From Assam To Mumbai Anarchy Galore
Last week we celebrated the 66th Independence Day. And speaking on this occasion from the rampart of the Red Fort, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh painted a rosy picture of the country, as if nothing wrong was happening in the country, comfortably forgetting what has happened lately in Assam and Mumbai. Mumbai again witnessed violence, claiming two lives. No wonder that Maharashtra government and the Mumbai Police had prior intelligence of law-and-order problem, yet they could not avert this un-called for situation at Azad Maidan in Mumbai. And it is no wonder that the failure of Maharashtra government mirrors the failure of its counterpart in Assam. The episode of blood and gore in Assam left over 80 people dead and over four lakh people have been displaced from their hearth and homes, which displays the gargantuan administrative and governance paralysis, raising the question over efficacy of the government in Assam. According to media reports, madrasas have sprung up across the Bangladesh-Assam border, covering the Bengali-speaking migrants into Assamese-speaking natives. On the international border, apart from the porosity that allows insurgents, smugglers and migrants alike to ingress, corrupt border-guarding personnel let in people for a paltry sum of money. Once inside Assam, government offices reportedly issue ration cards and voter identity documents in return for more money, erasing the illegality on migrants’ identity for all time to come. Migrants then move into the established clusters, mingle with the native population and continue to move within the state seeking greener pastures and economic opportunities. This vicious circle has flourished under the eyes of the very regimes, which tend to use these migrants as vote banks. For, Muslims constitute 31 per cent of the Assam’s population, and their support has had a defining impact on electoral outcomes in the past. According to an estimate by an NGO, the Assam Public Works, over 40 lakh illegal migrants from Bangladesh had got their names entered into the electoral rolls. While there is no way to substantiate the claim, estimates do indicate that Muslims dominate at least 40 of the state’s 126 Assembly constituencies. Not surprisingly, all the political parties in Assam have felt the necessity to use this “vote bank” for their necessary advantages, and prominent among those appears to be the Congress. And this fact stokes up the embers on violence and riots, which can be attributed to unabated migration from Bangladesh. Such migration is not only changing the demography of Assam, making the indigenous Assamese minorities in their own land, but it is also responsible for the battle over depleting resources and political rights. So in Assam, where governance remains a casualty under a blinkered disposition, such riots are bound to erupt at regular intervals. Lamentably, this is witnessed in other parts of the country, where we have a skewed government, like Mumbai and Pune—where people of the northeast have been beaten up in reaction to the violence against Muslims in Assam. Against this background, it is worthwhile deliberating on the impact of population flow from neighbouring Bangladesh on Assam’s and other parts of the country’s land and resources, accentuating the division in the popular psyche and precipitating violence, as the violence around the same issues may not be limited to Assam in the coming days, as I mentioned in my editorial “Assam Now, Odisha Next (August ).
Communal riots have become a distinct feature of communalism in India. Whenever conflicting groups from two different religions, which are self-conscious communities, clash, it results in a communal riot. The reason for such a clash could be superficial and trivial, though underlying them are deeper considerations of political representation, control of and access to resources and power. That Muslims in India and elsewhere have a right to feel concerned for their co-religionists anywhere in the world if they are targeted and discriminated against—whether in Myanmar or Assam is immaterial. But the violence in Mumbai last Saturday, where the media and the police were at the receiving end, has sent out a message that every government of the country has a responsibility to live up to the idea of protecting the interests of every religionist and failure to discharge this crucial duty in any place can easily spiral into endless violence and schism that undoes the very idea of India. However, that is not to say that political protests must not be allowed. In the past too, the roads of Mumbai and the Azad Maidan were jammed with Muslim groups demonstrating against the Iraq war and earlier over the Supreme Court’s Shah Bano judgment. During the 1989 rally in Bhindi Bazar against Salman Rushdie’s book, The Satanic Verses, the rally turned so violent that it resulted in nine deaths in police firing. But why would Muslims in Mumbai indulge in unruly violence to protest against alleged killings of Muslims in Assam and Myanmar? Feeling of insecurity, as stated by some Muslim leaders, could be one of the many reasons. But surely, these are not local Muslims or else they should have protested about more valid reasons than alleged violence in far away Assam or Myanmar (a foreign country). One may ask which is the country having common borders with both Assam and Myanmar? The answer is Bangladesh. So, why were these protestors having more affinity for issues pertaining to Bangladesh and Myanmar than that for the local issues? This is a matter of investigation. It is, therefore, high time the Muslim organisations were cautioned against the Mumbai and Pune-style violent protest and state governments curbed any breach of peaceful coexistence.