Assam in the centre

Assam, thanks to its geographical significance, is a crucial gauge of how India is treating the Northeast ("the Seven Sisters" is a slightly patronising term). But it is more than that. Besides indicating the mood of the Northeast, besides the electoral heft it commands in the Lok Sabha, Assam has given India plenty to think about over the years.

If you need any proof that Assam is not peripheral, you only have to look at the events in Kokrajhar triggering off violence in Mumbai and setting off a scare in Karnataka, with several families from Assam fleeing the place, fearing possible attacks on them.

The 1980s began with one of the most brutal massacres India has seen in recent times in Nellie, Assam, in 1983. The elections that followed brought student leaders to power they were among the youngest ever to rule an Indian state. That decade turned out to be tumultuous for the country as a whole, and the politics of the 1980s was indeed formed in the crucible of identity-based violence. Nellie almost alerted India to that phase; it is a warning that one sees more clearly in the light of hindsight.

The argument that "infiltrators" or refugees (more specifically, Muslim refugees from Bangladesh) were claiming what was rightfully the local people's be it land or jobs proved extremely useful to parties that were looking for ethnic and identity issues to fan the notion that the (Muslim) outsiders were destroying the idea of a stable India,tampering with its"local" identity. This has served the cause of the Shiv Sena and the BJP admirably. However, now groups like the so-called Raza Academy use these fractious moments to take a leap from being senders of spam to "organisations". If they have been able to play on the anger and injury on the "other side", it is a testament to the durability of hate. It also shows how the right wing, in all communities, is battle-ready to exploit fissures.

... contd.

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