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ON THE EDGE

BY JOYDEEP BISWAS
BY JOYDEEP BISWAS

TODAY is the Judgment Day for the four states and a tiny territory under the Union government that went to polls in several phases from April to early May. Although the exit polls by different agencies and TV channels have given statistical indications of what could be the likely shape of the verdict, the real feel is slated for today only.

Theoretically put, the Assembly results that will emerge today have got nothing special to do with the perception about the performance of NDA government at the Centre which is busy at the moment giving finishing touch to the preparation to celebrate two years in power.

But the poll pundits would surely not miss the finer points from the unfolding provincial mandates. In Tamilnadu, Kerala, and also in Puducherry, BJP is not a party to be found even in the political parlance, not to speak of the poll fray.

West Bengal is different from the three southern states for BJP on more than one count. Amit Shah knows, and knows for sure, that in the given battle line drawn between ‘Yes, Didi’ and ‘No, Didi’, BJP’s is just an odd presence.

A sharp rise in the vote share for BJP in West Bengal in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections offered the party every reason to rejoice over, and plan a rosier outcome for them in the present Assembly hustings.

But such a linear development has not been visible on the ground mainly because of the innovative patch up that the CPI-M became successful in clinching with the Congress. As a result, the whole fight took a bi-polar format pushing the BJP to a corner of irrelevance.

However, a win for Mamata will still be a ‘positive’ for the BJP not only because it satisfies the infamous Machiavelli adage ~ enemy’s enemy is my friend, it will help them find a strategic partner, albeit on ad hoc basis, in Trinamool in the Rajya Sabha where the NDA government is still a minority.

Interestingly enough, Assam Assembly elections offer a unique situation this time. In fact, the political observers need to do a lot of research to recall when and whether the last time Assam became so important in the Indian political theatre.

Assam’s political development does always have a far reaching ramification on the contiguous six north-eastern states. This is precisely the reason why the state and its Assembly elections are so crucial for the BJP.

Modi-Shah combine would surely seize this opportunity to make a dent in the green political landscape of the north-eastern states where the saffron dots are almost invisible. A win in Assam would also give the BJP their first taste of provincial power in the eastern part of the country.

While for the rest of the country today is the big day of political reckoning, for Barak Valley in southern Assam, it’s a day with a difference.

This day, 19 May, 55 years ago, 11 crusaders, including a sixteen-year old girl, Kamala Bhattacharjee, were killed in the unprovoked police firing at Silchar railway station when they were holding a peaceful demonstration against the nefarious official language circular issued by the Assam Government.

The Assam Official Language Bill, 1960, introduced in the state Assembly by the Bimala Prasad Chaliah government, sought to promulgate Assamese as the only official language for the state.

This chauvinistic design of the then Congress government was successfully thwarted by a massive mass movement in Barak Valley. The peaceful people’s agitation of 1961 demanded Bengali to be declared an official language along with Assamese.

Over the past five-and-a-half decade, the people of Barak Valley have been observing this Martyrs’ Day with recollection and reverence. Unish (the Bengali equivalent of 19), as the Valley folks love to call this historic movement, has become a symbol of a search for secular Bengali identity.

This quest for a linguistic nationality formation has worked as an anti-thesis to the process of Assamese hegemony that has dominated the post-colonial Assam politics. But that urge for the construction of a homogeneous Bengali identity transcending religious divide has never been in sync with the political dynamics in the Valley.

In fact, thanks to a communally polarised electorate, the message of the secular and rights based language stir of the 1960’s, followed up with two more similar movements in 1972 and 1986 leaving another three activists dead, has not quite been able to reflect in the electoral behaviour in southern Assam.

The emergence of BJP as a strong Hindu political force in the early 1990’s, and the genesis and growth of All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) since 2006 as a counter-narrative for consolidation of the Muslim support-base in the Valley have defeated the very diction of the language movement.

The voters sharply positioned across the communal divide have preferred to be loyal to their religious identity, thereby negating the larger issue of a secular signature which 19 May observation is all about.

(Joydeep Biswas is an associate professor of economics at Cachar College, Silchar, Assam. To see all his previous articles, click here)  

DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of NEWSMEN and NEWSMEN does not assume responsibility or liability for the same.

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