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Home > 2020 > Covid-19: A Blessing for BJP in Assam | Nurul Hassan

Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 35, New Delhi, August 15, 2020

Covid-19: A Blessing for BJP in Assam | Nurul Hassan

Friday 14 August 2020, by Nurul Hassan

Abstract
 
It is considered that Assam is one of the finest hotbeds for all forms of politics. Recently, a portion of people found religious angles in Covid-19 pandemic. Although, the matter of Nizamuddin Markaz has become irrelevant but the stigma speculated by the BJP wouldn’t be possible to scrape easily. Stigmatization of Muslims in Assam is considered as an easier task as Bangladeshi label is already prevalent there. The ongoing onslaught of Covid-19 is an unavoidable challenge for mankind but here it’s nurturing for huge political implication. The number of Covid-19 cases are stable at the beginning but the proclamation of unlock process, there has been a massive surge indicating an untoward situation. Perhaps, it unleashes a new orientation of politics as the state is performing adequately in handling the Covid-19 situation and subsequently the role of Health Minister is appreciated in different capacities for all-round preparedness and management for fighting the Corona pandemic in Assam. Hence, the entire course of action unfolds huge doubt and suspicion as Assam is going for election in early next year. Here, it tries to demystify the changing course of politics from the protestors of CAA 2019 through the Covid-19 pandemic towards a fresh narrative in building image of competence.
 
Keywords 
 
BJP, Covid-19, Nizamuddin Markaz, Politics, Stigma, Upcoming Election

Introduction

The world has been facing unprecedented crisis for Covid-19 and its devastating affect all around evolving the greatest human tragedies of recent times. Undoubtedly, the amount of fatalities is relatively less comparing the number of infections, but the situation of India is shambling day by day pushing it in the midst of uncertainty. Unlike others, the North East India had remained stable for more than two months at initial stage, but later on with the massive exodus of people including migrant workers has changed the entire scenario abysmally. In Assam, there is a surge of infected person during the final lockdown and thereafter it has been continuing exponentially. The state has witnessed first Covid-19 case as Nizamuddin Markaz bound Tablighi Jammat1 [1] returnee at the end of March, 2020. At this juncture, the substandard healthcare system2 [2] in comparison to other advanced states, Assam stayed stable for long as the entire healthcare setting is remained vigilant all the time. The health department has been working in a war footing manner to handle the situation as within couple of day’s numbers of Covid-19 hospitals including quarantined centres, PPEs, testing kits etc. are managed as per requirements. All round preparedness really makes it easy for mitigating the unseen disease. However, most of the diseased persons as of now had different co-morbidities prior to Covid-19 infection. Indeed the situation is disastrous, but the pandemic is becoming a point to ponder from different angles. Basically it is a health hazard and at the same time its contribution in instilling politics for different stakeholders as election is due in the early next year. Perhaps, it would help the ruling party in wrapping up all issues including Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019, Scheduled Tribe status for six communities etc. Here an attempt has been made to understand the changing course of politics from the protestors of CAA 2019 through the Covid-19 pandemic towards a fresh narrative in building image of competence by the politician in public domain.

Covid-19 in Assam

Assam is the worst Covid-19 affected state in the North Eastern region. However the number of Covid-19 cases is relatively less compare to the rest of the nation. The poor healthcare system of Assam is incomparable with the developed one but it had managed somehow at the very early wave of hardship. It is quite interesting that altruistic role of the health minister with his team has been performing well in decimating all round fatalities of Covid-19. However we can’t put his performance beyond the purview of debate and contestation as probably it is the best opportunity to rebuild one’s image of salvation in the public domain after massive protest across state. Accordingly, it would be the process to cover-up the inadequate situation of public health infrastructure in Assam despite a Minister of same department for more than 12 years.

Assam has registered the first Covid-19 case on 31 March, 2020 from Hailakandi district and which had a direct linkage with the congregation of Nizamuddin Markaz Mosque in Delhi. In the meantime it has come to the fore that hundreds of people from Assam have participated in that very religious gathering of Nizamuddin Markaz. Notable point is that as many as 33 Markaz returnees were tested positive till 30th April, 2020 and others were released after proper testing by the Medical department suggesting for self quarantine as per World Health Organizations’ guideline. The Spanish Garden case stood first from the heart of the city of Guwahati had no linkages with Nizamuddin Markaz. Later on a few cases were being detected among the people having close contact with Covid-19 patients including Nizamuddin Markaz returnee. Thereafter with the opening of special trains, the situation has worsened and at the mid of July, 2020, Assam is witnessing community level of transmission crossing 18 thousand marks within short span of time. Even the urban spaces including Guwahati have gone for lockdown once again. The situation is uncontrollable as huge numbers of people are getting infected despite no Covid-19 history.

It is pertinent to mention here that the initiative of the state government for Covid-19 patients as well as stranded people is highly appreciable. Considering the hardship of stranded people during nationwide lockdown, government had taken different policy and programmes to assist them. The government has provided financial help to 829 patients with a sum of Rs. 25 thousand each, as many as three lakhs labourers Rs. 3000 each in two installments and a section of people who are remained abroad also given $1000. Later on the stranded people were facilitated with different mode of transportation in reaching their destination. The poor people were also somehow covered up with different welfare programmes distributing ration and other necessitates. Apart from the facilities announced by the Central government, all other health workers were also ensured different assistance by the state govt. i.e. additional amount of salary for a few months, insurance coverage, other allowances etc. However, the citizens of different categories have extended helping hand as more than 107 crore deposited in the fund of Assam Arogya Nidhi, distribution of food among the needy people, food for stray animals etc. So, the all round effort from different walks of life makes it easy to control the menace. However, the scenario at the time of inception unequivocally unearths the precarious situation of health infrastructure of Assam i.e. shortage of ventilators, Intensive Care Unit (ICU), other medical equipments including staff and so on and therefore it requires calibrated policies to improve the entire setup in the days to come.

Politics of Stigma

Perhaps, the divisive politics undoubtedly provides an advantageous position for the dominant groups. In a democratic setting, political parties linked with the dominant group inevitably get undue credential to exist in power. Sometimes, it is essential for political parties too to unleash divisiveness, bigotry etc. for strengthening their own position and possession. In a plural society like Assam is not lagging much behind in this regard. If we go round the clock, the decade back political history of Assam gives us bounteous examples of political hatred, divisiveness, and stigmatization and so on. In the aftermath of historic Assam Movement, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) came to power sensitizing the issue of illegal migrants targeting a particular community and it matters a lot in creating fear psychosis among them converting their political standing unexpectedly. Eventually, the illegal migration issue has got perennial importance in every nook and corner. For all the political parties the ‘Bangladeshi’ tag mark has become essential to sensitize the matter. Unlike others, the BJP has also using the Bangladeshi tag to unite one and all for political gain in recent time. Even the BJP led central government’s stand on citizenship for religious persecuted people except Muslims from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan by the CAA 2019 has been facing massive protest across India and Assam in particular. But the entire course of action is interrupted on the midst of the protest for the outbreak of Covid-19 without any proper conclusion and therefore it would be quite interesting to see the standing of anti CAA 2019 protestors in the post Covid-19 period as the state is proceeding towards elections.

Here, the pertinent point is that branding a community usually postulates stigma and it hampers the notion of inclusiveness. In fact it would have substantial impact on economy, societal relation, culture and so on. At this juncture, it would be essential to underscore the chronology of stigma or how stigma politics is working over the years. As we know different motifs are behind the branding of group identity i.e. power politics, identity politics, economic capability, psychological pressure, impunity etc. However, quest for power is the ultimate objective for different stakeholders whether it is in Assam or somewhere else.

From the historical point of view, different invasions were took place in Assam and which mattered a lot in recent time as a source of stigma politics among the communities. In this regard the repeated pronouncement targeting a particular community escalates sense of divisiveness in larger domain. It is confusing that the common people are neither concerned nor interested about the history of invasions or community identity, but these are inevitable for the politician. In this context, the invasion of Mughal is frequently highlighted for targeting a community without considering their historical linkages. In an interview, despite the ongoing onslaught for Covid-19, the Health Minister of Assam has sincerely mentioned the insider-outsider politics branding as Mughal and Lachit (Pratidin Time 2020) indicating the Nizamuddin Markaz incident. It is one of the finest processes of stigmatization over a community.

Furthermore, considering the political branding, the 2012 BTAD violence was alleged that the Bangladeshi infiltrators were behind the scene and subsequently the dreadful incident was pushed into the backyard of stigma politics. Initially the incident was severely condemned in different capacities; but whenever it is coloured in the name of Bangladeshi, the sentiment skewed with a different narrative. Unfortunately different stakeholders including the civil society groups remained biased in the entire course of action. Perhaps the allegation as infiltrator’s involvement was nothing but glossing the matter from the purview of public domain. We can also consider the 30 October, 2008 serial bomb blast case occurred in Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon, Barpetaroad and Guwahati respectively from the similar perspective as it was also initially branded as Islamic ultras were behind the incident. In fact, one of the veteran BJP leaders L. K. Advani pointed out the illegal migrants’ involvement on the very next day of incident (IANS 2008). However, later on the responsibility was taken by NDFB Ranjan Daimary fraction (PTI 2019) and subsequently the matter has become irrelevant thereafter. Apparently, it is easier in branding the disadvantageous group without ground reality. Such type of precipitated branding might have substantial impact on the notion of inclusiveness.

Accordingly, migration is considered as a lifelong process and here too in Assam is experiencing phenomenal presence of migrated people over the years. Unlike others, it is applicable for targeting a particular community, the Muslims and solely the east Bengal origin Muslims. So, it tries to mount a sharp distinction among the communities on the basis of their collective identity. The Tea Tribes, the Nepali, the Bengali Hindu, Oriya, Marwari, Punjabi all are migrated and become part and parcel of Assam. The historic Assam Movement was fought against the outsiders but later on it turned towards the Muslim infiltrators only. So, the entire issue was diluted from outsider to Muslim infiltrators glossing over and again as a Bangladeshi.

In this instance, we may find stigmatization is unstoppable here in the societal process. From the literature to history, agricultural product to encroachment politics, informal labour to criminal activities, from school to hospitals everywhere a section of people belonging to a particular religious community are softly targeted and the cacophony becomes louder on the eve of election. Actually it requires stringent action to control such despicable propaganda by different stakeholders. On the contrary, inculcation of stigma politics will help in acceleration of deceptive move of action.

The latest incident of Islamic congregation in Nizamuddin Markaz has substantial contribution in sharpening the Muslim identity portraying the orthodox notion of Islam in the form of Tabligi Jammat. Most likely the incident is grasped by the right wing people to ignite the social fabric denouncing the panic created by Covid-19. Furthermore the nationwide lockdown helps in acceleration for social platforms including media industries to sensitize it in different capacities. Hence, it indicates that the political notion would be more interesting as well as disastrous on the eve of election. In the context of Assam, the Health Ministers argument indicating the Muslims linked with pro-Tablighi Jammat as Mughal vs. Lachit also has a communal angle to polarize the society. Ultimately, the Muslims in general and east Bengal origin Muslims in particular are victimized easily in different capacities. However, the issue of Markaz should be scrutinized and all the perpetrators deserve punishment as per law of the land. Hence, over emphasizing on the Nizamuddin incident indicates some sort of different political calculation in coming days in the state of Assam.

Mapping the Politics

The pandemic propels the mankind to face veritable crisis in different sectors i.e. governance, health, economy, politics, science, services, society etc. In Assam too, but the situation has sharpening the myth and reality of governance of present dispensation. At this junction, all round preparedness and performance to control the menace of Covid-19 by the state govt. is applauded in different capacities and which is essential for tackling the ongoing crises. However, the entire process has unavoidable linkage with the upcoming elections postulating different narratives in public domain i.e. administrative competency, Corona as an excuse as well as opportunity in the midst of lockdown and so on.

The present BJP led state government is serious about governance protecting rights and privileges for son of the soils in a Hindu plank. Hence, they are more concerned for protecting Satra (vaisnavite religious monasteries) i.e. land as well as culture, protecting tribal belt and blocks etc. and these are praiseworthy initiatives in the larger context of Assam. However, it would be difficult for them to fulfill the promises mentioned in the vision document published on the eve of election. Nevertheless the ongoing performance to fight against Corona makes indifferent as it provides an opportunity for them to prove their administrative competence. The second point is contested one as the ruling party is taking advantages for Corona pandemic. Perhaps BJP is keen to avail Corona sponsored opportunities keeping the opposition out of the context. Interestingly, despite corona upheavals, the door to door campaign ‘jan sampark’ is going on without any intervention. In fact top brass of BJP including a few Ministers are not following the Corona protocol. On one hand, state sponsored fear psychosis is escalating and other hand restoration of power not only muddying the water but unleashes a bewildered politics among the people.

In Assam, the election of the Bodoland Territorial Autonomous District is postponed just before voting on 4 April, 2020 due to Corona outbreak. The urban local bodies of Assam are already defunct as it crosses stipulated time and the crucial Assembly election is due in the early next year. However, the pandemic has changed the course of action and subsequently it pushes the entire system into the realm of uncertainty. On one hand the massive protest against the CAA 2019 is becoming irrelevant due to corona induced nationwide lockdown and other hand all round protection is availing by BJP from the government despite the disastrous situation would determine the upcoming elections. Furthermore, the linkage of Covid-19 with Nizamuddin Markaz would be used as a tinder box on or before the election. Apparently, any form of political repercussion is desirable at the end of this pandemic.

Seeing the situation of deliberative hatred in India and Assam in particular, the issue of stigma politics has become a global concern and subsequently the central as well as state governments were alarmed not to sensitize the matter on religious ground. Assam too has given emphasis to control all types of hatred promising severe punishment to the hate mongers. Probably, these are essential short term initiatives of governments but without permanent solution it will destroy the image of India locally as well as globally. Apparently, it would be difficult to draw a deadline about the contamination of Covid-19 as well as its devastating impinges on the people. But the contested narratives would provide a plethora in the course of politics not only in Assam but India as a whole.

The way forward 

The Assam Government has been working on a war footing manner to address the challenge posed by the pandemic. Here, the aggressive strategies and selfless support from all walks of life would help in bringing back normalcy without devastating loss. However, the Covid-19 has proved as well as exposed the entire administrative settings of Assam and at the same time definitely it is a lesson for one and all how to tackle such type of stringent situation in coming days. As of now the entire system is standstill for Covid-19 pandemic but simmering the politics of stigma all around. Over the years, the politics of stigma has been instilling and also getting unprecedented support from every nook and corner. Even the problem is more social than political. Moreover it has inseparable linkage with economy, culture and so on and therefore to control the nuisance it requires comprehensive attention from all walks of life as the people’s standing against Covid-19.

Notes

1. Literal meaning of Tablighi Jamaat is ‘society for preachers’ is a worldwide organization of Muslim, founded by a Deobandi based Islamic scholar Muhammad Iliyas al-Kandhlawi in India in the year 1926. At present cores of people have direct or indirect linkages with this institution. It is a revival movement emphasizing on six basic principles i.e. Kalimah (declaration of faith), Namaz (Prayer), Ilm-o-zikir (Knowledge), Ikram-e-Muslim (respect of Muslim), Ikhlas-e-Niyyat (sincerity of intension) and Dawat-e-Tabhligh (proselytizaton).

2. The ‘Healthy States Progressive India Report on the ranks of States and Union Territories’ 2019, reveals about Assam that the incremental progress from the base year to reference year is substantially improved. Besides, the state also shows positive score in terms of Health index. But overall performance is average as per the report.

References

Khanna, Shubhas (2020): “How Assam prepared its war against Corona” The Assam Tribune, 25 April, viewed on 25 April, 2020

Health Index Report (2019): “Healthy States Progressive India Report on the ranks of states and union territories 2019” prepared by NITI Ayog and Ministry of Health and Family Welfare of India http://social.niti.gov.in/uploads/sample/health_index_report.pdf

Indo-Asian News Service (2008): “Toll in Assam Blasts Rises to 77, Dozen Suspects held” India Today, 31 October, viewed on 5 November, 2008, https://www.indiatoday.in/latest-headlines/story/toll-in-assam-blasts-rises-to-77-dozen-suspects-held-32553-2008-10-31

Pratidin Time (2020): “The Hard Talk with Himanta Biswa Sarma” Pratidin Time Live on 7 April, viewed on 27 April, 2020, https://www.facebook.com/pratidintime/videos/870010170091718/

PTI (2019): “Bodo Terror Outfit Chief, 14 others Convicted in 2008 Assam Blasts” India Today, 28 January, viewed on 30 January, 2019, https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/bodo-terror-outfit-chief-14-others-convicted-in-2008-assam-blasts-1440928-2019-01-28


[1Literal meaning of Tablighi Jamaat is ‘society for preachers’ is a worldwide organization of Muslim, founded by a Deobandi based Islamic scholar Muhammad Iliyas al-Kandhlawi in India in the year 1926. At present cores of people have direct or indirect linkages with this institution. It is a revival movement emphasizing on six basic principles i.e. Kalimah (declaration of faith), Namaz (Prayer), Ilm-o-zikir (Knowledge), Ikram-e-Muslim (respect of Muslim), Ikhlas-e-Niyyat (sincerity of intension) and Dawat-e-Tabhligh (proselytizaton).

[2The ‘Healthy States Progressive India Report on the ranks of States and Union Territories’ 2019, reveals about Assam that the incremental progress from the base year to reference year is substantially improved. Besides, the state also shows positive score in terms of Health index. But overall performance is average as per the report.

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