Do we return to the Nineties?

Translated from Axomiya by Biswajit K. Bora

Assam is witnessing all-encompassing protests against the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) at this moment. People from every class, caste or creed have voluntarily come out on the streets. At a moment when the Bill has been passed in the Lok Sabha and tabled in the Rajya Sabha to be passed and made into an act, protesting voices in Assam are arrogantly shouting on the streets—“We won’t accept CAB.” These protests are our support, this arrogance is our strength—it keeps us alive and will continue to do so in the future. This are protests of epic proportion. In these protests is hidden revolutionary potential which we will have to develop. We salute these protests.

There have been many protests in Assam after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power. There were massive protests against the CAB the last time it was tabled in the parliament too. And we are forced to contemplate, looking at each and every protest demonstration and protest rally, if the nineties of the last decade is returning. Will it revive the consciousness of the nineties? Historically, we do not wish to return to the troublesome and violent days of the nineties. We desiderate only that consciousness of Assamese nationalism which can confront the Indian state—that consciousness which is critical of Indian nationalism, which can compel the Indian state-system to stand trial; that consciousness which can raise fundamental demands in front of the Indian state not only for itself but also for each and every little nationality; that aggressive consciousness which despite its aggression understands and respects the diversity of Assam’s social life. It goes without saying that like other nationalisms, Assamese nationalism was also never socially liberating, not even during the nineties. Like other nationalisms, it is also burdened with its intrinsic problems and limitations. But the role played by Assamese nationalism as consciousness of a region geopolitically and culturally distant from and neglected by the Indian mainland protesting against Indian nationalism and its representative state-system attributed Assamese nationalism a progressive character—it is the core base of Assamese nationalism. That is why the last series of protests made us think if that consciousness of Assamese nationalism was returning. But the situation at that time did not hint at a positive answer. Despite massive protests against the CAB, the BJP formed government in Assam in 2016 with a vast majority. Our apprehension that Hindu nationalism has devoured Assamese nationalism has been proved true over and over again. We may have raised certain demands at the level of parliamentary politics which are against Hindu nationalism, but culturally we are gradually stepping inside the deep and dark tunnel of Hindu nationalism. Hegemony of neoliberal and Hindutva ideology has been gradually established in our society.

We have witnessed many people becoming euphoric at the news of the four rape-accused being shot dead in an encounter by the Hyderabad Police, including people who are nationalists, who are known as progressive-democratic. How could Assamese people support encounters? The blood-soaked history of Assamese nationalism makes it impossible. But now it has also become easy in Assam. This change is easily recognisable if one looks at the reactions to the various incidents happening in Jammu and Kashmir, including the abrogation of Article 370. This is just one example. Does it mean that although we vocally oppose Indian national aggression, we are gradually embracing the ideology of Hindu nationalism? We will have to find out a rational answer to it from the protest movements happening at this moment. As of now, these protests are characteristically different from the earlier protests—firstly, these are much more aggressive than the earlier protests and inclusive of people from all sections of society; and secondly, the people of Assam have firsthand had a good taste of the BJP’s rule and their ideology during the period since the earlier protests. That is why we hope that these protests shall not be like the earlier protests—unlike earlier protests, these protests should not go back to the point of their origin where the protests need to be restarted from again. These protests must take us a step forward, engender a qualitative transformation in us. These protests must bring back the consciousness of the nineties and establish with aggression its course against Hindu nationalism. Let the thunderous rage and perfervid slogans of little nationalities against the homogenising Indian nation-state emerge from the heart of history like a phoenix.

It needs to be kept in mind that the BJP is not bad because they have introduced the CAB or that the BJP is not good because they could withdraw the CAB. Rather, the BJP and the Sangh Parivar are introducing the CAB because they are dangerous. The ultimate aim of the Sangh Parivar is to transform India into a Hindu Rashtra. Therefore, bringing about a qualitative transformation of the state-system is as equally important as homogenisation of the society towards Hindutva. Similar to the way the minorities have become primary victims in this process, little nationalities like the Assamese are also facing a crisis of existence. Hindu nationalism is the worst enemy of idiosyncratic existence of little nationalities like the Assamese, their diverse culture and their effortless, uncomplicated and harmonious coexistence with other native ethnic groups. If we do not resist it in time, all of us will be crushed under the chariot of Hindu nationalism. But this regime driven by the ideology of Hindutva and the Sangh Parivar have left no stone unturned to establish Hindu Rashtra when it comes to cultural and institutional measures. Some of these measures might have affected us directly and as a result, we are shocked; some measures are yet to affect us and as a result, we are still indifferent. We need to understand that all these are realisation of the Sangh Parivar’s grand scheme of formation of Hindu Rashtra. The Citizenship Amendment Bill is also a part of that grand scheme. Thus, protesting against the CAB do not only mean rejecting the CAB—it means rejecting the grand scheme of formation of Hindu Rashtra. Resisting and dismissing the Sangh Parivar’s scheme of formation of Hindu Rashtra in absolute terms should be the imperative and primary aim and action of the protests against the CAB. Only then these protests would be comprehensive. But caution and self-reflexivity would be required for that. The protests must be aware of the casteist-communal elements of Assamese nationalism and the encouragement these elements are currently receiving from Hindu nationalism. That ultranationalist forces cannot derail the movement and turn it against any community or ethnic group must be firmly kept in check. Simultaneously, there must be keen efforts to mould the movement into an acceptable and socially liberating one for all participating nations and ethnic groups. The progressive-democratic sections within the movement must be at the forefront in such ideological efforts. On the other hand, everybody should keep in mind that no horrific event is going to happen as soon as the CAB is passed. In fact, the Bill itself is the most dangerous and fatal—for both the Constitution of India and the society in Assam. Its social and political consequences are not momentary and tumultuous—rather, it is like cancer which spreads slowly but surely. Yet it is certain that the BJP and the Sangh Parivar will viciously strike back at the protesting people of Assam, taking into cognizance the fact that nothing will suddenly happen immediately after the Bill is passed. Strategies must be readied for that retaliation. If it is not considered now, the protesting people would become directionless and crestfallen. That is why it is of utmost importance to expose the alliance of Hindutva and neoliberalism so that the protests are arrowed toward that alliance. It must be thought and strategised well in advance how to ensure that the rising ebbs of these protest movements do not disappear with the passing of time as a result of the retaliation by the current fascist regime.

The protest movement at present has unwaveringly opposed the Citizenship Amendment Bill. We hope that this movement moves further forward, and outgrowing the question of the Bill, it expands to fervently and decisively oppose Hindu nationalism and its alliance with neoliberalism. This protest movement must not be just fire and smoke—long may it glow like embers till the fall of the fascist forces! May the deadly ideological weapons to smash Hindu nationalism emerge from the spark of this protest movement!


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Jiten Bezboruah Written by:

Jiten Bezboruah is a young socio-political commentator from Assam. He has extensively written on socio-political issues in Assam and India. His recent book, Boikolpik Rajnitir Xondhanot [In Search of Alternative Politics], a collection of essays, has been published by Mukto Sinta Publication in November 2017. His main interests include social movements, nationalism, culture, and socialism.

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