Sunday, August 07, 2011

Assam - Rule of the Shorter Term

This blog post is a result of the thought process that I assimilated by reading 'Northeast: threat to nation building and sovereignity' The blog post had an interesting perspective on how a kingdom can rule longer by giving autonomy to its smaller princely states, and by protecting them from larger enemies. We have seen that style of governance being beautifully exemplified by the Mughal rulers, the British administration, the Ahom Kingdom ruling Assam for over 600 years.

This style of administration is still relevant to today's political problems. However, it is hard to be seen. Telangana, Uttaranchal and the most burning of them is the issue that we are facing in the NorthEast, stems from the lack of such a style of administration. An administration style that recognises and appreciates the aspirations, culture, language, history of every smallest unit of the polity.

The most potent nationalistic emotion in Assam today is the feeling of 'not being part of the mainstream politics and economic development'. The reason for this emotion is the lack of autonomy and national protection of their local identity, that the citizens in the North Eastern states feel. We need to understand the foundation for such an emotion among the masses in the North East and Assam.

Formation of the Indian union and the emotion of being an 'Indian' had slowly started building with the spread of the Mughal kingdom. Fortunately or unfortunately, the Mughal kingdom couldn't seize power from the Ahom rulers in Assam. By the start of 1800, when the Burmese army started expanding towards Assam and had defeated and plundered the Ahom Kingdom, Manipur, Cachar Kingdoms, that the British army started focussing on Assam and the NorthEast. The British Army fought one of the most expensive battles to defeat the Burmese army and hence Assam became part of the British Empire and the Indian Union.

They bought educated and English knowing Bengalis to assist them in its administration. This had an alienating effect, which was to last another hundred years. Even I could sense the over-bearing presence of Bengalis in Assam in all administrative offices of the Government.

After the first partition of Bengal in 1905, Assam witnessed another phenomenon to shatter its identity related confidence. Muslim peasants from the over populated East Bengal started to migrate to the sparsely populated fertile fields of Brahmaputra and Surma Valleys. The formation of All India Muslim League in 1906 further hatched a political conspiracy to expand its numerical strength in Assam. The league initiated organised migration of Muslims from East Bengal. Nawab Salim Ullah Khan, a prominent Muslim leader and one of the founder members of AIML exhorted the Muslims to migrate to Assam and settle there in his public meetings.

The situation worsened during the period between 1939-1941 when the alternative coalition Govt of Sir Saadullah allotted one Lakh bighas (a bigha is little less than an acre) of land in Assam valley for the settlement of East Bengal immigrants. He ignored the protest of Assam Congress leaders like Bishnuram Medhi on the plea that the Muslim exodus from Bengal to Assam was necessary for the success of 'Grow more food' scheme in the state. In reality, Sir Saadullah was 'growing more Muslims'.

After Independence, Assam remained a part of the Indian Union inspite of all effort by the Muslim League, thankfully for the many hill and plain tribes. Non-Muslims outnumbered the Muslims. I would assume it was a sign of relief. 

However, that sign of relief didnt last long. The feeling of alienation was to be ascerbated once again. During the Indo-China war of 1962, when the Chinese army had reached till the beautiful city of Tezpur, Jawaharlal Nehru made the tragic immature remark saying, 'my heart goes with the people of Assam'. It is important to note that Tezpur is one of the cultural centres of Assam, which produced many freedom fighters who laid down their lives in the Quit India movement and other such Independence movements. Assamese people didnt take this comment very lightly. It strengthened the foundation of anti-India sentiments. For instance, I heard about this comment in hear-say, floating across every household in Assam.

There were other smaller yet supposedly step-motherly initiatives by the Central Government that kept this perception of mis-rule intact. One such example was the Barauni Refinery in Bihar which was set up to process the low sulphur crude oil (sweet crude) from Assam. The other example was the lack of a tea auction centre in Assam. The tea auction centre in Calcutta was established in 1861, however, it was only in 1970 that the Guwahati Tea Auction centre was established.

Democracy of today and the constitution of India gives us two rulers with varying rights. One is the State Government and the other is the Central Government. With Lok Sabha being the power centre, the lobby for any developmental initiatives is counted by the electronic votes and therefore by the number of Loksabha MPs. Assam has 14 Lok Sabha seats among a possible total of 552 seats. The upper house - Rajya Sabha has 7 seats reserved for Assam. One of them is interestingly occupied by Manmohan Singh. It sounds quite fortunate for Assam. However, if I search in Google about any development or social work initiated by Manmohan Singh, there is nothing worthwhile to mention. I would take the liberty to say that Rajya Sabha is just a theoritical concept, inadequate in execution to keep the federal spirits of the country alive.

With such a low representation in both the houses, the emphasis on Assam, its culture, its economy is always a doubt. Mathematically, it may be an accurate representation but emotions and perceptions cannot be measured or controlled with mathematical logic. Its all about Action that defines a polity. I personally rule out all expectations that the Central Government would be patriotic of the sensitivities of the North East. So in all practicality, issues in Assam and the North East cannot outnumber NewDelhi’s other priorities.

The second option eligible to have become a good ruler for Assam was the ruling State Government. Going by the last few state governments, I would like to highlight the difference between the Moghul/Ahom kingdoms and Mahmud of Ghazni / Myanmar generals. The difference is that the former had a vision and an urge to rule longer either by design or by lack of choice, and the latter had the simple objective to loot and run. So the former did everything right to rule for hundreds of years and the latter looted, and vanished without much mention.

It is completely the prerogative of the ruling Government to either have a vision to rule longer and be a leader for centuries to come, or have just some short term objectives (which appear long term from one human adult life perspective) and rule for 5 to 10 years at a stretch. The current breed of rulers in Assam unfortunately doesn't seem to have a vision irrespective of whether it is AGP, BJP OR CONGRESS.

The burning issues are always at the back-burner. The Bangladeshi infiltration is eating up the socio-economic fabric in Assam. It already has 18 constituencies with a Muslim majority, up from 10 in the last election. Still the Government is not serious about curbing the menace. There is no concrete action to seal borders like we have in the west with Pakistan. There is no concrete plan to prepare for a common identity document to identify citizens. We Indians do not have a unique identity document as a proof of citizenship unlike the US and the UK. Lack of Government spending, stagnant private sector growth, and the resulting negative pressures of Un-employment is currently gripping its tight noose around Assam.

Rulers cant afford to behave like capitalists gunning and calculating for immediate profits. That's feasible only for commerce and businesses. There lies the tragedy gripping the land of red river and blue hills.

It is time to reflect and act for everyone Assamese all over the globe, to add economic value in Assam, to protect its rich Arts and Culture and to take Assam into a higher growth trajectory.  


  1. Enlightening! That the history and culture of NE is hardly ever taught/ discussed in our Schools in both a symptom and cause of the alienation of NE.
    Where do you think the solution lies? Increasing representation in Lok Sabha can't be it- or UP would be the best state in India.
    If I understand you correctly, the problem you underline here is one of identity. "Mainland" (for lack of better word. Apologies) India hasn't accepted Assamese identity as a part of core Indian identity. Meanwhile immigrants (Bengali's in Brit rule and Muslims from Bdesh now) have chipped away the traditional Assamese identity. Eager to hear your views on how this can be addressed? Of course, fencing the border is a no brainer but that just arrests the slide. How does one reverse it?

  2. Sumit, thank you for highlighting such a point.

    I wont say that the problem in the North East is un-natural. It is following the basic rule - Survival of the Fittest. So the effort and the solution is be to become the fittest.

    Like the physics of high pressure low pressure, population density in Bangladesh (then East Bengal) is pushing people into the plains of Assam. So we have to understand the realities and take concrete action against it or for it. We (esp the political parties) cannot and should not take advantage of the crisis to create vote banks.

    You have given me another interesting topic to research and write and I would surely come up with a solution in my next blog.

  3. Human Resource has not developed in Assam. Illegal immigration has aggravated the situation. The State needs a long term economic policy backed by sound short term measures.
    I have also penned down my views, I am new to writing anything though, and still have a lot to learn.... Follow me at


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