The most vocal supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Guwahati invariably turned out to be migrants either from Uttar Pradesh or from Bihar.

 

Guwahati: The Citizenship Amendment Bill, which promises to provide refuge to persecuted Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Buddhist minority migrants from neighbouring countries has become the lynchpin of the Congress campaign in Assam—at least in Brahmaputra Valley and Upper Assam. On Tuesday, the last day of campaigning at Nawgong Lok Sabha constituency, which went to the polls on Thursday, Congress candidate Pradyut Bardoloi’s speech at a rally there was primarily about how the indigenous Assamese population would become extinct if CAB became law, how the indigenous Assamese would be relegated to an enclosure in a zoo. The rally was being held at Nellie in Morigaon, infamous for the massacre of Bengali Muslims in 1983 and has a large population of Bengali Muslim voters. The songs being played at the rally ground were all about unity and equality, except for one that stuck out like a sore thumb—about BJP’s plan to settle “Bangladeshi Hindus” in Assam. The stress is not on just identity, but also on religious identity in these parts of Assam.

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BJP lorry plays Modi song in Nawgong.

But then polarisation is a sword that cuts both ways. Not too far from Nellie, at a Hindu Bengali-dominated village called Kumar Bori, a lady was categorical: “Bengalis are all going to vote for BJP for CAB. Some people’s names went missing from the National Register of Citizens (NRC), their problems will be solved if CAB comes.” And word of mouth is working here, with friends and relatives passing on the message from one person to another “that vote for the lotus this time”. If Kumar Bori had to be believed, many of Congress’ Bengali voters too were shifting to the BJP this time in Nawgong at least.

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Congress workers at Nellie.

NRC is a concern in Assam. There are many complaints about “bureaucrats and their inefficient clerks” messing up the process. At the Nellie rally ground, Congress workers, both Hindus and Muslims, complained how they had to go to far-off districts to submit their documents. Dulal Saha, a Bengali who worked in a local tea garden, said that he had to spend Rs 15,000 just on conveyance because of this. “NRC is all about harassment of people,” said Nekibur Rahman Hazarika, another Congress worker, who went on to claim that no Bangladeshi Muslims had entered Assam illegally after 1971. The year 1971 is important for it is the cut-off date for determining citizenship according to the Assam Accord of 1985. And Congress workers are merely toeing the party line of “no illegal immigration taking place after 1971”.

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The BJP is scoring a victory over Congress when it comes to campaign songs. “Akho ekbar Modi sarkar (Modi government once more)” is a peppy and foot-tapping number. Young and enthusiastic party workers decked in party gear can be seen going around in lorries in Guwahati and other areas dancing to this song. A video showing BJP leader Himanta Biswas Sarma also dancing has gone viral. In Nawgong, on Wednesday, the man on the street too was seen jiving as a long convoy of BJP vehicles passed by during a campaign rally.

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Pradyut Bardoloi’s banner at Nellie.

Staying with songs, it must be mentioned that Vande Mataram was played at the Congress rally in Muslim dominated Nellie and everyone kept standing quietly throughout the song. There was not a murmur of protest about the song being “anti Muslim”, as some people in other parts of India have been describing it as.

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Since a major section of the BJP in Assam is actually “breakaway Congress”, many of the current crop of BJP and Congress leaders know each other and more often than not have a long history of rivalry. A section of Pradyut Bardoloi’s speech at the rally in Nellie was devoted to accusing the BJP MLA from neighbouring Jagiroad Assembly segment, Pijush Hazarika of ensuring that no vehicles were available in the area to bring people to his rally. Hazarika is a former Youth Congress leader and currently minister in the Sarbananda Sonowal government. When asked about this, he denied the charge.

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The man on the street dances to BJP’s song in Nawgong.

Sarbananda Sonowal is a generous Chief Minister. Among the several “gifts” he has been giving to various sections is the smartphone. At the Nellie rally, Congress worker Dulal Saha, who was very critical of the Sonowal government and NRC, fished out a smartphone from his pocket to take a selfie with this writer and then looked a bit guilty as he added sheepishly: “The phone is my wife’s. The Sonowal government gave it to her.”

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The most vocal supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Guwahati invariably turned out to be migrants either from Uttar Pradesh or from Bihar—street hawkers, golgappa sellers, those eking out a near hand to mouth living. Whether or not their mood is a reflection of the mood “back home” will be known on 23 May.

 

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