Frontier politics: On identity issues in Assam polls

Identity issues have taken centrestage in the Assembly election in Assam

Regional variations in political trends are sharp, and the BJP’s attempt is to construct a Hindu identity that subsumes ethnic and linguistic ones. Mr. Sarma has been targeting Muslims in his rhetoric. The CAA, along with the National Register of Citizens, got the religious fault line intertwined with the ethnic one, denying the BJP any clear advantage. The fear of illegal migrants overrunning indigenous populations has been a perennial issue; but this time, the focus has shifted from migrant “Bangladeshi” Muslims to “Bangladeshi” Hindus, whose side the BJP sought to take through the new citizenship regime. The party is now trying to underplay the CAA as an electoral issue, but the other two alliances are trying to keep the focus on it, and put the BJP on the back foot among the indigenous population. The issue is also a red flag for a majority of Muslims, who constitute 34% of Assam’s population. The BJP has been trying to mobilise sentiments around the encroachment by ‘Bangladeshis’ of forests and swathes of land belonging to Vaishnav monasteries. Floods that wash away farmland and dwelling areas, and the distress among plantation workers — a voting block, particularly in 45 seats in eastern and southern Assam — are also campaign issues. Sadly, such material questions are only secondary in a campaign overwhelmed by identity issues.

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