Two days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid tributes to Bhupen Hazarika and took a swipe at previous governments for delaying the Bharat Ratna conferred posthumously on the celebrated singer this Republic Day, Hazarika’s son Tej, protesting the “painfully unpopular” Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, put the government on notice Monday, saying the Bill was “actually undermining” his father’s “documented position” and “would in reality be in direct opposition to what Bhupenda believed in his heart of hearts”.
“Bharat Ratnas and longest bridges, while necessary, will not promote the peace and prosperity of the citizens of India. Only just popular laws and foresight on the part of leadership will. Numerous media journalists are now asking me whether or not I will accept the Bharat Ratna for my father. I go on record here to answer that A), I have not received any invitation so far there is nothing to reject, and B), how the Center moves on this matter far outweighs in importance the awarding and receiving of such national recognition — a display of short-lived cheap thrills,” Tej Hazarika, who is based in the US, said in an email statement to The Indian Express.
When his comments were sought on Tej Hazarika’s remarks, Hrishikesh Goswami, media advisor to the Chief Minister of Assam, told The Indian Express: “The family has already heartily accepted the award and welcomed it publicly. By refusing the Bharat Ratna, does Tej Hazarika want to say that his father was not eligible for the award? Why is he sitting in the US and commenting on the Bill?”
In New Delhi, Ministry of Home Affairs officials declined comment, saying they are yet to receive a formal communication from Hazarika’s family.
Assam and other states of the North-East have been roiled by protests over the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill which seeks to relax Indian citizenship eligibility rules for immigrants belonging to six minority religions — Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians — from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan. The Bill is listed for consideration and passage in Rajya Sabha Tuesday.
In his statement, Tej Hazarika said: “I believe that my father’s name and words are being invoked and celebrated publicly while plans are afoot to pass a painfully unpopular Bill regarding citizenship that is actually undermining his documented position…”
“For his fans — a vast majority of people of the Northeast — and India’s great diversity including all indigenous populations of India, he would never have endorsed what appears, quite transparently, to be an underhanded way of pushing a law against the will and benefit of the majority in a manner that also seems to be grossly un-constitutional, un-democratic and un-Indian,” he said.
“Adopting any form of this Bill at this point in the manner in which it is being proffered, now or in the future, will ultimately have the sad and undesirable effect of not only disrupting the quality of life, language, identity and power balance of the region, but that of undermining my father’s position — by delivering a wreaking blow to the harmony, inner integrity and unity of the secular and democratic Republic of India,” he said.
Bhupen Hazarika’s songs and lyrics, in multiple languages including Assamese, Bengali and Hindi, centred, among others, on themes of internationalism, equality, peace, unity between religious and linguistic communities and even the tribulations of working-class life.