The traditional bonfires during Magh Bihu this year were fuelled by anger, the raging flames during the mid-January harvest festival turning into a metaphor for the underlying sentiments across Assam. Into the bonfires went copies of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), the contentious legislation that has triggered mass protests across India, and left several people dead in police action. For weeks now, lakhs of people in Assam are on the streets, demanding scrapping of the legislation which allows “persecuted” non-Muslims from three neigbouring countries to become Indian citizens.
The CAA has split open an old wound in the state where the majority of the people, those who identify themselves as indigenous, have been demanding deportation of all “illegal migrants”, irrespective of religion. CAA, for those opposed to it, negates every gain made from the 1985 Assam Accord, signed after a six-year-long anti-foreigner agitation. The ruling BJP has tried to pacify the people, saying that not more than five lakh “persecuted Hindus” will gain from the act. But Assam will have none of it. The BJP should have known better. For, it is this very issue—and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 2016 pre-poll promise of sending every “Bangladeshi” back home—which had helped the party win a strong mandate to rule the state.