Since Muslim bashing ultra-Hinduism is the main driving force of Modi government, Assam has been observing a series of discontent and violence between these two religious groups. It appears as a successful strategy because the anti-Muslim Bengali sentiment is rising within the total demography.
Assam accommodates more than 50 different tribal, semi-tribal and plain land ethnic groups as well as several religions. According to the 2011 census, 61.47% of Assam’s population was Hindus, 34.22% were Muslims and Christian was 3.7%. Hindus are predominant here, and the religion is playing the leading role in uniting many ethnic groups against a made-up enemy, Muslims. In addition to that most of Muslims are ethnic Bengalis, who speaks and practices Bengali Muslim culture.
Assam is a Northeastern India state, situated south of the eastern Himalayas along the Brahmaputra and Barak River valleys. It has the largest oil field (65 sq.km) of India and the field contains more than 160 million metric tonnes of crude oil. It is bordered by the state of Nagaland and Manipur to the east; Meghalaya, Tripura, Mizoram and Bangladesh to the south; West Bengal to the west via the Siliguri Corridor, which is the 14 miles strip of land that connects the state to the rest of India; and finally, Bhutan and the state of Arunachal Pradesh to the north.
The Maomoria rebellion that mainly took place between the Ahoms and the Moamorias ( Chutias, Morans and Kachari supporters of the Moamara Sattra), made the ways for Burmese invasion and later British colonization during the first quarter of 19th century. Primarily Assam was made a part of the Bengal Presidency, then it was made a part of Eastern Bengal and Assam province in 1906, and in 1912 it was re-formed into a chief commissioners’ province.
Assam is famous for its tea and silk. During the colonial period, tea plantations by the British companies mushroomed in Eastern Assam. But problems with the imported laborers from China and hostility with the locals resulted in the migration of forced laborers from central and eastern parts of India. In Shillong, the former capital of the region, a legislative council and, the Assam Legislative Assembly, were formed respectively in 1913 and in 1937. The British tea planter’s imported labor from central India had been adding to the demographic canvas.
After the partition in 1947, Assam became a constituent state of India. The Sylhet district of present Bangladesh was given up to East Pakistan excluding the Karimganj subdivision. India divided Assam into several states. Naga Hills district took the name Nagaland and became the 16th state of India in 1963. To meet the political demands of the Khasi, Jaintia and Garo people, Meghalaya state was formed in 1972. In 1972, Arunachal Pradesh and were separated from Assam as union territories and declared as states in 1986.
The separatist movements of Assam started in 1970 following a conflict between the tribal and semi-tribal Assamese people and the Indian government over the federal center Delhi’s negligence and alleged colonization. According to several reports, the conflict took more than 30000 lives in Assam region within 5 decades. Several armed organizations contribute to the insurgency including the ULFA, the Adivasi National Liberation Army, Karbi Longri N.C. Hills Liberation Front (KLNLF) and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) with ULFA perhaps the largest of these groups, and one of the oldest having been founded in 1979. It is now a widely accepted fact that the economic and developmental negligence by the Indian state is the main reasons behind the growth of this secessionist movement in Assam.
Hindutva is not new in Assam. The Hindutva based organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) had its presence in Assam before the partition of India. There are several allegations sprung up that the RSS has been attempting to club together the non-Muslim tribes under the umbrella of Hinduism. So far, the strategy is working in favor of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as the Party won the Assam Legislative Assembly election of 2016. Last year the RSS pranta prancharak of the Assam chapter told the media, “We are helping the BJP either directly or indirectly. Although the BJP runs the government today at the Centre, the credit has actually indirectly gone to the RSS. In Assam, BJP had no organistaion before. Even though we have not claimed credit, it is because of the RSS that the BJP won in the state.”
Many analysts believe that BJP-RSS has successfully diverted the poverty-driven secessionist movement into an anti-Bengali Muslim communal movement so that they can hide their failure to develop the Assamese society economically, politically and culturally. This BJP-RSS inflicted social communal tension has significant geopolitical value for India as well. It gives India a legitimacy to put pressure on Bangladeshi government since Indian security establishment considers and echoes the BJP-RSS narrative that the security crisis in Assam is mostly related to the illegal Bengali Muslim migrants.
On February 21, 2018, referring to reports of the increase in Muslim population in several districts of Assam, Indian army chief General Bipin Rawat said, “I think the proxy game is very well played by our western neighbor (Pakistan), supported by our northern border (China) to keep the area disturbed. We will continue to see some migration happening. The solution lies in identifying the problem and holistically looking at it.” The army chief gave some economic statements as well. He said that the Centre was seriously taking several measures to ensure the development of the region. “The development will finally happen in the area, that should take care of a lot of things,” he said.
According to the Aljazeera report, the government of Assam is preparing to publish a preliminary list of citizens to incorporate into its National Register of Citizens (NRC) but nearly five million people failed to provide documentation proving that their families lived there prior to 1971. The report also stated that the registration updating process was aimed at detecting and deporting undocumented immigrants from Bangladesh. Therefore, nearly five million Bengali Muslims in Assam are facing the threat of deportation.
Recently, National Security Advisor to Prime Minister of India Mr. Ajit Doval paid a visit to the US and Mr. Doval met his US counterpart HR McMaster, Pompeo, and CIA director-designate Gina Haspel. Stratfor reported that, during his visit, India was exploring a deepening defense partnership with the United State as it seeks to balance against an increasingly assertive China in the Indo-Pacific region. The meeting also included discussions on the long-pending bilateral Communications, Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA). The COMCASA is a precursor to Indian acquiring US advanced defense technologies and BECA is the foundation for any spatial cooperation between the two.
After his US visit, Mr. Doval came to Bangladesh for participating in BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) summit. It is highly anticipated within the analyst community that Mr. Doval conveyed some necessary messages which were decided in Washington for the stakeholders in relation to South Asia and Bangladesh in order to address the alleged Chinese assertion in South Asia. Many analysts believe that Assam is a geostrategic pressure point against Bangladesh, therefore, the timing of Mr. Doval’s Dhaka visit and the ‘5 million Muslim Bengali deportation from Assam’ threat signify that the Assam deportation issue is being used by the US- Indian strategists to limit Bangladesh’s rapprochement to China.
This is a clear path to increase the geopolitical crisis in the region. The communal and sectarian clash, which is aimed to contain and disturb Chinese envisioned projects in the region, will bring deadly chaos, opposition, the contradiction to India sought Act East policy. Such unwise US-India synchronized geostrategic push will also tear apart the harmonious relationship between the South Asian countries. Indeed, the wisest way for India is to develop and upgrade infrastructures, explore her economic potentiality with a humane approach, find ways to work with China in a win-win manner as she is already enjoying in BRICS and SCO forums. India shouldn’t alienate herself from the South Asian regional politics, rather those alleged challenges involving China can be addressed and solved collectively with the help of her friendly neighbors.
In this regard, India should pay attention to collectively (Bangladesh, India, Japan and some European countries) develop the Brahmaputra river waterways and some river ports between Assam, Meghalaya, Bangladesh and the Bay of Bengal. It is a well-known fact that the mother of all conflicts lies in economic deprivation; in modern times, communication and transportation is one of the key factors for sustainable economic development. Therefore, this Brahmaputra river transportation system will solve the major part of the Indian North Eastern economic, social, ethnic and sectarian crisis. Pushing alleged Bengali Muslims into Bangladesh will never solve it; rather it will open up new doors to the path of global proxy warfare.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy and position of Regional Rapport.