GUWAHATI, India, 9 September 2017
Can Assam, a northeast Indian province adjacent to Tibet, be placed on a red-hot pan anytime by a few motivated leaders, even though for a wrong reason? If most of the Assamese-speaking people often listen to a section of biased intellectuals, who make statements time to time with little or no facts only to make confusion in the society, could they succeed in their mission?
Many such pertinent questions are being raised after a simple incident that was used for manufacturing a series of protests against the outsiders (if not foreigners) in the State. A group of traders, primarily from the Bengali-speaking community, physically assaulted a few former-rebels who belonged to the banned United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) recently in Nagaon locality of central Assam.
Initial media reporting on local news channels narrated that the ex-ULFA youths, who once wanted to make Assam independent of India, went there asking for money. The groups ended up quarrelling which finally led to physical assault. The traders were seen slapping some of the youths in CCTV footage. Some of the group also fled from the location. Finally the police arrived and reduced the tension successfully.
By next day, the ULFA leaders in Guwahati claimed that those youths went there to generate funds for flood relief. But the traders (read Bengalis) misbehaved towards them, and thus they hurt the sentiment of locals (read indigenous people). Their voices were multiplied by a section of Assamese intellectuals inclusive of academician, writer, journalist, civil society activists, etc., through various media outlets.
The ULFA (Independent) leader Paresh Barua, who has been hiding somewhere in China-Myanmar border areas waging the war against the Union government in New Delhi for years, immediately reacted to the incident and warned the traders of dire consequences. Even the ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, who is engaged in peace talks with New Delhi, also came out with a threatening statement against the outsiders.
Then came a group of distinguished Assamese individuals led by literary critic Dr Hiren Gohain, who asked the Bengali community of the State to come clean on the Nagaon incident. They alleged that the larger Bengali-speaking community had not condemned the incident with loud and clear voices. Indirectly they levelled the incident as a matter of Swabhiman (self-pride) for the local Assamese nationals.
By then, various Bengali organizations came out with their resentments against the Nagaon incident. They unanimously demanded stringent punishment for the culprits. Claiming that they are a part of greater Assamese culture, the organizations appealed to the people of the region to maintain long standing peace and harmony.
The Assam Indigenous Forum, a newly-floated organisation of various indigenous groups in the State, alleged that the Nagaon incident was simply invited by the provocative statements of a section of Assam BJP leaders. The forum asserted that State influential minister Himanta Biswa Sarma was leading those leaders in making irresponsible comments time and again.
Claimed to have support from AJYCP, KMSS, All Tai Ahom Students’ Union, and others, the forum recently staged a protest program in front of Guwahati Raj Bhjavan and sent a memorandum to Prime Minister Narendra Modi through Assam Governor Banowarilal Purohit. The chief convener of the forum and also ULFA’s general secretary Anup Chetia commented that attacks on indigenous communities by non-Assamese people cannot be tolerated.
Many others joined in the chorus, terming the Nagaon incident as an assault to indigenous people of the State, which was followed by a series of demonstrations primarily in eastern Assam localities. The police also arrested over ten individuals involved with the incident. However the arrested individuals reflected that the traders’ group included a few Assamese individuals as well.
By now a forum of nationalist people of the region strongly reacted to the development, condemning the communal outbursts and demanding a judicial probe into the Nagaon affair to identify the real culprits. Expressing utter dismay over the tendency of glorifying the ULFA rebels as saviours of Assamese nationalism, the Patriotic People’s Front Assam (PPFA) urged the authority to take distinctive measures to address the crisis.
The PPFA in a statement denounced the attempt of a section of anti-national Assamese academician, writer, journalist, civil society activists, and others to colour the Nagaon incident with communal flavours. The forum argued that the tendency to instigate a communal disturbance by hiding the information that the trader’s group included both the Bengali and Assamese communities should (must) be condemned by all right-thinking people of the region.
“The irresponsible campaigners even made early resolutions that Hindu Bengali would never mingle with Assamese locals in the State. This is unfortunate to say the least that a group of people, who do not even have a modicum of shame, tried to mislead the common people by misrepresenting facts,” said the PPFA statement endorsed by Rupam Barua, Jagadindra Raichoudhury, Ujjal Saikia, and others.
Appreciating the common people of the State for not listening to how these groups of instigators tried to indulge in misadventures to communalize the society and even glamorize the ULFA, the forum however expressed shock that the Bhartiya-Janata-Party-(BJP)-led government at Dispur did not show any urgency to respond to the crisis.
Chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal, also in charge of State home portfolio, even took three days to comment on the incident. In his statement, the State’s first tribal chief minister termed the Nagaon incident as unfortunate. Expressing deep dissatisfaction over the attempt of a section of people to add communal colour to the incident, Sonowal called on all communities of the State to maintain peace and harmony.
“What is very much concerning that CM Sonowal avoided using strong words against those who publicly threatened to take up arms and the few people who openly demonstrated their inclination to separatist militant leader Paresh Barua. The BJP leader must not forget that as a legislator he took the pledge for safeguarding the territorial integrity of India,” asserted the forum of nationalists.
Extending its wholehearted support to the terror-victim families for their long-standing demand for justice, the PPFA reminded the groups of handful of Assamese intellectuals not to forget the criminal activities once engineered by various armed rebels belonging to the ULFA. It strongly urged the government to initiate delivering justice to the victims of insurgencies and also to compensate them adequately.
About the author
Nava Thakuria is a journalist based in Guwahati, India. He has been covering socio-political developments of northeast India, along with its neighbours Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, Myanmar, and Bangladesh, for various media outlets for more than two decades.
More articles by Nava Thakuria on Tibet Sun.