For Assam, 2016 was one of the most eventful years in the recent past, with politics centering round the issue of protecting the indigenous communities from a “demographic invasion” dominating both politics and social life for the past twelve months.
While the large majority of voters in the 2016 assembly election pressed the EVM button in favour of the BJP and its allies to sweep the Congress out of power because they were carried away by their “jati-mati-bheti” (nation-land-home) slogan, the issue of providing citizenship to minorities of Bangladesh and Pakistan (read: Hindu Bengalis) by amending the Citizenship Act continued to disturb the people. The reason: larger number of Bangladeshis – whether Hindus or Muslims – means a further threat to the state’s indigenous communities.
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The BJP’s decision to tie up with the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and Bodo People’s Front (BPF), along with groups representing the Rabha, Tiwa and Mising communities, in fact saw for the first time, the emergence of a strong united vote against the Congress. To further strengthen itself, the alliance also successfully consolidated the indigenous votes against the rising clout of Maulana Badruddin Ajmal’s AIUDF – a party that was born in the backdrop of the Supreme Court striking down the controversial Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act in 2005. While the BJP (60) and its allies won 86 seats, the Congress and AIUDF strength dwindled from 78 to 26 and 18 to 13 respectively.
It is a fact that the BJP fought – and won – the 2016 assembly elections on the issue of Bangladeshi migrants. But the BJP’s move to provide citizenship to Hindus and other minorities from Bangladesh has caused fresh alarm in Assam. The All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and 27 other student bodies of the state, which had hailed Modi and Sonowal’s efforts to accelerate updation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), have staunchly opposed the citizenship move. The AASU and its allies have already compelled the Centre to send the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill to a Select Committee.
Meanwhile, certain steps taken by the Sonowal government to implement their election promises have gone down well with the people. The new government has launched a series of drives to evict encroachers from land belonging to the government, national parks and traditional vaishnavite satras (monasteries), with the general impression that most of these encroachers are of Bangladesh origin. A crackdown on corruption, particularly in the Assam Public Service Commission (APSC) too has been widely appreciated, one that has already landed three APSC members including its Chairman in jail.
While a sizeable portion of the 263-km international boundary with Bangladesh still lies unfenced, Sonowal’s visit to those porous stretches has also given the impression that he is serious about the issue. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, during his visit to Guwahati on December 26, said that the Indo-Bangladesh boundary would be fully secured by mid-2018. (On January 4, 2016 however, the same home minister had put December 2016 as the deadline for the same.)
The passing year also saw Assam get several major investors. While Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali has started setting up a Rs 1300-crore project, other significant up-coming projects belong to HUL (Rs 1100 crore), Dabur (Rs 475 crore), SunPharma (Rs 200 crore), Eveready (Rs 199 crore), Ajanta Pharma (Rs 158 crore) and Britannia (Rs 143 crore). With these and other smaller investors setting up shop, the state with about 17 lakh registered unemployed is now looking at generation of about 45,000 jobs in the New Year.
Yet another election promise the new BJP-led government has been struggling to address is rhino-poaching in Kaziranga. Despite increased vigil, poachers however managed to kill at least 20 rhinos in the state in the passing year, while natural calamities (floods) claimed lives of 22 more rhinos in 2016.