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BJP Assam election manifesto: Balancing silence and old and new promises

BJP Assam election manifesto: Titled Sankalpa Patra, it talks of a "corrected" NRC to "secure" Assam, protection of indigenous rights as well as developmental promises for women, youths etc.

Written by Tora Agarwala , Edited by Explained Desk | Guwahati |
Updated: March 26, 2021 12:28:38 pm
Assam, Assam polls, BJP Assam manifesto, Assam manifesto, Assam news, BJP in Assam, Indian ExpressBJP president J P Nadda releases the party's manifesto for the upcoming Assembly elections in Guwahati on Tuesday.

The BJP Tuesday released its official manifesto for the Assam elections. Titled Sankalpa Patra, it talks of a “corrected” National Register of Citizens (NRC) to “secure” Assam, protection of indigenous rights as well as developmental promises for women, youths etc.

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A corrected NRC

In the works for six years, the final Assam NRC was published on August 31, 2019. However, it was immediately attacked by the BJP for excluding 19 lakh people, many of them Hindus, with party chief Ranjit Dass saying the number was lower than earlier government estimates of illegal foreigners and among those kept out were “sons of the soil”. Since then, the list has remained in a limbo, with those excluded yet to even receive rejection orders with which to appeal to Foreigners’ Tribunals. Unveiling the manifesto, BJP national president J P Nadda said, “We will protect genuine Indian citizens and detect illegal infiltrators so that Assam can remain Assam’s.”

No mention of CAA

While in neighbouring West Bengal, which is also going to polls, the BJP promised to implement the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) if it came to power, the law — which saw widespread protests in Assam — finds no mention in its Assam manifesto. Asked about it, Nadda said the CAA “would be implemented in letter and spirit”. However, the BJP perhaps believes it can get away with this balancing act between Bengal and Assam with the CAA protests appearing to be a distant memory in Assam.

Silence on Clause 6

In a bid to contain the widespread protests against the CAA, the Assam government had promised speedy implementation of Clause 6 of the Assam Accord, that promises to protect the interests of the “indigenous” people of Assam, and appointed a high-level committee for the same. However, given its recommendations, made public by two panel members, and the complications involved, the BJP has chosen silence as the better form of valour.

Protection of indigenous rights

With suspicion still over the BJP’s CAA and Clause 6 intentions , the party has promised measures to protect the “Jaati, Maati and Bheti (Community, Home and Hearth)” of the indigenous people of Assam. They include a task force to check “illegal encroachment” on the land of sattras of Vaishnavite saint Srimanta Sankardeva, financial aid of Rs 2.5 lakh to all Naamghars (Vaishnavite worship halls) and places of worship of tribals, and distribution of pattas to all landless citizens. The party has also promised a delimitation exercise to “protect the political rights of the people”, indicating that constituencies might see a realignment to give indigenous communities more say.

Jobs for youths

As in the Congress manifesto, there is an emphasis on jobs. The BJP has promised two lakh government jobs (1 lakh before March 31, 2022). Another ‘Sankalpa’, or resolve, is to make Assam India’s entrepreneurial hub. Ten lakh youth entrepreneurs are to be created through a Swami Vivekananda Asam Youth Employment Yojana. A survey by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) put Assam’s unemployment rate at a 19-month high of 11.1% in April 2020, rising from 0.7% in April 2016. However, the data also shows a sharp recovery post lockdown with unemployment down to 1.6 % in February 2021.

Women focus

Its largely woman-centric Orunudoi scheme a huge hit, the party is set to enhance it. The dole for the DBT scheme will be increased from Rs 830 to Rs 3,000 per month, with 30 lakh families brought under it. The BJP clearly sees Orunudoi as a game changer. And the Congress has responded by announcing a ‘Grihini Samman’ scheme, of Rs 2,000 per month to homemakers.

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Flood problem

Governments have come and gone, without solving Assam’s annual spectre of floods. The BJP talks of ‘Mission Brahmaputra’, to “finally” check this. “We will approach it scientifically, build big reservoirs to collect water.” Dredging of the river from Dhubri (in western Assam) to Sadiya (in the east) was also announced. Even before it came to power in Assam, the BJP had proposed a plan to dredge the Brahmaputra, adding that it would use the resultant silt to build roads on either side of the river. However, experts have often said this was an impractical solution simply because the Brahmaputra sediment yield is among the highest in the world. No amount of dredging can stop the river’s siltation.

Even building reservoirs is something experts have time and again warned again as the Brahmaputra is inherently dynamic and unstable. So far successive governments have taken the stop-gap measure of building embankments. Many experts say the only solution lies in international cooperation, since the Brahmaputra is a transnational river, with a basin spread over China, India, Bangladesh and Bhutan.

Strengthening of Assam’s civilisation

Though not part of its ten ‘sankalpas’, the manifesto, under a section ‘Strengthening civilisation in Assam’ promises to tackle the menace of ‘Love Jihad’ and ‘Land Jihad’. It also mentions a ‘Deradicalisation Policy’ to stop groups from ‘fanning the flames of communal exclusion and separatism.’ While faultlines in Assam have traditionally been seen as ethnic and linguistic, religious polarisation has entered into the mix with the rise of BJP in the state. These proposals to protect ‘Assamese civilisation’ seem to stem from the BJP’s relentless attack on Bengali-speaking ‘Miya’ Muslims, with the party tying its anti-Miya rhetoric to “protecting” Assam’s culture-language-heritage from the community. While a ‘Love Jihad’ law seems to be inspired by similar laws in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, ‘Land Jihad’ is a new concoction, and possibly refers to “land encroachment” by those who the party perceives as “outsiders”.

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