Post Mortem

Anti-CAA stir in Assam: What next?

By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 1/2/2020 12:51:14 PM IST

 Unprecedented civil disturbance is being witnessed in many parts of the country for the past few weeks over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, or CAA. Having initially begun in Assam, the violence quickly fanned out to other parts of the country. 

While violence in any form cannot be condoned, the ruling dispensation at New Delhi will have to shoulder blame for first having rushed through the legislation without first trying to build a political consensus, and then failing to pre-empt the violence sweeping across States. The opposition parties and their leaders too cannot absolve themselves from their insidious role in exacerbating an already volatile situation. Instead of trying to calm the situation, a few have been even found adding fuel to fire with provocative comments. Blaming the government is easy, but that doesn’t mean that they can run riot with irresponsible statements by instilling fear in the minds of a particular community.

Meanwhile, even as Assam – which witnessed violence for three consecutive days beginning December 10 over CAA – limps back to normalcy, the winter of discontent is apparently unlikely to go away anytime soon. It needs no iteration that, unlike in other parts of the country, the campaign against CAA in Assam is about ethnic identity. And with dharnas, rallies, public meetings, etc, becoming the norm and a section of local media acting as rabble rousers, there is no indication that the cycle of protest will end anytime soon. The saving grace, however, is that almost all organisations have decided to carry forward their stir in a “democratic” and “peaceful” manner, besides announcing not to carry out any protest post dusk. This has been done with the twin objectives of helping normalcy return to the State and thwarting unscrupulous elements from hijacking the movement. 

Further, to allay misgivings and apprehensions among the student community and their parents, All Assam Students’ Union chief adviser Samujjal Bhattacharyya has also been quite categorical in asserting that the academic atmosphere would not be allowed to be affected by the ongoing agitation. The apprehension was not totally unfounded as lakhs of students had to lose their precious academic years during the six-year Assam Movement (1979-85).

Now, even as organisations filed petitions before the Supreme Court challenging CAA, they have also made no bones about not calling off their stir anytime soon. Thus, the campaign against the Act seems to be on a long haul. Be that as it may, but while the outrage against the legislation is understandable, there are some aspects of the movement that raise several questions.

Without going into the merits of CAA or the stir surrounding it, what is very apparent is that the current movement is being largely emotionally driven as was witnessed during the six-year Foreigners’ Movement. People are pouring out on to the streets in large numbers singing, reciting poems, performing naam and jikir (traditional hymns sung collectively), painting, tonsuring heads, etc, even as a section of the media, particularly some local news channels, has converted the entire campaign into some kind of a reality show replete with melodrama telecast live 24x7 so as to arouse public passion. But, as the earlier mass movement of 1979-85 had proved, any agitation driven purely by emotion and bereft of any strategic planning is likely to falter in the long run. Sadly, the current campaign’s leadership seems to have learnt little from history and apparently trudging along on a similar course this time too. Impressed with huge public turnouts, they are yet to put their heads together in chalking out a strategic plan and seem content in playing to the gallery. While the movement’s primary objective may be lofty, there is still no clarity over: i) how long this would continue (as the legal battle won’t end anytime soon)? ii) whether it would be called off in the event of a favourable judgement from the Supreme Court? iii) what would be its ultimate goal? iv) will a political alternative (or alternative politics) be explored in future, especially if the apex court’s ruling doesn’t go along the expected lines of the movement’s leaders? Without any vision or long-term planning, it could prove difficult for the leadership to sustain the current tempo, and the movement runs the risk of faltering as public fatigue would set in too soon. Yes, protesters across the world tend to get emotional, but it’s the responsibility of leaders and organisations leading them to draw blueprints, which is absent in Assam today.

Another aspect is the movement’s somewhat exclusive character. Besides being largely confined to the Brahmaputra Valley, the movement has also seemingly failed to cut much ice among other communities in the valley, let alone in other North-eastern States. Never mind the occasional expressions of solidarity, frankly, there is little to suggest that members from other communities too are enthusiastically participating in the campaign, barring the Assamese community. While the Barak Valley, the twin hill districts of Dima Hasao and Karbi Anglong and Bodo belts have not witnessed mass agitation, even in the Brahmaputra Valley it is largely confined to the Assamese community. While there could be different interpretations for this, it also reflects poorly on those leading the stir. Thus, campaigning from Guwahati or from the TV studios alone may not be a good idea. 

The sad reality is that communities in the Northeast are largely bound by convenience than by heart. Hence, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if other communities view the entire campaign as another assertion of Assamese chauvinism. Therefore, the challenge before the leadership is to make the movement more broad-based and inclusive lest it acquires a sectarian character and fails to meet its objective. There are several fault lines that need to be bridged else it will become another voice in wilderness. The movement will have to take into account the complex ethnic, communal and linguistic composition of the State. 

Further, even within the Assamese community, not everyone is gung ho over the movement. With changing demographic dynamics, a section is not entirely convinced that opposing Bangladeshi Hindus alone from acquiring citizenship would ensure protection of the community. Thus, the anti-CAA campaign will have to traverse many undulating paths.

Anirban Choudhury, (

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