It has been only three years since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in Assam. And within this short period, it has faced massive protests—especially against the most debated Citizenship (Amendment) Act. Sarbananda Sonowal, the CM of Assam, while being BJP’s poster boy in its pursuit to acquire state power, vociferously chanted the mantra of saving “Jati, Mati, Bheti” (community, land, base). But passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (Cab) led the people in the state to become furious.
After the curfew, deaths in police firing and the internet shutdown that followed intense protests all over the states, has Assam become calm now? A section of media might try to portray it to be, but Assam is still enraged. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was supposed to visit Guwahati to attend inaugural session of Khelo India, but he had to cancel his visit. Sarbananda Sonowal had to cancel a trip to his constituency Majuli. These cancellations clearly indicate fear of the protests.
What is happening in Assam?
The BJP’s alliance government with Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and Bodoland People's Front (BPF) is organising ‘peace rallies’ across the state. These rallies are led by CM Sonowal, Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma (HBS) along with other ministers and MLAs belonging to the ruling parties. HBS and Sonowal are trying to convince people that CAA will not harm the indigenous people of the state and in fact, CAA is to provide security for them. Sonowal has repeatedly said that he is a son of the soil and his sense of duties to his motherland and its people are beyond question. Till his last breath, he would protect the interest of the people of Assam, he claimed. HBS echoes this tone, but sometimes becomes more aggressive. On January 10, HBS said in a press meet that (Asomiya Pratidin) the movement is no more against CAA, but it has turned to oust BJP from power.
The saffron party is now also announcing several parks and other sops to woo the people. HBS has also announced that the children of the Nagaon and Cachar paper mills will get economic assistance to pursue education along with other benefits. It has to be mentioned that the public sector paper mills have been closed in the first place because of the government’s initiative. The unions of workers from the mills have been protesting for long—since before the anti-CAB and anti-CAA protests. Responding to HBS’s announcement, the workers’ union said that it is only an eyewash and an effort to divert attention from the real issues. Presidents of Nagaon and Cachar paper mill workers’ unions, Ananda Bordoloi and Manabendra Chakravarty, said that the Government has to first release 36 months’ salary of the employees, which remains unpaid. Families of the 60 employees who lost their lives due to inadequate medical facilities and of those who have committed suicides have to be compensated without any delay, they said.
The initiatives like peace have not succeeded in appeasing the people. Protests against CAA are taking place in almost every part of the Brahmaputra valley in Assam every day. Dhemaji, where the last peace rally was conducted, witnessed a massive turnout of people [Assamese media report says it was about 80,000] opposing CAA. All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuba Chatra Parishad (AJYCP), Artists’ Group and tribal organisations took lead in Dhemaji.
The ‘Tengani Gorjon (Tengani roars)’ that took place in Tengani of Golaghat district was a massive protest against CAA. Soneswar Narah, one of the organisers, told NewsClick: “The Tengani Gorjon was started with the beating of the Assamese Drum, Doba. It is a declaration of an imminent, more intense movement. The people of Assam cannot embrace the Hindutva ideology of RSS. The tribes and other communities might have voted BJP last time, but its ideology cannot be taken deep inside their hearts and the current movement is a manifestation of it. These people include those displaced by floods, those living besides forests and hilly terrains and they feel threatened by what the BJP government, both in Assam and at the Centre, wants to do. The government actually fears leaders such as Akhil Gogoi and that’s why he has been kept inside a prison. Akhil Gogoi truly represents the sentiments of the people. Tengani is also the place where he started his struggle. We demand his immediate release.”
On the other hand, AASU has repeatedly talked about the emergence of a new political formation to challenge BJP in the next Assembly election in 2021. AASU secretary Lurin Jyoti Gogoi, in his every address, has attacked Modi-Shah and Sarbananda-Himanta duos. Lurin clearly says that a new political party is needed. But, as of now, nothing concrete materialising in this direction has been seen.
The student community, especially from Cotton University, Gauhati University and Dibrugarh University, is continuing its protests. On January 11, Cotton University students will be organising a day-long protest to mark one month of their anti-CAA movement, the Ronohunkar.
Also read: Assam Anti-CAA protest: Outright Rejection of Govt Falsehoods
Akhil Gogoi’s NIA Custody and other Means of Intimidation
Apart from the curfews, internet shutdown and killing of five people in police firings, there have been several arrests, detentions and disappearances—means used for intimidation.
Firebrand leader of Assam Akhil Gogoi has been charged for having links with the Maoists. He was been sent to NIA custody for a week and now remains lodged in Guwahati jail. A decade-old case has been used to put him behind the bars. Hiren Gohain, in his latest statement regarding the case, told the press that he has known Gogoi for a long time and he cannot be a Maoist. Apart from Gohain, AASU, AJYCP and all other protesting forces in Assam unequivocally demand Gogoi’s immediate release.
Along with Akhil, two student leaders of SMSS (Satra Mukti Sangram Samiti) Bittu Sonowal and Dhaijya Konwer have also been arrested in the same case. SMSS is the student front of KMSS, the organisation whose chief advisor is Gogoi. Both Bittu and Dahaijya were remanded to 10 days NIA custody by an NIA court in Guwahati two days back.
Shrinkhal Chaliha, the organising secretary of Bir Lachit Sena, is also languishing in a jail. Shrinkhal has been slapped with several sections of the IPC. He has been arrested twice since the anti-CAA protests erupted in Assam. He has also expressed fervent opposition to the BJP on the issue of CAA. Locked up in Barpeta jail and arrested in Dibrugarh, Shrinkhal was brought to the Guwahati High Court on January 10, and was re-arrested with cases belonging to IPC sections 121 and 124.
Cause of Concern in Assam
While almost every state of the country is protesting after the passage of CAB, Assam has been at the forefront since 2016—when the CAB was proposed. The key concern of the people of Assam has been the imminent threat to the fragile demography of the state. Nevertheless, AASU leaders Lurin Jyoti Gogoi and Samujjal Bhattacharya reiterate that CAA is anti-constitutional and communal along with the concern regarding the indigenous people.
Hiren Gohain, Akhil Gogoi, Left parties and several other organisations that have been opposing CAA echo similar views.
Speaking to NewsClick, Kishor Kalita, senior advocate of Guwahati High Court and a columnist, said, “Why the people of Assam have revolted is because of the threat that the CAA will pose and their fear is completely legitimate. We have the immediate example of Tripura where the minoritisation of the indigenous has taken place in recent times. People have every right to secure their land, identity, language and culture.”
Dilip Borah, senior professor from Gauhati University, said: “People of Assam have democratically raised their voices and we support that democratic aspiration. If the government wants, it can convince people. Why is CAA not harmful for Assam and Northeast? But government has failed in doing that and is beating around the bush. The CAA will completely destroy the delicate demographic balance of the state.”
Rakesh Chakravarty, an activist based on Goalpara district of lower Assam, also raised similar concerns. He is also one of the petitioners against CAA in the Supreme Court. He said, “Both the legal battle and the movement on the ground will have to go together. Assam has completely rejected CAA. Everyone, irrespective of religion and community, has rejected it.”
While government refuses to scrap the law, all eyes are now on the Supreme Court. While the entire country looks forward to January 22, when the next hearing is scheduled to take place, one thing has become quite clear. Assam is not going to accept CAA.
Also read: Anti-CAA Protests: How Assam Stands at Crossroads Between Regionalism and Secularism