Guwahati: On the campaign trail in Assam, the Congress and the BJP are rewriting history, literally.
From Jawaharlal Nehru to Kanhaiya Kumar, Mughals to Ahom rulers of Assam, an entire pantheon of characters has been thrown into the Assam narrative to turn it into competing, and sometimes embarrassing, versions of the past.
BJP chief Amit Shah is campaigning vigorously in Assam. He lands at election rallies to the chants of Bharat Mata ki Jai and leaves to the slogans of Vande Mataram. The main theme of the BJP in this election is a Bangladeshi-mukt Assam. And, he is packaging the message with liberal doses of his brand of history.
"Jawaharlal Nehru wanted Assam to be included in 'D' category states after Independence. But Mahatma Gandhi and Gopinath Bordoloi (the state's first CM) intervened," Shah told his audience at a rally in Lakhimpur on Monday.
Enthused by the response to the Congress bashing, Shah came up with another Nehru story: "During the 1962 Sino-Indian war, when the Chinese forces advanced up to Bomdila in Arunachal Pradesh, Nehru said, 'goodbye Assam.'"
This came just a few days after Shah waxed eloquent on the bravado of Ahom king Sukaphaa and his valiant battle against the "Mughals."
"We all know that Assam is the land of the brave. It is the land where Sukapha defeated the Mughals 17 times and drove them away. The same land is now being allowed to become the abode of illegal Bangladeshi infiltrators by the Congress government," he told another set of audience past week.
Facts sometimes get sacrificed at the altar of a juicy slur.
When Shah talked about categorisation of states, he implied two things. One, Nehru wanted to relegate Assam to the D category. Two, D was the lowest category.
After Independence, 219 states with a population of about 19 million were merged with neighbouring British provinces and designated as category A states. Assam was one of them.
The categorisation had nothing to do preferential treatment. It was more about administrative convenience. Andaman and Nicobar were the only category D state.
Nehru never said goodbye to Assam. According to the Times of India, in his address to the nation on All India Radio on November 20, 1962, during the war with China, Nehru said, "Huge Chinese armies have been marching in the northern part of NEFA. We have had reverses at Walong, Se La and today Bomdila, a small town in NEFA, has also fallen. We shall not rest till the invader goes out of India or is pushed out. I want to make that clear to all of you, and, especially our countrymen in Assam, to whom our heart goes out at this moment."
Obviously, Nehru wasn't saying goodbye to Assam. He was empathising with the people of the state, standing in solidarity with them and promising to fight till the Chinese are pushed back. But the convenient spin helps Shah argue that the Congress has always undermined the interests of Assam.
That leaves us with Sukaphaa's alleged war against Mughals. If only Shah knew that Sukaphaa (reign 1228-1268) set up his kingdom more than 300 years before Mughals arrived in India, he may have not made the gaffe.
Shah may have been talking about the last Battle of Saraighat. The 1671 war on the banks of Brahmaputra in which Ahom general Lachit Borphukan defeated the Mughals led by Rajput king Ram Singh. It is considered the last battle by the Mughals to extend their empire into Assam.
The story of an Ahom leader demolishing Mughal invaders suits the BJP narrative in Assam in an election that is being fought primarily on the issue of Bangladeshi immigrants in Assam.
The BJP has pitched itself as a party that would stop the influx and drive out, like the Ahom warrior, Muslims who have entered the state illegally. Within the electorate, the Congress is seen on the wrong side of this debate for not only allowing the influx but also granting voting rights to Bangladeshis.
The Congress, meanwhile, is also finding eggs splashed over its face because of its eagerness to target its rivals by talking of past slights and scams, mostly imagined.
In December, chief minister Tarun Gogoi accused his former cabinet colleague Himanta Sarma Biswa, who is now the BJP strategist for the election, of being a beneficiary of Bengal's Saradha scam and Goa's Louis Berger bribery cases.
Biswa, who was once Gogoi's trusted lieutenant, took the CM to court for defamation. On Tuesday (March 29), a court in Guwahati restrained Gogoi from making any statement linking Sarma to the two cases.
After 15 years in power, facing a surge of anti-incumbency, Gogoi has very little to rely on in the election. His hope lies in mocking at Modi's pre-poll promises, accusing rivals like Biswa of being traitors, and hoping for the decline of AIUDF, whose rise has come at the cost of the Congress. As a last-gasp effort, the Congress is also trying to appropriate JNU student Kanhaiya Kumar as its own by putting him on hoardings and posters.
But, Gogoi's own history is turning out to be a handicap. The chief minister is an Ahom, a descendant of the warrior who drove Mughals out of Assam in the Battle of Saraighat.
"Had there been Borphukan's blood in Gogoi's veins, he would have by now thrown the illegal Bangladeshis out of Assam," Biswa thundered at a rally on Tuesday.
Gogoi is hoping the Ahoms will unite to keep him in power. But, if the BJP's ploy of being unworthy of his Ahom legacy and lineage succeed, Gogoi could himself become history after the election.