The changing fortunes of PM Modi in Assam

Source :SIFY
Last Updated: Sat, Dec 14th, 2019, 00:43:56hrs
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The changing fortunes of PM Modi in Assam
Yesterday when 10,000 protestors gathered in Lotashil ground, Guwahati to protest against CAB - Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, a national news channel was apparently showing news of Assam, except they showed peaceful markets and claimed everything was fine.

Below my building – as curfew and internet blockade began to bore them and the young and old sat and chatted, one old man asked, “Didn’t they do the same in Kashmir – locked it up and showed everything is normal.” It was a normal comment except that the guy who said it, was literally till yesterday, a virulent fan of BJP and PM Narendra Modi. Now he calls PM Narendra Modi and Amit Shah ‘traitors to the Assamese People’.

2 kilometers away in the Chandmari ground, the same sentiment is echoed by 10,000 plus people – a dramatic U-turn within just a day. Yesterday as Sify reported, the protestors mostly spoke against CAB and local politicians. Today most protestors poured venom against Modi and Shah. What has changed can be understood in the words of Dr. Samujjal Bhattacharyya, chief advisor to AASU – All Assam Students Union – the main protest organiser for over a year, who said, “You take away our internet, lock us under curfew and in the middle of the night get the president to sign CAB turning it into law. How cowardly can you get?”

Also read: From Assam Agitation to CAB - What keeps rebellion brewing in Assam

Yesterday it was still a bill. Today CAB is a law of the land and the ones who moved swiftly to turn it so overnight, have become enemies of the people of Assam.

So much so that Jagdish Bhuyan, Chairman of Assam Petro-Chemical Limited and member of BJP was carried to the public address system on the happy shoulders of two protestors. The reason? He had resigned from the BJP this morning.

I caught up with him on the side-lines of the protest and asked what happened between yesterday and today that made him quit BJP when protests against CAB had been on for over a year. He seemed uncomfortable as he answered, “Like they have excluded some north east states for interline permit and clause 6 areas, my expectation was that Assam would definitely be excluded from CAB. But when it went to the floor of Rajya Sabha, I saw that there’s no change in favour of Assamese people. That is why I decided to come out (of BJP).”

I asked what he’d like to tell those who were his party colleagues till yesterday. “I would like to appeal to them to see the ground reality of Assam, understand the sentiment of indigenous people of Assam so they feel safe under this ruling party.”

Samujjal Bhattacharyya wasn’t unruffled at all when I told him that the Prime Minister, in a series of tweets yesterday clarified that the right of the indigenous people of Assam will not be trampled with.

Samujjal responded, “The PM is trying to mislead the people of northeast because the historic Assam Accord was very clear. There should not be any bargain between constitutional safeguard clause 6 and CAB. On the other hand, they are saying that the Inner Line permit areas and 6th Schedule areas would be excluded. We would like to ask the honourable PM, if CAB is bad for the sixth schedule and inner line permit area, how could it be good for the other parts of Northeast.”

Pressing on, he said, “The PM of India has said there is no threat. But we are saying CAB is a protector of illegal Bangladeshi, violating historic Assam accord, anti-indigenous, anti-northeast, communal and unconstitutional. We would like to invite the honourable PM of the country for an open debate.”

There was a palpable difference between protests yesterday and today. Yesterday’s protests were mostly just against CAB. Today’s was broader. Placards tell this story. Many like “Stop CAB, Save Assam,” “Protect Rights of Ingenious People”, “Assam Rejects CAB” were common between yesterday and today. But the newer additions today: “Mr. Modi Assam is Not Your Dumping Ground” and most important of all, a smattering of “Narendra Modi Murdabad” placards stood out.

Also read: CAB and the unheard protests of Assam

This shift in the sentiment of the people was because of the way the president gave his assent to the bill – late at night, “As if they had something to hide,” one speaker bellowed before the crowd to loud cheering.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had endeared himself to the people of Assam with his strong oratory and his seeming respect for the people of the state whenever he was here. This endearment had paid the BJP rich dividends helping them not only to form the government in the state after 15 years of Congress rule, but also gave the PM majority seats in Lok Sabha elections of both 2014 and 2019. He was literally looked at by the people as their saviour.

Today however, people are unwilling to believe the PM’s word. Popular film and TV actress Madhurima Chaudhury told me, “How do we believe what the PM says now. And whatever he says, can he back it up with law, can he protect us by law. Let him do that and then we will feel reassured. Right now this seems to be a government of traitors.”

Words used only by the staunchest Modi critics like ‘fascist’, ‘dictatorial’, ‘unconstitutional’ etc. were common currency on the protest ground and the streets of the city of Guwahati today where curfew was relaxed till 1 PM.

As people queued up outside quickly emptying ATMs and before grocers to stock essentials, they talked about the government getting the bill passed surreptitiously by the president last night. There is a sense of betrayal and helplessness amidst them.

So much so that one of the speakers at the protest recited a poem he had written in the morning that was addressed to Home Minster Amit Shah and state’s Home Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. “Do you see the tyres burning. Your fire brigade won’t be able to quell this fire, Amit Shah and Himanta Biswa Sarma,” the poem began, referring to tyres that were burnt on the main roads of the city to create road blocks yesterday.

Samujjal informed the gathering that some of them had flown to Delhi last night to talk to constitutional experts and lawyers to challenge CAB in supreme court. They flew back this morning to attend the protests.

Meanwhile now that it is law, the fight against CAB – everyone agrees - would be long. Serial protests have been planned from tomorrow. Sunday they expect to have a protest concert in the city and on the 16, 17 and 18 mass Satyagraha is being planned in Guwahati.

The protestors are not ready to back down. “Hoi CAB batil korok, nohole aamak giraftar korak” - “Take back CAB or arrest us” is the slogan given today by Samujjal Bhattacharyya to a crowd that cheered ‘Joi Aai Axom’ - Hail Mother Assam. Already the 3 who died in police firing yesterday, are being compared to the 855 ‘martyrs’ of Assam Agitation.

Meanwhile in the ground floor of my building, the old-timer Modi-fan turned baiter is worried, “Protests are fine. But considering what Modi and Shah did to Kashmir, I just hope they do not do the same here.”

(Satyen K Bordoloi is a scriptwriter, journalist based in Mumbai. His written words have appeared in many Indian and foreign publications.)

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