In lower and north Assam, SC/STs, Muslims consolidate behind the Congress
The BJP may find the going tough as there is no overwhelming upper caste support in its favour
“This time I will vote, and it will be for the Congress. I am tired of running to every office to ensure my children’s names are on the National Register of Citizens. I am on it, my parents are, my siblings are but not my children,” says Rafique ul-Islam, who is working with the government in Guwahati. He will be going to his home Nagaon, which is four hours away, before April 18. BJP’s Rajen Gohain is the MP from Nagaon.
Rafique, an Assamese Muslim, has no confusion about this and he says neither do his friends who come from other parts of the state. “What has Gohain done for us? I have never seen him in Nagaon? Why are Bengali Hindus who have come even in 2018 being given citizenship in my state? My family has been here for generations and my father’s and grandfather’s names were there even in the 1951 NRC list, yet I face this trouble,” he highlights.
Across the Barak Valley, lower and north Assam, which goes to vote in the second and third phase on April 18 and 23, there is no confusion among Muslims and some sections of SC/STs and OBCs about whom to vote for. In fact, there is a near consolidation of votes in favour of the Congress.
“Modi came to power in 2014 and in 2016, the BJP government came to Assam. They promised to increase our wages from Rs 145 to Rs 350. It hasn’t been increased. Moreover, prices of everything has risen, there is corruption and where are the jobs? I have completed my graduation and I have not been able to find a job,” emphasised Bandhan Rajat, who comes from the tea garden community in Hailakandi. He is a Dhupi, which is a Scheduled Caste.
Aninda Gowala, who comes from the tea tribe, Bagan, said, “After two years in power, earlier this year, the BJP government gave us Rs 5,000. What good is that? What can we do with that? All of us are seeking a better life. The BJP is not going to help us. And how much can one hear about Hindus and Muslims?”
“In Barpeta, what has AIUDF MP Sirajuddin Ajmal done? This time we will be voting for the Congress. Abdul Khaleq is a better candidate and the Congress has promised to increase the allocation for education. My daughter needs it if she has to apply to any of the central universities. Moreover, we think AIUDF has a secret arrangement with the BJP. We don’t want such people in power,” said 50-year-old Saroop, who was on a train from Guwahati to Bongaigaon in Lower Assam. He refused to reveal his surname but said that he is an upper caste.
Ajirul, who drives a cab, says, “I am from Mangaldoi and this time I will be voting for the Congress. I have not seen my income increase in these few years. The prices of fuel have shot up, food has become more expensive and then I don’t want to watch over my shoulder every time I eat or say something. I am tired of the polarising rhetoric of the BJP. The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill will be their doom. I don’t want to be a minority in my state,” emphasises the 28-year-old. Mangaldoi goes to vote on April 18.
“There is a sentiment amongst the Assamese Hindus also to vote for the Congress. The Citizenship Amendment Bill will not do the BJP any good. The Assamese fear that they will become a minority in their own state. There is no wave or mood for anyone in Assam,” says Abdul Basith Chaudhury, the state coordinator of the Association for Protection of Civil Rights.
In several of the political rallies organised by the Congress, people from almost all communities can be seen in attendance. Dalits, SC/STs and Muslims are jointly attending several rallies in the state. This unified voice and strength was missing in the run-up to the 2014 election. In Assam, there is 34% Muslim population, 13% tribal population, 6.9% of SCs.
What connects all of them is their anger against the central and state governments for failed policies and spreading intolerance. The only dissonance was from those in Upper Assam, which went to vote on April 11.