It all started with Bodo and Bengali Muslim violent clashes in lower Assam. The animosity is not new, ethnic conflicts in the region and the question on the alleged presence of a large number of illegal Bangladeshi Muslims (referred to as the Assam problem, ) has been discussed for decades but no action has ever been taken. The clash between Bodos and Bengali Muslims over land and resources is neither new nor much different from other ethnic clashes going on in many parts of the world and North-Eastern India in particular. Long ignored by the central government,the region has been breeding ground of insurgency and armed conflict between different tribal groups,Nagas, Kukis,Meiteis and several smaller groups. Nearly each of these seven states have at least one militant group demading each demanding its share of pie. And in conflicts like these,it is difficult to distinguish friend from foe.
While Bodo claim of illegal Bangladeshi refugees usurping their land may find support from other Assamese groups it is a fact that Bodos could not identify themselves with Assamese and launched armed insurrection to carve a state of their own,some even demanding sovereignity. ULFA,which attacked Hindi-speaking population, killing more than 60 peole of Bihari origin in the valley has been accused by the Indian government of having ties with Pakistan's ISI but more interestingly getting support from Bangladesh. In fact it has been alleged that in return for arms and asylum provided by the then Bangladeshi regime, the ULFA helped smuggle in Bangladeshi refugees and got them settled in Assam.
What I am trying to convey is that the present conflict in Assam is a local issue and not a communal flare up that could spread to rest of the country. However, mischief-makers have been relentlessly trying to exploit the situation [Update: Pakistan has been accused by Indian govt and I am actually buying that]. It first began with some mischievous elements, most likely from amongst the Muslim community tried to stir up emotion of Muslims from various parts of India by propagating unverified reports and ghastly images (later found to be forgeries or morphed images) of Muslims being massacred in certain parts of Assam. Mainstream media has reported on clashes between Bengali Muslims and Bodos which has left a lot of Muslims dead and several more displaced.If Muslims from other parts of India are concerned it is but natural.
Sympathy for one's co-religionist,especially the persecuted ones is a normal trait. When Indians in general (not just Hindus) show concern for Hindus persecuted in Pakistan or Sikhs killed in the US, it is an act of compassion, as it is unaccompanied with desire for revenge. Muslim's concern for the victims in Assam is justifiable on the same principle but unfortunately, there have been efforts to invoke the sentiment to intervene by presenting it as something similar to Gujarat 2002 riots. As a matter of fact,political leaders, Muslims and non-Muslims have voiced their concern to central and state governments, which is the only recourse open.
The first incidence was the protest rally in Mumbai which turned into a riot and desecration of Amar Jyoti Jawan which in my opinion amounts to attack on the nation. The Raza Academy has apologized and alleged that the rioters were outsiders. While the rally was justifiable technically, I don't see any reasonableness in taking to the streets without first visiting the region where the violence was taking place and verifying if a genocide was indeed underway. And even if they found the Assam government conniving with murderers (again as in Gujarat 2002 riots ), it could appeal to the public and government of India and at the same time help the displaced people with food,medicines and basic amenities. But by then another vicious campaign had begun, with students and professionals living in metros being sent anonymous threat messages, implying retaliatory violence.
As the panic spread and people from the North East began to flee cities, the Hindu Right, not wanting be left out started its own misinformation campaign,alleging attacks on people from North East. All affected states miserably failed to instill confidence in the people that it could protect them. I find it absolutely incredulous that while its child party the BJP was in power in Karnataka, the RSS offered security by lending out its cadre members as if to mock Karnataka police. All it managed to do was escalate the conflict to a wider area but thankfully it failed to achieve its objective, polarizing the entire population on the basis of the communal divide. However, I am most disappointed by Muslim leadership, barring a few, Muslim leaders were not as vocal as could be expected of them in such a fragile issue. All it required was a voice of sanity. If threatening Bodo students in Bangalore should have been seen as detrimental to national integrity, hostility towards other Arunachalis,Garos,Khasis, Mizos, Nagas, Manipuris and every person with a particular facial feature was just freaking insane !
It is essential that Muslim leaders come forward and explain to the people this simple fact. Of course it could also be taken by detractors as tacit approval for retaliation against Bodos but it could be dealt with once the threat against other people from North East had subsided. The miscreants might ignore the words but the passive segment could well understand it and fortunately this segment comprises almost the entire Indian Muslim population. Proactive elements within the community constitute a minuscule part of the population, but thrive by exploiting the passive majority. Most likely, it is the fear of speaking against the prevalent but artificially constructed mood of the community members, that dissuaded them. In that case, leaders should well remember that it is their responsibility to lead the people and not be lead by the masses. If they lack courage to speak their mind and wisdom to make the masses see the truth, they should let someone else possessing these attributes take up the leadership and themselves become part of the following mass.
It is unfortunate that in this particular issue, everyone involved failed, starting from state governments to central government, the opposition parties and community leaders. In a manner it reflects the paradox Indian politics is becoming. In the 66th year our independence,if we assess, our multi-party parliamentary democracy has grown truly robust,the polity seems to be heading very slowly towards federalism, the growing clout of regional parties indicate it. However, in the quest of political power, our political leaders pay scant respect to the fact they demolishing our national identity too. It is the string that keeps communities,tribes and states together in the federation
But neither of this are/or will be accomplishments until we have properly developed our national identity.