A Job is a Job is a Job …

The Union Ministry for Railways headed by Nitish Kumar could not, for example, have had just national interest in mind when it sent a few train loads of Biharis from Bihar to Assam. Not to a state, the capital of which alone has an estimated 1.5 lakh Biharis, who eke out a living as construction workers, rickshaw pullers, porters and the like, not the best of professions. Not when Tinsukia, Assam and the entire North-east's main mandi for all purposes, is dominated by lakhs of domiciled, third-generation Biharis many of whom form a part of the state's unemployed. Not when the state is estimated to have a population of 1.5 million Biharis. And not when the entire North-east, put together, would obviously have many, many more.

Not that one expects the "Indian" politician and the "national” press to agree that the leader in power at the Centre often creates jobs for people from his state--he has to, to save his own, in his constituency--what with, at least so far as the press is concerned, the Rs 4 crore or so that is at stake by way of revenue from the North East Frontier Railway (NEFR) itself, through tender and display advertisements. A large chunk of it goes to Delhi and other metro newspapers that, given the terrain and the transport, get from the capital to the interiors of a place such as Mizoram a day late, in this age; to papers which carry perhaps two stories on Mizoram every year, in its 'Capsule' column on the 'National' news page. Three such dailies now poach in the North-east, its perhaps easier to do so from Guwahati, having set up local editions that recycle North-east news for the north-eastern reader, and not so much for the policy maker in Delhi where they could have served as an essential sounding board. Given their national business priorities, it is perhaps not surprising that one should tie up with a group that has a high-ranking surrendered United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) leader as its features editor, and probably partner. There are, of course, national policies that prevent the NEFR from providing advertisements to the smaller, Assam, Mizoram, Nagaland or Sikkim newspaper that gets to the home of the unemployed Assamese, Mizo, Naga, Sikkimese and the third generation unemployed Bihari, in those states, on time, every morning.

Coming to the BJP in Assam, one perhaps also understands why, given its significant inroads into the state despite its brand of Hinduism as opposed to the views of the liberal Assamese Hindu, the party took days before making a statement on the issue. When it did, after being heckled by other parties and an aggressive local press, all that Rajen Gohain, MP and senior leader of the state unit of the BJP could say was, "Bihari goondar otopali xojjyo kora nohobo (the atrocities of the Bihari goonda will not me tolerated)." Employment in the state was not an issue. Union minister of state for water resources Bijoya Chakravarty, already battered by organisations such as the powerful All-Assam Students Union (AASU) for not being able to get the state's annual floods declared a national problem, had a slightly different, more tactful approach. "Moi tu Biharoloi goi lathi ghurabo nowaro," she said, after the first reports of violence against Assamese passengers in Bihar came in, "dorkaar hole resign deem." (I can't go to Bihar and beat up the hoodlums; if necessary I will resign). She, of course, didn't.

As a party that plans to enter an AGP- and then Congress-ruled Assam using a Hindutva banner that is projected, and quite successfully, as the only hope for the Assamese who is fast being edged out by the illegal Bangladeshi Muslim migrant, saying anything else would perhaps have gone against her Indian, Hindu image, and the political interests of a person who had started out with the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), switched to the breakaway Natun Asom Gana Parishad (NAGP), and then joined the BJP. The Bihari, no matter where he comes from, forms a part of the BJP's potential vote-bank in Assam. As perhaps does the Bangladeshi Chakma in Mizoram, that the local, Indian Mizo will oppose, but the BJP will hobknob with, for there is his "anti-national" church and Christian conversions to fight.

Just as Nitish Kumar has a job to do, and providing employment to the people of his state would be a large part of it, as Mamata Banerjee did, at the peril of being accused of being partial to her's when she held the portfolio, in allotting new trains to West Bengal, so perhaps do people such as Gohain and Chakravarty, only in their case they still don’t have the requisite political clout at home, and definitely not in Delhi to do so. (Political character or consistency is perhaps not even a consideration.) And thus cannot, obviously, be seen making statements that could be construed as being even remotely "anti-Indian".

Expectedly, it had to be the Congress, that stood up and took charge, having been denied the opportunity of expressing its Assamese jatiyotabadi (nationalism) for longer than one can remember, for its systematic support to the Bangladeshi settler. "100 per cent jobs have to be reserved for local boys," chief minister Tarun Gogoi thundered on television, referring to the 2,500 NEFR Grade IV jobs that sparked off a bloodbath involving dozens of innocent lives, not to mention perhaps the Indian women who were raped on Jamalpur's platforms. That too perhaps was important for a party that hardpressed to keep the Bangladeshi on its side, at a time when its ageold "Ali-Coolie" (Bangladeshi-tea-garden worker) combination that kept it going, growing weak, with the exploited coolie now more aware of his rights than ever before--the recent spate of trouble in the tea estates would be a case in point.

For the Assamese, branded anti-national by the Congress and much of the 'national' press ever since he spoke out against the Bangladeshi in India, Assam presumably being a part of it, Tarun Gogoi at least spoke. Prafulla Mahanta of the AGP simply couldn't, for reasons best known to him, (not to mention his truck with the Communists who opposed the Assam agitation that put him in power in the first place), and Hiteswar Saikia, being the dedicated Congressman that he was, was too national and thus didn't. As for an outfit such as the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), led by the likes of PA Sangma, and in Assam now by people such as Bhrigu Kumar Phukan, the one-time firebrand leader of the Assam Agitation, it probably shouldn't, at least in this case, not with a stand that all Bangladeshis who have come to Assam, till date, should be given Indian citizenship, because in Sangma's words "Assam has so far failed to do anything in the matter so far". (Where that issue is concerned, that would be a little worse than the stated stand of the Congress party for they had, albeit in remote history, signed an Assam Accord that had a cut-off 1971 for the deportation of Bangladeshis, though never to be implemented, and Mamata Banerjee who, being an Indian but Bengali like the Bangladeshi, believes that they should be given job permits, "on humanitarian grounds").

There are, of course, others who have a job to do as well: like the ULFA, that is at pains to convince the people of Assam that they are still with them, that their stay in Bangladesh is nothing more than a tactical move in a war, and that the statement of their chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa in the past, that there are no Bangladeshis in Assam, was only incidental, that they are still national enough to serve quit notices to the Hindi-speaking people in Assam, in this case Biharis, for the rest would be comparatively small in number. A proposition not as greatly saleable as it was in the past.

Which is where, how and why, most such issues in Assam in India's North-east are left to youth and student organisations such as the All Assam Jatiyatabadi Yuba Chatra Parishad (AJYCP) and the AASU, one that lost 856 of its students in the "anti-national" Assam Agitation, to decide, let down as they are by the seasoned elders of their state and their country. And which is why perhaps things go horribly wrong. But then again a job after all, is a job is a job is a job.

By Pranab Bora (newsfiledelhi@rediffmail.com)