8 September 1926 - 16:37 IST, November 5th, 2011 ; 

The Rediff Interview: Bhupen Hazarika

October 21, 2005 – 11:28 am

‘The negligence has been so long that people have lost all faith’

It is believed that neglect is the reason for the prevailing insurgency. What is the primary reason for this neglect?

It is due to the lack of leadership from the North-East. Those who got power have not utilised it properly. It was a colonisation principal. I understand in those good good days, traders from the North-East used to buy MPs in order to prevent them from improving communication. They ensured that there was always some bottleneck.

So even the people of Assam are responsible…

Yes. They have not improved their agriculture patterns. They work on paddy fields for six months and sit for the next six months. The people who have come from outside like Nepal, Bangladesh for various reasons are very poor, but are good agriculturists. They are also living and are not exploiting. But our peasants, maybe because the food and happiness that they needed came by in those days have not done enough and are almost on the streets. So I blame the lack of leadership and punishable negligence by the traders and the MPs.

What do the Assamese think of the rest of India? Are they resentful about states closer to New Delhi?

The Assamese have always been very friendly. When so many millions came from Bangladesh they were friendly, in 1938-39 they gave the back side of their badi (home) to them. There was only a linguistic problem in 1960 when the question of a state language arose. But when English, Bengali and Assamese were recognised things were solved.

It is not that the Assamese are anti-Bengali or anti-Muslim. They consider Calcutta as their cultural capital. When the East India Company refused to recognise Assamese then Bengali was the widely used language. The Bengalis helped in gaining recognition for the Assamese language. At Guwahati university you can study Bengali and also do a doctorate in the Bengali language. Now anger and hunger are the main problems.

Do you think the Union government has let Assam and the North-East languish too long? Do you think the situation is beyond repair?

I think so. There is an invitation for a dialogue. They say now we’ll talk. Someone comes, some don’t. So now everybody is cynical about what will happen. The negligence has been so long that they have all lost faith. Intellectuals are also playing armchair politics.

Recently there was a mother’s conference presided by Mrs Gopinath Bordoli. The mothers appealed to the angry young men to return. They said you were our children, we helped you when you wanted to pick the gun but now we feel we are in darkness. They asked them to come back, meet together, democratically win an election and rule. That’s an ordinary mother’s request. To me, it is meaningful.

Taking Punjab as an example, it is a general perception that insurgency can be contained through a strategic and violent counter- insurgency action. Do you think this could be applicable in Assam as well?

No it is not working. They have had the Unified Command, but it is not working. Take the Sanjay Ghose abduction. I received a tearful phone call from his mother and sent an appeal for his release. One report said he had drowned, the next said he was alive and safe. I read in an Assamese newspaper which has close relations with the angry boys, that this was done by the army. The editor said the ULFA never sent faxes in good English, they always use Assamese.

The people also believe that this kind of an armed movement will not solve this problem and a political solution is needed. What do you think the government of India should do to resolve this problem politically?

I was happy to read in a newspaper that four ULFA boys were brought to Delhi. They are not very big leaders but it shows an effort towards discussion. They have not lost faith in discussion yet. ULFA wants it done under the aegis of the United Nations, which is quite a tall order — the three of them. Like the Nagaland boys they should come from wherever they are without their guns and discuss. There should be a completely political situation or a little change of heart should take place…

A little change of heart from the government’s side?

No from both sides. From the militants’ side also. Little humanism has to come, specially from the boys. Time is passing away…

Due you think the Unified Command would have been more incisive and less prone to liberties if Prafulla Kumar Mahanta headed the Command? Like Farooq Abdullah in Kashmir, why is it not headed by Mahanta in Assam?

It requires courage from the chief minister. Farooq has the courage. Perhaps Mahanta should have done the same.

Will the Unified Command get another extension in the state?

If things continue like this then perhaps it will. I don’t think the majority want the Unified Command. I think the Command also knows this.

What are the reasons for the people’s dissatisfaction with the state government?

They are not getting whatever they expected. The government came into office with a lot of promises, but people are not happy with what their elected leaders are doing.

Apart from reducing the army’s presence in the state, what else do the people want from the Asom Gana Parishad government?

Immediate socioeconomic growth… the Ashoka mill is shut, open it in seven days — it needs actions like this. The Brahmaputra project was supposed to give electricity, there’s no light yet. One tribal once told me, “Dada you know why they’re not giving us electricity? Nehru also never gave it, Prafulla Mahanta also won’t. You know why? Because we are tribals.” So people are losing faith minute by minute.

If only they could all meet and arrive at a decision. It is my dream that ULFA, the Bodos — each one of them chose two-two people and made one beautiful political party, where they make an electrician the minister of power etc. But I think it is too ridiculous an idea.

What is the Assamese people’s attitude towards the insurgents?

It is a mixed response. Formerly, in the Robin Hood time, they were darlings. They built embankments, gave electricity to the Nagaland border, Assam villages etc but gradually people have become tired.

Have you ever thought of making a film on the Assam problem?

Yes, I want to, but let’s see whether I can do it before my death. I was inspired by a short story by Sunil Gangopadhyay. It is a the story of two extremists who kidnap an engineer.

Star TV is shortly going to air Dawn,a serial made by you. What is the serial about?

Its a love story between 1940 and 1947. It is fictional, but conveys political information like the sacrifices made by the people of North-East during the freedom struggle. They too were a part of the movement.

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