Book: The last battle of Saraighat: The story of the BJP’s rise in the North-east
Authors: Rajat Sethi & Shubhrastha
Publisher: Penguin Viking
Price: Rs. 599
Election campaigns are in full swing in the three states of North-east India. The elections in the state of Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya are extremely important for BJP. The party has already made in-roads in North-east. It has become pro-active and more aggressive in its campaign since they won elections in Assam last year. Assam is the gateway to the North-east India.
“The last battle of Saraighat: The story of the BJP’s rise in the North-east” narrates how BJP won Assam elections of 2016 and made its presence in the North-east. It is important as it is written by insiders. The authors Rajat Sethi and Shubhrastha are political campaigners for the BJP in North-east, and not independent analysts or researchers. This fact must be kept in mind. BJP’s national General Secretary and North-east in-charge, Ram Madhav has written foreword. In five out of eight states of North-east, either BJP led government (Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh) or NDA government (Nagaland and Sikkim) is in power.
The title of the book is significant in the sense that the battle of Saraighat was fought in 1671 between the Ahoms of Assam and the Mughals. The Ahom army led by legendary General Lachit Borphukan, who defeated mighty Mughals at Saraighat, situated on the north bank of the Brahmaputra. The Mughal emperor Aurangzeb was represented by Rajput King Ram Singh in the battle. The battle of Saraighat is etched in the imagination of Assam.
The Assam election of 2016 was projected like the “last battle of Saraighat”. In the 17th century battle, Mughals (read Muslims) were defeated and so in the 2016 elections, BJP must win and the forces which “support” illegal migrants (read Bengali speaking Muslims) must be defeated, was scuttle message to the voters. The authors says, “Right from the beginning, BJP’s Assam campaigned was soaked in rich historical anecdotes. From resurrecting and venerating the historical icons of Assam like Sukaphaa, the first Ahom King, to Lachit Borphukan, the valiant Ahom General, the party ensured that it touched the emotional chord of people before even talking about politics and elections.”
The Assam election was important for BJP. The RSS was active in the region for a long time. The author duo writes, “In case of the Assam elections, the foundation for BJP’s stupendous win in the 2016 assembly elections was laid almost 3 decades ago, when the first seed of an alternative ideology was sown in the Brahmaputra valley.” Tarun Gogoi led Congress government was in power for last 15 years. BJP was primarily seen as a party of North India, North Indians and Hindus.
Though RSS was active in Assam for few decades, it was only in 2014 RSS appointed a local Assamese Basistha Bujarbaruah as the ‘prant pracharak’ of Assam. BJP was able to remove this image by getting various tribal communities like the bodos, rabhas, tiwas, mishings, sutiyas, motoks and morans together. They allied with Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and Bodoland Peoples’ Front (BPF), and collectively won 87 seats out of 126. The induction of Congress rebel Himanta Biswa Sarma in the party before elections helped BJP tremendously. Sarma is a popular leader, master strategist and has an excellent network in the North-east. He addressed around 200 rallies. Sarbananda Sonowal became the Chief Minister of Assam. He belonged to a socially weaker Sonowal Kachari tribe.
The BJP used the illegal immigration issue to its advantage in the election campaign. Since 1980s, the RSS classified Hindu migrants from Bangladesh as sharanarthis’ (asylum seekers) and Muslim migrants as ‘anupraveshkaaris (infiltrators) or usurpers of land. It helped BJP in a big way. But reality is all Bengali speaking Muslims are not illegal migrants from Bangladesh. All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) led by perfume baron Maulana Badruddin Ajmal was expecting 40 seats, but they could win only 13 seats. Congress fell to its lowest tally of 26 seats.
As author duo is part of BJP, the book has its own limitation also. In chapter, a history of political blunders, the authors targeted India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and also Rabindranath Tagore. The authors refer to omission of North-east region from the national anthem. The contribution of Nehru and Tagore cannot be questioned. The book gives idea of how RSS and BJP work and how much importance they give to the North-east.