A single man’s ambition sparked a near revolution that India has never witnessed.
What has been dreamed and debated by social scientists across the globe for generations has been achieved by Assam, that is, a widespread spontaneous revolution against the ruling class.
For that, every credit goes to Himanta Biswa Sarma whose provocation had enough spice to wake up a beast that is now threatening to change the course of history in Assam forever.
As town after town of Assam closed down due to enormous protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, the law and order machinery too collapsed as rampaging crowds burnt everything they could lay hands on.
Assam had witnessed near total revolution as for three consecutive days the entire Brahmaputra valley kept burning, something that has not been seen anywhere in the country ever.
Not only the towns but even the villages of the Brahmaputra valley were also out on the road, as it has redrawn the relationship between Bharat and Assam once again.
But if the credit for provocation went to Himanta Biswa Sarma, it was the young students of the Cotton College who got the movement off and converted it into a revolution.
Thousands of students, mostly in the age group 18-20, shocked their seniors as they marched through the streets of Guwahati and woken up the regionalism of Assam.
As the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) were engaged in a war of territory domination, the leaderless movement took shape in the line of the Hong Kong agitation, and people lapped it up. The sight of the young faces with gamocha wrapped around their neck was more reassuring than the professional agitators like Akhil Gogoi and Samujjal Bhattacharya.
It was not an agitation against the Citizenship Amendment Act; it was not an agitation against infiltration. It was a near revolution against humiliation and indignity meted out to the Axomiya people by New Delhi, Nagpur and BJP combine.
Assam has always opposed the Citizenship Amendment Act since 2016. But there was a fundamental difference of opinion between Assam’s opposition and view of the Left-liberal of India.
Assam has not bothered much about constitutional morality of secular fabric of India. But Assam did bother when Delhi and Nagpur tried to give legal sanctity for settlement of Hindu Bangladeshi.
But for BJP, everything is optics and CAA is also another one. They do not understand the sentiments of Assamese people nor their new convert leaders can make their bosses understand.
Chief minister Sarbanada Sonowal remained silent all along to hold his chair, while Sarma was on an overdrive to dislodge Sonowal keeping the sentiments of Assamese at the feet of Union home minister Amit Shah.
Through CAA, the BJP wanted to achieve three main objectives: the first objective was to create a pro-Hindi and anti-Muslim narrative with a harp on the constitution. This they have achieved. The second objective was to create pro-Bengali optics. They badly wanted to develop that as they were preparing to overthrow Mamata Banerjee in the next election. This also achieved.
The third objective was more Assam specific. The ruling party wanted to regularize the 5,04,000 Hindu Bangladeshis that were excluded from the NRC in Assam. This figure is not an official figure but announced by state minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.
Infiltration has always been a touchy issue in Assam. After decades of agitation, Assam was looking for a closure of the issue. The Dispur-Delhi-Nagpur combine wanted not only to revive it with a new NRC but also wanted to settle down the Hindu Bangladeshis excluded by this NRC.
For Assam and Assamese, this is a question of existence. As BJP was hell-bent on settling the NRC-excluded Bengalis, the Assamese people took it upon themselves to fight back as they felt insecure.
The BJP and RSS must know it well that we are Assamese first and then Indian. We accommodated everyone, but that cannot be taken for granted. That was a general feeling.
This was not acceptable to the majority of people of Assam. Constant opposition, protest, pleading, and even begging against the Citizenship Amendment Bill could not move the BJP. During the period, all Assam wanted that CAB should exclude Northeast India.
But the electoral success of BJP in Assam made them blind. When you are blinded with success, you become arrogant. The victim of the arrogance was Assam’s health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. He took the arrogance by the heart but never in his wildest dream he thought he could make himself look like such a fool when he attacked the CAB protest.
The final sparking point was the provocative statements, speech and interviews in his TV Channel by Himanta Biswa Sarma.
He lampooned the ongoing protest against CAB. He humiliated every major intellectual who had opposed CAB. He insulted AASU and its leadership. He challenged to debate with everyone on the merit of CAB.
And Assam took the challenge and demonstrated a revolution, which was never seen anywhere in India. This winter revolution is unmatched. No political party was involved there; no organisation was involved.
Many argue that it was Sarma who plotted to oust chief minister Sarabnanda Sonowal by provoking a situation so that the law and order situation of the state could go wrong and heads of the CM Sonowal would roll, and he becomes a CM.
This is a legitimate political manoeuvre in modern politics. But in the process, he has changed the course of the history of Assam and revived regionalism- something RSS will certainly not appreciate.
This four-day revolution not only has revived regionalism but has also handed over the mantle to a generation which is considered busy with selfies and WhatsApp.
The beauty of the four-day revolution was that it was not organised, nor was there any leaders, it was spontaneous. It was Hong Kong in Assam. It was Arab spring in Assam. Tens and thousands of students poured out and took the lead and protested in every possible manner.
All of a sudden, Assam’s beloved gamocha is the flag of resistance, and even Assam Police has refused to go after the protesters as most of them are innocent college students. It has reignited regionalism in every Assamese mind and just bulldozed everything aside.
Politically, BJP may yet win another election, and either of Sarbananda Sonowal and Himanta Biswa Sarma can become the chief minister, but India has distanced itself from Assam.
The gulf which has started showing decreasing in the past 15 years after 20 years of insurgency, has begun to increase again and this time the new generation will keep Bharat and Assam separately in a different matter.
As the whole of Northeast India except Assam got the protection of the Citizenship Amendment Act, Assam realised that their very existence is under threat.
This is the big question. The tempo of the near revolution must be channelised politically. If not done, one will help the Congress as there is no other place than Congress for the anti-BJP-AGP front.
Already, all-round attempts are on for a new political platform under the leadership of singer Zubeen Garg and AASU adviser Samujjal Kumar Bhattacharya.
Zubeen has unmatched popularity in Assam, and Bhattacharya is considered the last unblemished mass leader. Akhil Gogoi also has good grassroots network but is not regarded by the urban middle class.
Bhattaharya has, however, remained non-committal. He is unlikely to be persuaded to join the political platform. But if he does not take frontal responsibilities, then the battle would not be tough.
However, the broad contours of the new regional force is already seen in the horizon. If that local force fails to materialize then surely, the insurgency will rise again because the youth of Assam are genuinely angry against the BJP.
Assam has a political vacuum, and the winter revolution is going to fill that up, and political matrix of Assam is going to change, and BJP is going to be the big loser. In politics, perception matters and BJP is already has been perceived as a Nagpur based party who is thriving on the binary of division.
BJP will try to neutralise by fast unrolling the Clause VI benefits in the next few weeks, but the AASU had already made it clear that those expected reservations were for the ‘load’ Assam had taken between 1951-1971.
But the winter revolution has shown again that in Assam the Hindu-Muslim and Assamese-Bengali binary do-not work. In Assam, Hindu-Muslim-Bengali is one as long they are not infiltrators from East Pakistan or Bangladesh.
(The author is a senior journalist and writer. Views expressed are his own. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)