Till a few years ago, many leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party often used to claim that theirs was a party with a difference. Although the tagline still remains on the official website of the party, leaders nowadays don’t underscore that fact very frequently and emphatically due to several factors. In the run-up to the 2014 parliamentary elections, BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi did not leave any stone unturned to denounce the Nehru-Gandhi family mainly for its unrestrained propensity to name any important government scheme or monument after someone from the ‘first family’ of the Congress party.
Being a powerful speaker, Modi’s highly rhetorical campaign speeches laced with wry humour and earthy sarcasm quickly caught the fancy of a huge section of the people of the country. Many of them despite not belonging to the traditional support bases of BJP voted the party to power with a hope not to see the repetition of the same policy of naming everything after one family or one person, unabashedly promoted by the Congress. To be fair, at the Central government level, BJP is still no match for Congress of yesteryears in respect of their desire to perpetuate the names of their icons and ideologues. But unfortunately, they seem to be catching up fast.
The recent decision of the BJP led coalition government in Assam to name five newly established colleges after Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya has raised the hackles of the majority of the people including many in the party itself. On top of this, state education minister Himanta Biswa Sarma announced that another seven colleges, proposed to be set up in the state in the next few years would also be named after Deendayal Upadhyaya. Any objective observer of the Assamese society from outside would possibly agree that the Assamese people are by and large sober, gentle and respectful to others. But if their patience and initial reticence are considered as weaknesses, they tend to get swayed by a profound identity-centric emotion, which can easily transform an inchoate sense of disgruntlement to a concrete form of agitation on the streets in no time.
Sarma due to his past association with the powerful student body of Assam – All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) knows that sentiment of the people very well. Therefore the question on many lips in Assam today is plain and simple - is there any other motive behind this decision of the government? As an astute politician, Sarma is aware that once such decision involving the name of Deendayal Upadhyaya is taken, it would be well-nigh impossible for anyone to overturn it as reversal would not be taken very lightly by the high command of the party.
Many political analysts are of the view that the present decision of the government has put Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal in a quandary. He was the president of AASU for several years. As a leader in Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), he took some pain in getting the Illegal Migrants’ Determination Tribunal (IMDT) Act scrapped by the Supreme Court in the year 2005. Following the scrapping of the discriminatory act, Sonowal was given an epithet of Jatiyo Nayak (Hero of the Nation) in Assam. The fact that he still retains a substantial portion of his earlier popular image and charisma is possibly not liked by some leaders in the party. The current decision to name all colleges after Deendayal Upadhyaya, according to many analysts, might have emanated from their desire to politically embarrass Sonowal. Some of them have also stated that Sarma may not want to embarrass the chief minister at this moment, but he definitely wants to further strengthen his position before the RSS and BJP high command. However, in absence of any clinching evidence, it can be termed as perception only. But everyone knows popular perception in Assam (either favourable or unfavourable) and Sarma are two inseparable companions. Sarma himself is aware of this inescapable reality of Assam politics.
In addition to AASU, AJYCP (Asom Jatiyotabadi Yuba Chatra Parishad) and Akhil Gogoi-led Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), three extremely powerful organisations of Assam, many leading intellectuals of the state including noted writer and journalist Homen Borgohain and well-known scholar Nagen Saikia have opposed the decision of the government. Their argument is unambiguous. Had the government named one or two colleges after the Hindutva ideologue, people would not have raised such a hue and cry.
Borgohain, the chief editor of leading Assamese daily Niyomiya Barta warned the government of the danger of such a decision in his article dated 9 August. He writes, "Had they named one college after Deendayal Upadhyaya, people would have accepted it as a genuine expression of excitement after unseating the Congress and grabbing power for the first time in Assam. But the decision to name all colleges after one man contains the seeds of its own destruction." Saikia, despite being somewhat less scathing than Borgohain has also categorically opposed such move.
Both AASU and AJYCP have threatened that they would not allow this decision to get translated into reality as Assam is full of many great men and women who have virtually remained unsung because of the continuous apathy of the successive governments. In one of the recent television talk shows on the popular Assamese News Channel – Protidin Time – AASU president Dipankar Nath while responding to a specific query by the anchor and the editor-in-chief Nitumoni Saikia stated that government’s decision instead of showing respect to Deendayal Upadhyaya has, in fact, denigrated him by unnecessarily dragging his name into an indecorous controversy.
Till a few days ago, many Assamese like their fellow countrymen on the other side of the chicken's neck were clueless about the ideology and principles of Deendayal Upadhyaya. Paradoxically the state government’s misplaced sense of enthusiasm to perpetuate his legacy in a manner which was earlier perfected by Congress seems to have accomplished very little in demystifying the man and his ideology. But it has done a lot in trivialising his credentials and diluting his contributions.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets @mayurbora07.
Updated Date: Aug 11, 2017 16:59 PM