Generations of people in Assam and the Northeast have grown up with stories about the legendary valour of Lachit Barphukan, a military general who had led the Ahom forces to victory in the decisive 1671 Battle of Saraighat against the mighty Mughal army of Aurangzeb. Around 350 years later, when the BJP set out to capture Assam, and subsequently the Northeast, the Battle of Saraighat became the leitmotif of its campaign. What the party did was to twist the story a bit to evoke nationalistic pride mixed with a religious angle. Overnight, Lachit Barphukan became a ‘Hindu’ general who defeated ‘Muslim’ invaders. What was consciously avoided was the fact that one of the most trusted lieutenants of Barphukan was a Muslim, Ismail Siddique, who was given the honorific title of ‘Bagh Hazarika’—bagh in Assamese is tiger. What was also not mentioned in the BJP’s retelling of history is that the Mughal forces were led by Raja Singh of Amber, a Rajput ally of Aurangzeb.
The BJP went on to win the 2016 assembly polls in Assam, the first time it managed to form a government in the state. The party now is in power in seven states of the Northeast—once a Congress fortress—either on its own or in alliance with other parties. In an ironic twist, the BJP did make history by revisiting history. All through its journey, the party plucked out local ‘icons’, most of them hardly known outside the region, and projected them as “national heroes” who had been ignored by previous governments. It successfully managed to play on the long-standing grievance among the people that the history of the Northeast had long been excluded from mainstream ‘Indian history’.