Exodus of People from Assam
Is the State of India crumbling? There may not be objective answer for this. It is certain ever since the news of mass exodus of North east people has trickled in from Bangalore. It sends shivers down the spine for not only UPA-II government as well as civil society of pluralist India.
This could be visualized after the PM, Home Minister, Home Secretary and Chief Minister of Karnataka made repeated requests to people from Assam not to leave Karnataka or Andhra Pradesh.
The fourth estate was seen working in tandem with instruments of the state to dispel false rumors about the situation in Assam which could trigger exodus from other parts of the country.
The causality behind the exodus was ethnic communal violence erupted in Kokrajhar district of Lower Assam in July this year in which 77 Muslim people were killed and several other displaced from their homes. As I write this analysis, communal ethnic violence continues to spread in other regions of Assam and situation remains tense.
National Commission on Minorities (NCM) has given warning signals to the government in its report on Kokrajhar violence. NCM was of the view, if Muslims are targeted for a longer period, the day is not far, when Lower Assam will turn “militant” and influenced by jihadis from across the country. They have recommended constitution of Special Investigation Team to probe Kokrajhar violence. NCM report blames animosity between Bodo Hindus and Muslims of Lower Assam which led to large scale violence. In the report, NCM discounted the role of Bangladeshi immigrants in the communal violence.
Crumbling federal and provincial governments were seen as mere spectators in chain of events which triggered violence in Assam. Further, exodus of minorities from Assam came as a blot on the face of image of Incredible India which had recently celebrated its 65th Independence Day with much of fanfare.
India is a land of diversities. Tolerance and harmony needs to be promoted by the state and its instruments in both public and private spheres of life. The political class was so much subsumed in power; they did not visualize any sort of ethnic communal violence in Lower Assam, even though tensions have been simmering under-ground dated back to 2008.
Problems in the Bodo Territorial council (BTC) dated back to 2008; this was the time when small skirmishes were reported between Bodos Hindus and Muslims in the BTC. The situation reached its peak when the Bodos did not want to accept the non-Bodo student unions and groups say in BTC. It is known fact; Bodo ethnic group movement has its roots against sharing tribal land with immigrants. Bodo peace accord of 2003 could not resolve all the issues of Bodos. These pending issues kept simmering in the pot and in 2012 the earthen pot broke.
Provincial government led by the Congress party failed to understand the dynamics of the social problem and let it spill over in other districts in Lower Assam region. Geographically, Kokrajhar is the North-east’s landlocked narrow passage to the mainland India known as the “chicken’s neck”. Structures of government acted in haste and called in the Army which led to more bloodshed and displacement and a sense of fear gripped the Assamese Muslims who were working in different parts of the country and prompted them to return with their respective homes and families in Lower Assam.
Exodus of commoners from Assam can be contextualized as challenge to the secular credentials enshrined in the Preamble of the Indian constitution. As pointed out by Prof. Nivedita Menon, “The affirmation of secularism has been through the state and its institutions”. If state has failed to protect secular fabric, definition of crumbling state may be revisited. Ironically, secularism has never entered the blood stream of people on the streets and the political society. Prof. Menon feels, secular history in India may have dominated academy and intellectual circles, primarily the civil society. This remains a large theoretical question subject to examination by social scientists.
Coming back to the definition of crumbling state, it seems manner in which UPA-II tenure has progressed mis-handling of situation in Assam has the capacity to disrupt peace and harmony in different parts of the country, recently an incident in Azad Maidan, Mumbai where a peaceful protest against incidents in Assam went kaput. Secularism versus communalism has been topic of debate, ever since demolition of Babri mosque took place in 1992.
Whenever, such sort of incidents takes place in the country, instrumentality of the state structures in curbing violence comes into question.