GUWAHATI: In the culturally vibrant town of Jamuguri, a raucous brand of ethno-nationalism seems to be trumping other issues like price rise and unemployment. It is here that BJP’s polarising rhetoric is finding many takers.
Famous for Baresaharia Bhaona (mythological folk theatre), Jamuguri falls under Sootea constituency. Here, the Muslim migrant has for long been the bogeyman for indigenous communities. Politicians have played on this imaginary fear of Muslims taking over all land to divide people. However, it’s the food produced by migrant Muslims that have been feeding the people here.
Community elders have always worked for communal harmony. And the bhaona has been a tool to achieve that. “The residents of many villages in this area took the initiative about 220 years ago to stage bhaona. The objective was to promote our culture in a bigger way,” said the chief organiser of the Jamuguri Baresaharia Bhaona Committee, Bhaba Goswami.
He is all praise for local BJP MLA Padma Hazarika, who made a political career out of his participation in the Assam Agitation in the 1980s. Hazarika has himself performed as a bhaona artiste and is liked by the locals.
“Everyone may not be happy with the BJP, but the people’s good wishes are with Padma Hazarika for his efforts for drawing the attention of the government towards developing the infrastructure and for promoting Vaishnavite culture. He played a big role in the state government providing Rs 26 crore to erect a grand stage to perform Baresaharia Bhaona,” Goswami added.
Hazarika was first elected to the assembly on an AGP ticket in 1996. Since 2006, he has been the Sootea MLA for three consecutive terms, though in 2016, he won on a BJP ticket.
Award-winning author Prarthana Saikia thinks that the religious and cultural beliefs of the caste Hindu majority will likely influence the vote. “But it isn’t black and white. People don’t know how their interests will be protected and which party will serve them the best,” said Saikia, the winner of Sahitya Akademi’s Yuva Puraskar. She added that netas and goons are having a field day as a result.
Congress is trying to make inroads here with its five guarantees campaign. Its candidate Praneswar Basumatary has been trying to win hearts. But poll watchers say “nationalism will prevail” despite job losses due to Covid or price rise or other burning issues. “Most people here don’t blame one person for joblessness. The anguish of the youths who lost jobs during the Covid crisis may not be the deciding factor in the polls,” said a young voter on condition of anonymity.