I just happened on an article published in Raiot a couple of weeks ago titled ‘Axomiya Nationalism is Dead’. Once, Prof. Sanjoy Hazarika had told me an anecdote from his young days as a journalist during the eighties. Prafulla Kr Mahanta and others had just taken office and ‘Bodofa’ Upen Brahma, along with other tribal leaders, had gone to meet their comrade-turned-minister friends. They were in, though, for an indecorous whammy, by being kept waiting for hours before they could see the new office bearers. Emerging, Brahma prognosticated a future where never again will any tribal community and leader believe the caste-Hindu Assamese politics and politicians. One can of course read similar but more couth and cultivated statements by him, Karbi leader Jayanta Rongpi and others in the newspapers of nineteen eighty-five and eighty-six. If consolidation of Axomiya nationalism started in the 1880s, it reached its high noon in the 1980s, only to see a steep nosedive post the movement. But it was anything but unforeseen. The assertion of the different tribes and sections of people in face of the caste-Hindu Assamese hegemony is as old, and after every time these sides came together on common grounds like in 1947 and 1985, the disenchantment post that has gone only acuter and immutable.
Axomiya Nationalism is dead precisely because it was ‘Axomiya’. From its genesis in the fight for the status of the Assamese language confronted by Bengali in the 1830s and the memoranda to Moffat Mills by Anandaram Dhekiyal Phukan and Maniram Dewan among others – if not in Xankardeb’s efforts of democratizing knowledge by bringing different castes and tribes under the Vaishanavite umbrella – it has been a nationalism which is watertightly linguistic and almost equally staunchly caste-Hindu. Lex talionis followed towards the second and the third decades of the nineteenth century, with the formation of not only independent Koch Rajbongshi, Bodo Kachari and Sutia organizations but also umbrella organizations like the Tribal League to counteract the dominant Assamese middle-class. The nescience and lordliness of the Assamese, for Sanjib Baruah, is an “inevitable consequence of the very logic of language-based subnationalisms and the cultural grammar of the nation-province in India”. The smug, supercilious superiority of language also subsumed under it the varieties of Assamese spoken in the not-so-opulent sides of the state since standard or national languages are anyway always maintained by dominant bloc institutions from the upper middle class of the upper caste of the upper-rank-holding places with natural and (post)colonially intellectual resources, in the case of Assam, upper Assam. The nationalistic process of false consciousness and absorption succeeded to the degree that Goalporia and Kamrupi became permanently puerile.
Most political commentators and scholars by now do agree (or concede) that the All Assam Students’ Union and Axom Xahitya Xabha, two of the most prominent corps of Axomiya subnationalism, are inherently stiff-neckedly Axomiya, despite saying Assam/Axom in their names instead of Axomiya. So has always been the Axom Gana Parixod, or the AGP, that came out of the All Assam Students’ Union and the Assam Movement anyway. Pronounced and interesting debates exist, though, about the nature of nationalism espoused and endorsed by the United Liberation Front of Assam, or the ULFA. Many like Udayon Misra and Kaustubh Deka argue that ULFA’s approach was more inclusive and catch-all, but that All Bodo Students’ Union would in 1987 demand protection from ULFA’s ‘political assassination and determinism’ and call it an ethnic Assamese organization shows its limited appeal among the tribes and other indigenous peoples of the place. Also, ULFA’s insular and parochial emphasis on the ideal, historical Ahom Assam as an exemplum and parable straight from the Gospels did not hold attention and euphoria for long. And it lost relevance just like the other ethnic Assamese groups.
But, as the article rightly suggests, Assam is as yet not a home to Bharat Mata Jai wholly and if in parts it is, it is because of the chanters’ sense of painful vacuum, of an upsetting nihility. Reading any newspaper in Assam after every election where AGP fails miserably, be it the 2011 Assembly Elections or the 2013 Guwahati Municipal Corporation Elections or the 2014 Lok Sabha in recent times, would show people venting out their disdain and disheartenment with the regionalist party, how they wish they could vote for it. We want to vote for an inclusive and sensitive brand of subnationalism of the people of multiethnic and polyphonic Assam but nobody represents this, write voters and columnists.
That is why, it is great news indeed that Axomiya nationalism is dead. It is dead for a good reason. The sooner this cultural and hegemonic Leviathan is irrevocably obliterated beyond recall, the better. Before the monster of religious fundamentalism and Hindi-Hindu upper India misogynist nationalism completely mops up the historically heterogeneous state, a regionalist politics of the people(s) of Assam, as distinct from, if not in a showdown with, borderland-hating Indian nationalism, will manifest itself. Sooner rather than later. The demise of Axomiya nationalism has just laid the ground for it. The Axomiya pride is rightly rendered impertinent and dead as a daddy, but not as a member of the family of Pride of Assam.