New Delhi: Assam’s popular artistes had come together in good numbers last year to protest against the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). But that solidarity and unity has now fallen apart.
On Tuesday, as many as 40 artistes, including popular singers, musicians, and film personalities, joined the Congress party and 28 went with the ruling BJP, with the development coming less than eight months before the Assam Assembly polls.
Vocalist Babu Baruah, music composer Ajoy Phukan, and 38 other fellow artistes joined the Congress in the presence of the party chief Ripun Bora and state in-charge Harish Rawat. The newly added members also released a song, CAA Namanu (We won’t agree with CAA), at the event.
Singer Simanta Shekhar, flautist Deepak Sarma and actors Pranjit Das and Reba Phukan are among the prominent names who joined the BJP in the presence of the state party chief Ranjit Das at the party’s state headquarters in Hengrabari.
Were misguided about CAA, say artistes in BJP camp
This trend of anti-CAA activists joining the ruling BJP began with popular actor Jatin Bora, who had left the party at the peak of the anti-CAA protests, before rejoining it on 17 August. Bora has apologised for quitting the party, saying his decision was an emotional one “after being misguided by a section of people”. The actor said he eventually realised that it was a mistake.
Two days later, singer Vidya Sagar and actor Asha Bordoloi also joined the BJP. Actor Zubeen Garg, who was an integral part of the anti-CAA protests, followed and has now been appointed as the brand ambassador of the state’s agriculture and allied sectors.
Simanta Shekhar, who had sung the BJP’s 2019 Lok Sabha election campaign song Akou Ebaar Modi Sarkar (Modi government once again), had been vocal against the CAA. Shekhar told ThePrint that the reason behind him joining the BJP is because he has realised that everything that was told against the party during the anti-CAA protests were “lies”.
“Assamese artistes have realised that BJP is working for the welfare of the Assamese people and also for the artist community. The (Sarbananda) Sonowal government has always come forward to help us,” he said.
“We were misguided that if the Citizenship Amendment Act comes to the state, Assamese literature and culture will suffer, especially that the Assamese language will be lost. We thought that lakhs of Hindu Bangladeshis will enter the state and will get citizenship,” Shekhar added. “After six months, we haven’t seen anybody new entering the state, which proves that all of those things were baseless. There is nothing to be against CAA and this is our stand now.”
Sticking with our stand on CAA: Congress backers
Music director Ajoy Phukan told ThePrint that the decision to join the Congress is solely based on the party’s stand against the Citizenship Amendment Act. “Our stand against the CAA is still the same. In order to reject CAA, we have to oust BJP from power,” Phukon said.
Ankur Gogoi, general secretary of the Assam Pradesh Congress Committee, echoed the views. “The artistes have joined us because we share the same anti-CAA ideology. Tarun Gogoi and Ripun Bora have told us that if we come to power in 2021, we will reject the Citizenship Amendment Act,” Gogoi said.
According to the Congress, the political situation in the state was very different before the CAA, and the anti-CAA ideology has brought together voices in the state.
Unlike in the rest of the country, the anti-CAA protests in Assam were based on lingering insecurities that the Assamese identity and culture will be encroached by Bangladeshi migrants. As a result, it brought together Assamese intelligentsia and the artiste community.
“Tripura remains one of the main causes of concern for the people of Assam, because of its extremely high Bengali population. The state has now been left with a minute percentage of indigenous community,” said Apurba Kumar Baruah, retired professor of the North-Eastern Hill University. “The fear here is not only that the Assamese identity will be lost but also that eventually, the Bengali-speaking population will subjugate the people of Assam. The anti-CAA movement was a spontaneous movement, not an organised one.”
Baruah added that there is a decline in the number of Assamese speaking people in the last couple of decades. “There is no doubt that there is a sharp decline in the percentage of Assam speakers over the last few decades,” he told ThePrint. “There are two reasons for this — the first is large scale immigration and another reason is that indigenous communities of the state have formed their own cultural societies and don’t identify with the Assamese language anymore. They have distanced themselves at a particular level.”
‘They are joining parties for gains’
Not everyone, however, is convinced that the artistes are joining political parties for ideological reasons.
Prominent writer Ismail Hussain told ThePrint that the primary reason behind the artistes joining the political parties now is to “enjoy power and avail economic benefits”.
“When these artistes came out to protest against the CAA, they realised that the public listens and supports them. This is why they have now joined political parties. Otherwise, there is no logical reason to first protest and then join the same political party,” senior journalist Atanu Bhuyan said.
“The CAA protests have changed the political scenario in Assam. It is definitely a factor for the polls this year,” said Prof Devabrata Sharma, an academician. “The BJP has to try harder to get the anti-CAA protesters (artists) into its fold.”
Akhil R. Dutta, professor of political science at Gauhati University, believes artistes joining political parties is mutually beneficial. “The artistes get to come out of their strained economic situation caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the parties get faces to fight the elections,” he said.
Dutta also said the artistes got traction because the CAA concerns the issues of identity, language and culture — contentious topics in Assam.
“The anti-CAA protest had all artists and literary figures at the forefront of it because it was an issue of identity, language and culture,” Dutta said. “But if you look at Akhil Gogoi’s movement, it doesn’t fetch so much attention from the community because it concentrates on class structures. Similarly, a gender-based movement will also not garner popular support.”
Manorama Sharma, a Guwahati-based historian, said she does not think that these artistes will actually contest elections. “They may help the parties of their choice in their capacity as artists as one well known artist did in the last elections by even singing the party’s signature song, which hugely helped the party to win,” Sharma said.
“By getting the same artistes who protested against CAA, the BJP is sending the message that there is nothing wrong with their agenda. This move is only limited to image building, it is doubtful if something electorally extraordinary will happen,” Dutta said.
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