ON THE EDGE
AMARTYA Sen in his latest book, The Country of First Boys, argues: “There is an epistemic naivety in an attempt to identify a person exclusively by his or her membership of only one group.”
Sen has been relentless in his academic endeavour to resist the attribution of identity in total disregard of an individual’s choice. This began when his Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny had hit the bookshops in 2006.
But what has remained ‘epistemic naivety’ in the didactic annals influenced much by the western political philosophy and epistemology through Plato to Marx to Wittgenstein to Sen, has turned a political expediency in contemporary India. More specifically in the Bengali dominated Barak Valley in Assam.
Such recourse to philosophical pedagogy becomes imperative almost as a last resort- when one is required to observe and analyse with a sociologist’s detachment the recent attempts at polarisation of the body politic of Barak Valley to cater to electoral politics.
With the Assembly polls in Assam due in another six months, the major political parties ~ Congress, BJP and the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) ~ are busy consolidating their respective vote-banks. They are banking on issues, which in their judgment, have the potentials of vivisection around community identity.
In a complex cultural demography that Assam has, it is indeed very difficult to garner social and political support across religion, language and ethnicity that can translate into a winning vote share.
Since Independence and till the birth of Asom Gana Parishad in 1985, Congress was the only party successful in presenting itself as an acceptable political option to all segments of the population.
But over the past three decades, series of important political developments such as the birth of AIUDF and the rise to prominence of the BJP, have progressively turned the table against the Congress. Thus after three consecutive terms in power, Tarun Gogoi-led Congress in Assam is bracing for its worst-possible electoral battle next year.
BJP, fresh from its splendid performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and the civic body polls in Assam earlier this year, is perceptibly confident of retaining its Hindu vote bank.
But a potential spoiler on the platter for it is the twin orders of the Central government in early September that are allegedly ‘pro-Hindu Bengali migrants’ when it comes to the contentious foreigners’ issue in Assam.
AIUDF, on its part, is trying to poach into the Muslim vote bank, traditionally loyal to the Congress. The party is eyeing to improve its tally from the present 18 MLAs to a number big enough to call the shots in the event of a fractured mandate akin to Jammu and Kashmir.
That’s not all. Assam presents differential political configuration across its geography as well.
The politics of Upper Assam is cardinally different from that of lower Assam. Again taken together, they are completely dissimilar when compared to the politics in Bengali dominated Barak Valley.
In the eye of political mathematicians, three kinds of humans ~ Hindus, Muslims and Tea Garden Community ~ live in Barak Valley. The corresponding political parties ‘catering to the hopes and aspirations’ of their loyal groups are BJP, AIUDF and Congress. Needless to say, such identity formation is the result of half imagination and half socio-political attribution.
In no case, an individual member is bothered with the obvious question, whether he or she would like to join such a group identity by a democratic choice. This is a fit case for ‘unfreedom’, to use the lexicon of contemporary social choice theories.
But the political parties and their public representatives, who are customarily required to swear by the Constitution ~ the spirit of which places individuals above groups ~ never mind the gradual shrinking of the democratic space of an individual. An individual is always a hapless minority in India as regards deciding their own identity.
As a result, when a nine year boy is run over by a speeding vehicle and the dead body lies in a pool of blood in downtown Silchar, the question that becomes urgent for the political parties to know ~ was he a Muslim or a Hindu?
Similarly, when a poor man lost his life as a tripper hit him in Moinagarh garden under Barkhola constituency in Cachar district, and in the resultant public fury, the vehicle driver was lynched before being flung into fire, some political parties became happy with the revelation that the accident victim was a Hindu tea labourer and the driver executed by the mob was a Muslim.
Neither the killer nor the killed is given the right to decide their identity. This is the prerogative of the political parties in this periphery of the world’s largest democracy!
(Joydeep Biswas is an associate professor of economics at Cachar College, Silchar, Assam. To see all his previous articles, click here)
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