimate people on their own … Do you think it’s easy to do so. Gimme a break !!

  17. A realistic and frightening prospect..And the two khalnayak are quite capable of doing it and anything demonic and evil to retain power.. Even the cost devilish opposition can not stoop low enough to come anywhere near them.God save the country.

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