Despite the existence of an international border, the migration from East Pakistan continued alongside migration from West Bengal. There is considerable dispute over the actual magnitude, but the most comprehensive estimate shows that between and the proportion of Assamese declined for the first time and that of Bengali speakers increased; between and itself, as many as 1. Moreover, the number of registered voters increased dramatically from 6. This last discovery of the Election Commission was, in fact, the starting point of the present phase of the organized student movement supported by large sections of the Assamese middle class.
The movement has wide-ranging demands including development of Assam and greater share of benefits from its rich national resources, including oil, for the Assamese. Why the issue of deportation of "illegal aliens" has come to be the focus of the movement needs some explanation. Despite the general anti-Bengali sentiment, the expulsion of migrants that came from West Bengal - these migrants are predominantly Hindus - could not be brought about legally or politically. Interstate movement and residence are perfectly legal in India, and the Assamese economy and society, despite the antagonism, is inextricably linked with West Bengal.
On the other hand, the "post place of origin" of migrants from Bangladesh, largely Muslim, makes them "aliens" and their migration, for political purposes, can be called "illegal. Additionally, these Muslim migrants provided unstinted support to the Congress Party, now represented by Mrs. Gandhi, and the party in turn patronized them, so much so that local politicians of the Congress Party seem to have put aliens on the electoral rolls irrespective of whether or not they had Indian citizenship.
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It is in this atmosphere that the elections were called. Gandhi has been heavily criticized in India for her decision to call the elections. Two considerations seem to have gone into her decision: her need for an electoral victory due to the reverses her party had suffered in recent state elections, and her intention to negotiate with a new set of elected leaders who would possibly be more pliable than students on the issue of "aliens.
Large-scale violence and destruction of lives, property, bridges, and various other resources resulted. In addition to the predictable attacks on Bengalis in the towns, there were massacres in which first pro-election Boro tribals attacked Assamese villages at Gohpur and later, in the worst massacre witnessed in independent India, another tribe, the anti-poll Lalung, reportedly with Assamese support, killed scores of Bengali Muslims in Nellie. The spread of urban conflict to villages seems to be partly a result of the emergence of support for leftist parties in the previous elections.
Ethnic and Religious Conflicts in India | Cultural Survival
The land reform-oriented agrarian program of the left and its attempt to create a base in the Muslim peasantry seems to have antagonized the Assamese landlords and wealthier peasantry. Moreover, tribals seem to be involved in the struggle over land, attacking whichever community, Assamese or Bengali, in possession of most of the land in their respective local situations.
Hold over government, struggle for jobs, land scarcity, and population influx have thus intensified the historical differences between Assamese and Bengali into violent ethnic antagonisms in Assam. All of this took place in a context of acute underdevelopment of Assam and slow economic growth. The anti-aliens agitation is an expression, among other things, of the Assamese fear of becoming politically swamped by an ever larger Bengali presence in the state.
Starting in August , mounting communal tension between Hindus and Sikhs in the state of Punjab led to violent clashes, in the last year in particular. Unlike Assam, Punjab is a state with the highest per capita income. It is the seat of the Green Revolution in India, whose biggest beneficiaries have been the rich Sikh peasants.
In Punjab, Sikhs are a majority, Hindus, a minority. Although religious symbols have been used for the mobilization of Sikhs and the secessionist slogan of Khalistan a sovereign state of Sikhs has been raised, the Sikh's charter of demands, drawn from the Anandpur Sahib Resolution, has strong economic and political components, unlike in Assam where the issue of aliens has sidelined economic demands. The "major" religious demands by the Sikhs, including greater radio time for religious broadcasts over federally controlled radio, and a separate legislative act for Sikh religious shrines, were granted by New Delhi this past February.
The major political demands are greater powers, including financial, for the states vis-a-vis New Delhi. A commission has been appointed to review these demands. The economic demands include a greater share of river waters for irrigation and larger central investment in the industrial sector of Punjab. The territorial and the waters issues are the only unsettled points left. Other demands, minor at present, may later assume importance. The agitation continues unabated. According to the census, Sikhs constituted In the villages, the Sikh majority was even greater, constituting In the urban areas, however, Hindus formed the majority, Trade and services, rather than manufacturing, are the main sectors of urban economy in Punjab, and Hindu traders are dominant in both.
The agricultural sector is dominated by the Sikh cultivating castes, known as jats. Green revolution, based as it was on biochemical and mechanical inputs in agriculture and surplus production for market, has deeply linked trade with agriculture and made the latter dependent on the market. Both for buying modern inputs and selling surplus produce, the rich Sikh farmer has to go through the urban market, dominated by the Hindu trader. So long as the economic pie kept increasing, this incongruity did not much matter, but when prices of food grain and other crops stopped increasing, a clash of interests between the Sikh farmer and the Hindu trader was created.
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Irrigation problems have worsened the situation. That Punjab has the best irrigated agriculture in the country is not enough for the rich peasant; while 1. Due to its power and diesel needs, tubewell irrigation, is "three to nine times more costly" India Today.
The prosperity of the rich peasanty has thus slackened. Other developments have occurred. Landlessness has increased from The landless, mostly Untouchables and low caste Hindus and Sikhs, have also become politicized by the leftist Agricultural Labor Union. Sikhs in urban trades are neither economically nor numerically as dominant as the Hindus. And finally, the proportion of Sikhs in the Army has fallen from 35 percent to 20 percent.
For the rich Sikh peasantry, faced with Hindu traders on the one hand and politicized labor on the other, religion performs a useful role. It unites the Sikh trader, who is also opposed to the Hindu trader, and the low caste Sikh laborer by dividing the agricultural labor into low caste Sikhs and low caste Hindus or Untouchables. Religious slogans appeal to the religiosity of the insecure small Sikh peasant and the unpoliticized Sikh laborer. It is unlikely that these links would have automatically led to political action without the mediation of political parties. This mediation did not simply reflect the emerging socio-economic divisions; it deepened them.
The two main rural parties, the ruling Congress and the Akali Dal, a party dominated by the rich Sikh peasanty, have contributed much towards this deepening. Scholars have noted the schizophrenic character of Punjab politics. It has a "dual political system and a dual political area," one secular and the other religious and confined to Sikhs.
Since the exhaustion of the green revolution in Punjab, this is the first time that Akalis have not been in power. Although they had their first relatively stable rule from to , Congress returned to power in The Akali elite, when in power, did not take up any of its present demands with New Delhi where its partner in electoral alliance, the Janata Party, ruled, but soon after the rival Congress returned, agitations were launched in support of the demands.
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The power implications seem reasonably clear: unless the enhanced economic power of the rich Sikh peasantry is matched with political power, peace will be difficult to maintain in Punjab. Either political power should compensate for the halt in its economic prosperity, or greater economic incentives must return as expressed in the river waters issue. Interests of the Akali political elites have thus coincided with those of the discontented peasantry.
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Religion is a particularly effective vehicle of political mobilization in such a situation, for that alone can prevent the increasing differentiation in the Sikh community from fragmented and weak political expression. The ruling Congress has also played an electoral game. In an effort to weaken Akali Dal, it has, in the recent past, supported rabidly communal factions, including the present messiah Sant Bhindranwale, in the SGPC elections.
The Congress is clearly not interested in settling the problem unless some political or electoral gains are likely, or unless the violence reaches explosive proportions. Of all the religious and ethnic issues in contemporary India, history has cast its deepest shadow on Hindu-Muslim relations. The most critical contemporary phase of this history was the partition of A Muslim sovereign state of Pakistan was born amidst ghastly communal violence but almost as many Muslims as there were in the new constituted Pakistan, for various reasons, stayed in India.
The partition did not solve the Hindu-Muslim problems; it caused the situation of the Muslims in India to deteriorate. They were blamed for the division of the country, their leadership had left and their power was further weakened by the removal of all Muslim-majority areas except Kashmir. Most of all, the conflict between India and Pakistan kept the roots of the communal tension perpetually alive and pushed Muslims into the unfortunate situation of defending their loyalty to India.
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