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Language politics backfires on Assam CM
TIWN/ bdnews24
Language politics backfires on Assam CM
PHOTO : bdnews24

GUWAHATI, September 24 (TIWN / bdnews24): Gogoi recently decided to overturn a controversial circular, which was issued by his government on Nov 30, 2013, over the use of Assamese as the official language in the Barak Valley.

In the revised circular, the government reiterated use of Bengali as the official language of the Barak Valley triggering a massive outrage among the ethnic Assamese in the Brahmaputra valley.

 The top Assamese language daily ' Protidin' has called Gogoi a ' jatidrohi' (traitor).

This flip flop on the part of the government has also not gone down well with the Bengalis in Barak valley.

The “vote-bank politics” over the language issue failed to garner any support for the ruling Congress in the Barak Valley in the recently concluded by-election held for Silchar assembly seat from where the Congress had won the parliamentary seat few months ago.

BJP won the Silchar Assembly seat in the by-poll.

Analysts in Barak valley claimed that it was the government which rekindled the ‘language debate’ in the first place by issuing the 2013 circular.

They pointed out this circular was issued undermining a previous amendment to clause 5 of the Assam Official Language Act 1960.

That amendment in 1967 had clearly stated Assamese was the Official Language in the Brahmaputra Valley districts, Bengali in the Cachar district and English in the Autonomous Hill Districts.

That amendment had followed the furious agitation in the early 1960s by the Bengalis when 11 protestors including schoolgirl Kamala Bhattacharya were shot dead by Assam police on 19th May, 1961.

Tarun Gogoi government’s latest decision has reopened the “old wound.”

The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), in a strong-worded statement, asked the Congress-led state government to refrain from playing politics over language as it is an emotive issue.

AGP general secretary Ramendra Narayan Kalita said that it was the worst thing that could have happened under the leadership of Tarun Gogoi.

He said there was always been a conspiracy against the Assamese language and culture since the Congress government came to power in the state in 2001.

"The CM does not have any idea about the language movement or the Assam Agitation. His act dishonours all the martyrs who gave their lives for the language”.

On the other hand, AASU’s adviser Samujjal Bhattacharyya said such 'cheap politics' would harm the interests of the people of the state.

Talking to reporters, Bhattacharyya said, "Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has done so much harm to the state through this politics of language. We demand proper implementation of the Assam Official Language Act, 1960”.

Meanwhile, prominent writer Hiren Gohain in his columns in vernacular newspapers attacked the chief minister terming him as an “enemy of the people”.

Commenting on the media reports on this issue, a college student pointed out that Assamese must be the first government language across the length and breadth of the state.

He opined that the present circular, in absence of a clarification by the government within next few hours, should mean and be understood as ban on the Assamese language from government work in a few districts of southern Assam.

He said that it would snowball into a huge controversy and would result in bloodshed akin to what was witnessed during "Bhasa Aandolan" or Language Movement.

The Assam government came up with the amendment to pacify the Bengalis who were threatening to cut Barak valley away from Assam.

So, in a way what Gogoi has now done is to revalidate the 1967 amendment by allowing Bengali to continue as the official language of the Barak valley, which has a huge Bengali majority.

But the regional party Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the All Assam Student Union (AASU) and the intellectuals have strongly condemned the government’s move.

"Gogoi is trying to appease Bengalis by stamping anew an old circular while the Assamese intellectual and political class is needlessly making an issue out of it, as they always do. If we are pushed too much, we have to think about our future in Assam," says Pradip Dutta Ray, who led the successful movement for a separate central university in the Barak valley on grounds that Bengali students were persecuted in Brahmaputra valley by Asamese hardliners.

The BJP in Barak valley, where it has a strong base, is however silent, because it fears rekindled linguistic passions amongst Bengalis there may undermine its political base in the region.

The issue has taken the social media by storm, eliciting critical comments from both sides.

Taking a personal jibe at the chief minister, he added that Gogoi has seemingly lost his command over the Assamese language while talking to his British daughter-in law in recent months.

Gogoi’s son Gaurav Gogoi is married to a British national.

Bengali is used for administrative and other official purposes in Barak valley, which comprises three southern Assam districts of Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi.

Bengali speakers constitute the majority in these districts.

Although the language data for 2011 Census is yet to be made public, according to the language data for 2001, the percentage of Assamese speakers in Assam declined from 57.81 per cent recorded in the 1991 Census to 48.80 per cent in 2001.

On the other hand, percentage of Bengali speakers in the State increased from 21.67 per cent in 1991 to 27.54 per cent in 2001, which has become a great source of concern for the intelligentsia and the regional organizations of the state—both political and non-political.

But if a majority of the Muslims of East Bengali origin who adopted Assamese as their mother tongue and registered that during Census now change their mind after all the rioting and harassment they face on grounds of being illegal infiltrators from Bangladesh, the state's linguistic balance might change awkwardly.

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