While continuing the Bharatiya Janata Party’s strategy of using celebrated regional figures in election campaigns, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on Wednesday made a faux pas as he claimed that Srimanta Sankardev, the 15th century Vaishnavite saint, had warned Assam against infiltration.
Speaking at an election rally at Hojai in central Assam, the UP chief minister referred to Sankardev, a widely-celebrated saint, scholar and reformer of Assam and said he admired and respected the ‘mahapurush’ for his role in saving Assam. Then, he was quoted by the Telegraph as saying, “Srimanta Sankardev had warned us against the problem of infiltration. That is why the Congress could not tolerate him ever because the Congress’s policy was never development or peace.… Its policy was give-and-take to grab power and for which Assam had to pay a price for long in tackling atankwad (terrorism) and algawbad (separatism).”
Ajay Singh Bisht, popularly known as Yogi Adityanath, who is known for delivering speeches rife with communal tones, is also the head priest of Goraknath Math in Uttar Pradesh. It appeared that Adityanath wanted to bank on the long history of agitation in Assam against illegal immigrants but got his history wrong regarding Sankardev. He went on to repeat the same claim at his subsequent rally at Kalaigaon in Baksa district.
Srimanta Sankaradeva lived from late 15th century to early 16th century and was a saint, scholar, playwright, and social-religious reformer. He is a key figure in the history of Assam and its culture. Sankardev is credited with helping create a new social synthesis and unite Assam amid two major kingdoms--Ahom and Koch Kingdoms--contesting over the control of the Brahmaputra Valley.
The Congress expressed bewilderment at Adityanath linking the revered saint with the issue of ‘infiltration’ in Assam, which gained major traction after the creation of Bangladesh in 1971. Adityanath’s timeline seems to have been mixed up.
The Congress trained its gun on Adityanath for his claim regarding Sankardev and raised questions over the BJP’s knowledge of Assam’s history and culture. Bobbeeta Sharma, chairperson of Assam Congress media department, told The Telegraph that the UP chief minister was trying to incorporate the saint into the BJP’s “divisive politics.”
“While Yogiji talks about a much revered 15th century saint, Sri Srimanta Sankardev, fighting against infiltrators, he should know exactly what Srimanta Sankardev fought against,” Sharma said, adding,
“Srimanta Sankardev was against the exploitation of people by those who followed the ideologies and dogmas laid down by Manusmriti and also idol worship. He believed in the assimilation of society and was against caste system.”
The ruling BJP in Assam has made infiltration a key plank for the Assembly polls starting on March 27. The saffron party’s senior leaders have been using the issue to attack the Congress’s alliance with the AIUDF, which the BJP accuse of protecting infiltrators. The BJP is doing this as it knows that the issue of ‘Illegal immigrants’ has historically been a highly emotive subject in Assam; the issue had triggered a six-year-long movement in 1979 that ended in the signing of the Assam Accord in 1985. The Accords made March 24, 1971, as the cut-off date for detection and deportation of “illegal foreigners”, which has been also used in the process of the National Register of Citizens in the state.