Would you wanted a Divided Assam?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

'Assamese' in transition - Significance of our Naamghars

Dhekiakhowa Naamghar
Assamese society is going through a phase of transition. We are moving from the times of abundance to the times of scarcity. We are moving from a phase of harmony to a phase of competition. We are moving away from collective identity to individual identity. Like any phase of transition, it is a phase of chaos and instability.

There is no need to worry. We, as a society, can adapt to all kind of times if we are prepared, ready to adapt and understand the universal truth of continuous and natural evolution.

For a society to prepare and adapt, we need to get together, talk, share and make some action plans as a community. It is a team work. The more fragmented and nuclear a team becomes, the quicker the team disappears. There is a critical need for the Assamese society, or any society for that matter, to unite, group and collaborate for a better tomorrow in terms of economic independence, political independence, social development and overall progress in the standard of living. 

There are three critical pillars to this concept of getting together for adaptation, progress, peace and unity. 

Definition of 'WE' 

The definition of we is the first pillar. We simple mean everybody who considers themselves Assamese. If a particular age group, sub-community or gender is not coming ahead to participate, we have to do the necessary to include them. For instance, the young today hardly visit our Naamghars, and that is leading to stagnancy of thought in the institution of Naamghars. Absence of youth simply means absence of new ideas, which are essential for adapting to these times of transition.

Definition of 'Meeting Points'

The place of get-together is the second critical pillar. Which are the 'Meeting Points'? How much ever I think hard on this, the only possible answer that comes to my mind is our revered Naamghars. Naamghar is the most representative institution of the Assamese society today.

Naam Kirtana and a gathering at a Naamghar, AssamOur great Gurujona Srimanta Sankaradev had built this institution for people to get together, and participate in discussions with a pure mind and heart. It was the ‘Facebook’ of those times. There were groups having their own naamghars. Group members used to get together every evening after their daily jobs to sing the Kirtanas and other scriptures in the praise of the Lord, and then talk, discuss about current issues being faced and their solutions.

The institution of naamghar was built without any discrimination in terms of religion, caste or creed. Srimanta Sankaradev worked for a class-less society and instituted naamghar for everybody to  participate in the proceedings.

Although Naamghar is not a 'mandir' or a religious place of worship, yet it is an institution of purity and immense wisdom. A regular or frequent periodic visit to any institution of purity and wisdom will help us purify our thought processes from all thoughts and acts of evil, short-sightedness and maleficence (bad intention).

Definition of a 'Network'

The third pillar is coordination and communication. It is about building the network, a process for each naamghar to keep in touch. It is the link between all the naamghars. It is not necessary that all the naamghars will agree with each other in terms of their policies or other matters. They do not need to. We need heterogeneity of thought processes and action. What is however essential is the communication and information of what every naamghar is thinking, discussing and implementing. This will lead to collective growth through inspiration, learning and motivation from each other.

A network is easier today with the Internet and other media. For instance, every naamghar can publish a minimal newsletter about their point of view with respect to various problems, trends, happenings, and solutions, which then can be publicized through the Internet and Mobile network.

Last Words

There may be an argument saying 'what is the role of government structure' in taking a society or a community forward in these times of transition. I would say, Government is there to facilitate. As Mahatma Gandhi always stressed on a bottom-up model of development that starts from the smallest unit of a society, it is widely seen across the world that development comes to those communities or societies who are self sufficient from the bottom.

A meeting place needs entertainment to keep the spirits going. Srimanta Sankaradev had created such beautiful art forms like the Sattriya Dance, Bhaona etc just for that. We should perhaps discuss and include a few more entertainment options into the fold of the naamghars to include the youth and the current times.

Assamese society need to quicken their learning curve in terms of all matters. Assamese society need to develop the negligible private sector which is essential for economic development, creation of jobs and utilization of local skills and expertise. Assamese society needs to preserve its culture, language, identity and more importantly create unity in diversity. Assamese society needs to show a positive world out there to our next generations to build their confidence in taking on the world.

To do all this, lets start with the naamghar. Lets make the naamghar the smallest community unit of progress and development.

Lets us all say, Aha ami adda maru naamgharat..

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Contribution: Media has very critical role to play in forming emotions.

Joi Aai Oxom.

Thanks for this welcome initiative. We have a long and difficult road to traverse to fulfill our goals of a united Assam and to stem and, if possible, reverse the trend of division and dissociation that has bled Assam over the last five decades, mostly encouraged by a central pan-North Indian administration, distrustful of Assamese unity. 

The dubious role of another linguistic community in sowing the seeds of discord and thereby, ensuring their linguistic hegemony over this part of the country, also cannot be denied. 

{Editor note: We don't know if any particular linguistic community is responsible, but we are all responsible in some ways or the other. Lets forget the past and get together now when the tides are high.}

Along with the Internet and the social media - powerful tools of this information age, other platforms and outreach should also be initiated. We need a powerful political class to safeguard our territorial integrity. We need a powerful business lobby that can influence policy, a vigilant media and journalists who do not resort to cheap and harmful publicity stunts for TRPs, young professionals committed to the cause, academicians and intellectuals we can fall back upon for guidance.

We also need to think of a multi-dimensional strategy that includes both hard and soft measures. Soft measures like culture, literature, song and dance, cuisine etc. that are popularized outside our state so that people know of our distinct cultural identity. But as charity begins at home, our own children need to be taught about our mother tongue and its rich culture first. It's sad and alarming when you think of the kind of cultural upbringing most Assamese kids have these days and the level of awareness about their own roots.

{Editor note: It is not enough to popularize the culture, literature et al, but it is critical to have an inclusive approach to promote all the various communities keeping the individual identities intact and proud.}
The need of the hour is to keep all the different ethnic strands united and under one umbrella. We should also strive to take back into our fold communities that have at some point of history left us in search of their own separate identities. As a Meghalaya minister remarked few weeks back, "Things would probably have been better for Meghalaya, if it was with Assam."

The road may be long and difficult. But as someone said, the journey of a thousand miles start with a single step.

At this stage, I feel we also need to flag/ report/ highlight/ forces and ideological streams that are inimical to the cause of a United Assam and have been trying over the years, deliberately or inadvertently.

One of the most powerful propaganda tools is the media, both print and electronic. In this context, I have observed the rather suspicious role the Calcutta-based news-paper, the Telegraph. It has been trying to exaggerate the ethnic differences and fault lines that exist between different Assamese communities and feeding into these fires of dissension and separate identity.

Just notice how the reporter mentions the two communities involved and not labeling them as Assamese.

This is something very minor but there have been plenty more blatant and openly biased reporting instances in the past. I have cited this example only because it appeared in today's edition.

Ironically, The Telegraph remains one of my favourite newspaper because of the language, coverage of North East, thoughts regarding different issues and the richness of content. Much as I admire these qualities and the role it played in shaping my thoughts, I cannot ignore the harm it is causing by amplifying the situation regarding Bodoland, kamatapur etc. beyond proportion. Now, stung by revolt in their own backyard - Gorkhaland - it should know and realize the wisdom in the saying: as you sow, so shall you reap.

This blog should think of ways to articulate these concerns and highlight them to the masses and think of strategies to counter them.

As one of the greatest artist and cultural communicators of this and the last century, Bhupen Hazarika sings in one of his many "milonor geets" (songs of unity):

"Bived anibokhuja xokotik korimei sirodinoloi nixex...
...ei moha milonor protigya bhongar xotorur kolija naai "
Joi Aai Oxom,
A loyalist and a wellwisher.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Lets not give corruption a chance by dividing the state of Assam.

It is a question that is blatant in my mind, especially after the much publicized Rs. 1000 crores NC Hills scam. Is money the reason for the powerful leaders to demand for new states to get direct access to government budgets?

I remember getting disturbed over the alleged Rs. 100 crores LOC scam involving the veterinary department during Mr. Prafulla Kumar Mahanta government. But the NC Hills scam is 10 times bigger, and is involving multiple departments.

From one of the statements of the then AGP president Chandra Mohan Patowary, it may be true that the scam would be several times higher than Rs. 1000 crores. He had said that the CAG audit had covered financial transactions of only eight departments of the council — PHC, agriculture, forest, social welfare, PWD, education, medical and police from 2007-08 to June 12, 2009. During that period, the government gave Rs. 272,64,23,000 as excess funds without any budget (documents were not disclosed to the CAG). The scam could be much bigger if the financial transactions of all the 30 departments under the NC Hills autonomous council are audited.

There is another way to look at this matter. Getting excess funds above the budgetary limits can prove a boon to the society if the leaders utilize those funds for the welfare of the citizens. Have we seen any significant social, economic and infrastructure development in Dima Hasao districts in the period of the scam. The answer is sadly no.

The conscious people of Dima Hasao had welcomed the team from the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) with the hope that they would be able to punish the corrupt people who have gobbled up funds meant for the poor people of the district.

We appeal to this set of conscious people that breaking the state of Assam into smaller states will only increase these incidences of corruption. Accountability and citizen activism takes a long time to build in a society. United Assam has an established opposition, citizen bodies and leaders like Akhil Gogoi who help in keeping the ruling government in check. We need to build on that and create a better united Assam not only for the balance growth of the state, but also to negotiate and demand better cooperation from the Central government. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Newer states will make us weaker in the Parliament.

When I was growing up, one of the main political cribs of the Assamese people against the Central Government and the Parliament was that we don't have enough representation in the Lok Sabha, like the other states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar etc.

It seems Assamese people have forgotten this crib.

We are getting myopic and fighting among each other demanding separation and formation of newer states, further lowering our representation in the parliament.

It is very important to understand that the definition of a state is very critical for the political parties to win the general elections as well as to run the parliamentary democracy. The reason and timing of the Telangana decision is political opportunism. The number of Congress MPs and allies elected from Andhra Pradesh had played a crucial role in the formation of both the UPA 1 and UPA 2 governments. This Telangana move was necessary because of the untimely death of chief minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy which has led to the disintegration of the Congress party in the state. Congress can now have a guarantee of 17 seats because of this decision.

Newer smaller states only help the centre and the bigger states. It weakens the strength of Indian Federal structure and promotes a shift towards a unitary state structure. When 42 MPs from Andhra Pradesh or 80 from Uttar Pradesh stand up to demand their rightful share in Parliament, few can ignore them.

Assam, for long, has been dependent on the ‘mercy’ of the Central government. Assam has 14 Lok Sabha seats only as compared to 40 seats of Bihar, 28 seats of Jharkhand, 80 seats of Uttar Pradesh and 42 seats of West Bengal. (Data Source: Wikipedia).

It is not without reason that AGP had a tough time doing business with the Central government. Even state Congress finds it difficult to garner enough support within the party from outside of Assam to take forward any cause for Assam. Ultimately they have to resort to the safest bet of sycophancy and 'pleasing the dynasty' strategy.

With Centre becoming more powerful, it will have an immediate impact on the tax revenue share between the Centre and the state governments. Currently, as per latest Finance Commission recommendations, states get 32 per cent of its tax revenue, valid till 2015.

It is imperative therefore that all the communities and tribes of Assam solve our problems and angst by coming to a common discussion table. We give some, take some and come to a point of understanding, and get ready to fight for larger wholesome benefits with the Central Government.

Believe me, that Indian political system is too smart for our own good. With smaller states, Assam and North-east as a whole will only lose in the political bargain.

Lets fight for an united Assam. Joi Ai Axom.

Monday, August 5, 2013

The High & Mighty play Politics of Central Funds.

It was in the news recently that one of the parliamentary committee on home affairs censured the Assam Government for its inability to release central funds meant for the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC).

The committee had taken a serious view of this and noted that in a federal set up like India, the Central Government sanctions funds for an autonomous council through the state government, but the state government 'has no business to retain the fund without releasing for a longer period'. The panel had suggested the Union Home Ministry to held up future release of fund to the state government. The panel had even suggested the union ministry to explore possibilities for direct funding to the developmental schemes in BTC.

It was quite shameful for Assam Government to receive such a warning, to ensure that 'such thing does not recur in future'. On the face of it, this speaks of inefficiency and total lack of accountability and control over finances of the Tarun Gogoi government. If we go deeper, it seems politics at the state level is all about mobilizing central funds.

As per Memorandum of Settlement (MoS) signed between New Delhi and Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT) in 2003, the Centre had agreed to provide financial assistance of Rs. 100 crores per annum for 5 years for projects to develop the socio economic infrastructure in Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) areas. Additionally, the Centre had announced a fresh tranche of Rs. 250 crores as assistance for the integrated development of the BTC area against which outlays of Rs. 50 crores each was made in 2009-10, 2010-11 and 2011-12. Rs. 50 crores was retained for 2012-13 as well, but was later reduced to Rs. 35 crores in the revised estimate. The current budget estimate of 2013-14 for the scheme stands enhanced to Rs. 60 crores from Rs. 50 crores in 2012-13.

Out of around Rs. 750 crores, Assam Government is only able to give utilization certificates for only Rs. 406 crores till the news was published. If we look at budget utilization, Assam Government has historically faltered in terms of utilization, irrespective of whether the funds were meant for Assam, BTL or Karbi Anglong. It is not that Assam was partial to Bodoland / BTC, and funds meant for BTC were only inefficiently handled.

There seems to be a political reason why this particular instance was highlighted to a central government committee. It is important for the BTC leadership to get direct access to these central funds. If Bodoland becomes a state, these assistance(s) worth hundreds of crores will directly be released to the new state government for sanction and utilization. The political leadership of Bodoland will get direct access to central funds without any political interference from the Assam Legislative Assembly. It is therefore obvious that the demand for Bodoland will be supported and fostered by the current leadership of BTC.

In the North-east, it is extremely easy to garner emotional support for identity related causes. If given a chance, the North-east of India can have over 50 cultural distinct states. Secondly, it is also easy to get volunteers for public demonstrations in a place where there are large scale un-employment, and when the state of the economy is generally poor in terms of absolute economic activity.

It is pertinent therefore that the Central Government institutes a 'State Re-organisation Committee' to rightfully understand the democratic voice and aspirations of the common public. What is it that extra privilege that the citizens expect to get if they become a new state? Is it not possible to get that extra privilege in the current autonomous council set up?

It is my humble appeal to all my Bodo, Karbi, Koch-Rajbongshi brothers and sisters that they try to understand the real need for a new state. Do they really need a new state, and separate from Assam?

Dividing Assam is the easiest thing to do, given that we are a diverse set of tribes and communities. It is the easiest for the the high and mighty forces, both inside and outside the state, to exploit us if we are divided.

It is only when we are united, we stand to gain in the long run.

Joi Ai Axom.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

National News about Assam

There was a small media research done by a bright journalism student in Mumbai. The research was to study portrayal of Assam in the national media. It was clearly observed that 99% of the news items about Assam released or published in national media were negative.

It is no wonder that when I first came to Mumbai, people asked me if I eat dogs. The most common question was 'Is it safe?'.

It is not a surprise because all the news that reached the Indian population till date had spoken about terrorism, bomb blasts and kidnapping of non-Assamese citizens working in Government and private companies.

Today, we are giving the national news business a fun time by fighting among ourselves. The emotion behind asking for separate states, has no meaning to the rest of India. It is just an irritation for the police, bureaucracy and the political system of India. We are letting ourselves to be discussed in a bad light, with no long term benefit to Assam and the larger Assamese life.

Read the negative national news that were read in wide scale...

Four statehood demands lead to large-scale violence in Assam.
Click here to read news

Assam: Violence for separate Karbi Anglong continues, curfew reimposed
Click here to read news

If you search 'Assam' in the world's largest search engine, the following page is shown. We have to ask ourselves if Assam deserves such kind of media prominence.

The point of the argument is simple. We need not wash our dirty linen in public. We have to discuss our problems between brothers and sisters and arrive at some conclusions. Either we decide to separately stay like amicable neighbors or decide to demand the needs that are not met strongly staying in the same family.

There are enough and more ways to democratically and diplomatically discuss opinions and take public opinions on matters that are significant to the different communities staying in Assam.

In the current political context, there are provisions for reservation, the sixth schedule, 'Cultural and Educational Rights' as one of the Fundamental Right documented in the Indian constitution. There would be many more such provisions which can solve internal civil disputes.

The demand for a separate state is an extreme step that breaks the very back-bone of the state of Assam. It has long term ramifications in terms of economy, society, culture, education and brotherhood that are beyond the comprehension of our limited minds, and of the people coming to the streets demanding separate states.

We have to grow, develop and prosper as one entity. We have to fight together with all the external forces that comes in the way of development and welfare of the people.

Joi Ai Axom.

Amaar Gaaonr Goxai Jon...

There are reasons why I think differently from the older generations about many things.. it just doesn't mean that I would break ties with them.

Here is a story that I had read in Assamese, and I am translating it in first person. This story signifies a fact that is a universal social truth.

From my childhood, I have been asking questions. Specially when it concerns religion. It was stark to me how religion was becoming a business and an excuse for discriminating the middle class, the less literate and the God fearing citizens of the Assamese society.

Any society is susceptible to differences, as there are differences of opinions in almost every topic. Religion somehow tops the list. We had a 'Naamghar' in our village and even that small 'Naamghar' had two factions: 'Goxai' party and 'Dangoria' Party. One side of the 'Naamghar' was maintained by one of the parties. The other party will not even bat an eyelid if the whole roof of the other party falls down. They fight shamelessly over smallest of matters.

My father was a bit old generation. He used to have extreme faith on one 'Goxai' - a disciple of some guru called Aniruddha Dev. Everybody in the village used to give all their best produce to this 'Goxai'. They used to even share a part of their salaries with this 'Goxai'. So 'Goxai' would have the best rice, the best Jack-fruit, the best Bananas and the best vegetables. It was rumored that he had a list of all the salaried people in and around the village. If there is a 'Xokaam' being planned in the 'Goxai's' house, he would send a special message to all his followers for contribution and participation. Interestingly, everybody would respond to his demand, with whatever they can manage.

I had no such problem with this practice, apart from a bit of anger. What bothered me was the fact that the 'Goxai' would never interfere and solve the problems of the village. He only took from the village. He never contributed to the society in terms of a responsible citizen who is learned, educated and perhaps has more pragmatic logic than the rest of the villagers. 

So I used to argue with my father and try to understand his arguments. The 'Goxai' was one of the richest in the village, then why does he accept and even demand for such help and donations from the poor villagers, when he is least bothered about the welfare of the village and the villagers. Sadly, there were no counter arguments. It was just an irrational belief.

Once my father gave me a 'Xorai' with a bunch of bananas and a few 10 rupee notes, to go and give it to the 'Goxai'. I could understand that it was a lot of money for my family in those times, but my father was adamant to give it to the 'Goxai'. I started walking towards the 'Goxai's' only RCC building in the village.

As I was passing through one of my friend, Manikanta's house, I got compelled to give the money to his mother. I just went into his house and gave his mother the money. Manikanta's family was the one of the poorest families in the village. Their thatched roof used to leak in the monsoons. His father was sick and therefore has not been going out to work in the fields. They badly needed money for his hospital treatment. Manikanta's mother, 'Khuri' had gone to the 'Goxai's' house to ask for some money. But as expected he had refused.

That evening I had the worst argument with my father. My Ma, however supported me and that saved me from at least a few slaps. She understood me.

A few years later, I had gone to Guwahati with Manikanta. My father had mentioned that 'Goxai's' elder son is studying there, and we should visit him if possible. The night I visited him was the last night I ever respected another religious figure. The son of the 'Goxai' was pissed drunk in foreign liquor, wearing the best of branded jeans and full-tshirt. I realised that 'Goxai' was taking the best of the best from the poor villagers and spending on his son's luxury in Guwahati.

I was troubled for quite a few days after reading this story. There was no solution to this kind of menace. Perhaps every village, every community, every tribe has these kinds of menace in some form or the other. You can't get away from these kinds of people in the society. There is no point in having two factions: the 'Goxai' faction with all the 'Goxais' and their followers, and the common people fighting against them instead of working for a respectable living. Such fights would weaken the village and make them susceptible to outside pressures of other societies, or villages.

For a larger goal and long term benefits, the village had to live in unity, learn to accept the differences and find one's own comfort zone doing the best that one can do for the society.

Similarly, the Assamese people in Assam have to live in unity. There will be millions of differences and rationale to fight among each other, every community demanding for different states and political entities. The British conquered India and ruled Indians for 200 years because we were divided. The Burmese plundered Assam because we were not united. The current political scenarios is taking advantage and dividing us into believing that a separate state is the solution of great significance. We should discuss about the benefits that all the new states formed in the past 10 years have had in the current political situation of India and Assam.

Assam need not go back in time, into a politics of tens of princely states and regions. Srimanta Sankaradeva would never liked these divisions. King Sukapha, Bir Lachit Barphukan, Kalaguru Bishnuprasad Rabha, Rup Konwar Jyotiprasad Agarwalla, Kalicharan Brahma, Rongbong Terang, Bhupen Hazarika and all those great minds would have never wanted a divided Assam.

It is better to let the 'Goxai' live for the larger unity and benefit of the Assamese people.

Joi Ai Axom.