The electoral behaviour of Assam’s voters is both curious and inscrutable. The lack of homogeneity in its demography is probably one of the reasons but it still doesn’t explain the dominance of the Congress in the face of a sustained “anti-mainland” discourse. Even in the highly charged atmosphere of a belligerent Narendra Modi publicity blitz, Assam seems to be loyal to the sycophant slogan that one of its leaders contributed to another authoritarian leader, ‘India is Indira, Indira is India’.
Issues like insurgency and alleged illegal migration from Bangladesh have been the centrepieces of Assam politics for over three decades. With insurgency on the wane and illegal migration relegated to only rhetoric, what is Assam voting for? Residents say it is “price rise” and “governance”. The projections, however, indicate that the ruling Congress, otherwise beleaguered across the country, is expected to do well in Assam. So what is Tarun Gogoi’s mantra that his counterparts in other states have failed to chant? Some say he’s just been lucky, aided with a weak opposition. He has also been supremely successful in containing dissidence within the ranks.
The state government and the Centre can claim to have brought a number of underground movements to the negotiating table, but it must also admit to having legitimised extortion rackets (by the surrendered rebels) who have also managed to bag lucrative contracts aided by the government. The common man also ends up paying the price of such ad-hoc peace initiatives. Violence can never be measured only by bodybags; abduction, extortion and intimidation are violent too. Some reports say in 2013 Assam registered an average of 350 abductions every month, mostly for ransom.
But it is really in the Bodoland areas of Lower Assam where the 2014 election results will determine the next government’s first big challenge; the demand for Bodoland state and “50-50 division of Assam”. This is a demand that’s been going on since 1967 and the UPA decision on Telangana will now fuel the claims. Resistance has resulted in bloody battles with hundreds dead and lakhs of residents who are still homeless. The Bodo political formations have said in no unclear terms that they will go with whoever gives them statehood. During the NDA’s time, L.K. Advani as home minister had granted amnesty to one Bodo group and they have always had a working relationship with the BJP.
In postscript, Assam will not vote on issues that impact their daily lives but on emotional issues like subnational assertions or tribal and caste considerations. The Raghuram Rajan Committee report, 2013, puts Assam among the 10 least developed states. Its human development indices are abysmally low but it is unlikely that infant mortality or school dropout rates will influence voting.
Journalist Kishalay Bhattacharjee is the author of Che in Paona Bazaar
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
Have often felt the electoral fortunes of the Congress would have been much better if it had several CMs of the calibre of Tarun Gogoi.
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