As Assam goes to election, fingers remain crossed as to who would make the next government. The Congress is looking to secure a fourth term with Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, with incumbency being its greatest threat to power. The BJP, riding on a nationalist surge, has fielded Sarbananda Sonwal supported by Himanta Biswa Sarma (known as the puppeteer with deep pockets influencing nearly every politician and party).
While the Congress focuses on job creation and promises innovation centers, the BJP has decided to make the issue of illegal immigrants in Assam a major poll bank concern. “Our priority is the illegal infiltration and detection and deportation of these infiltrators,” said Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley while releasing the party’s vision document for 2016-25, calling for the sealing of the Indo-Bangladesh border. This is a polarizing issue, creating a perception of conflict between Muslims (often labeled as Bangladeshis) and non-Muslims, and foments a dangerous political formula.
Assam is not directly affected by the rising sea levels due to climate change. It does, however, bear the brunt of the changes in Bangladesh. The effects of climate change are slated to cause extreme weather conditions due to increased cyclonic activity in the Bay of Bengal. Already, the flow of migrants between Assam and Bangladesh is considered to be the largest in the world.
The reasons for the migrant influx are complex, but it can be chiefly attributed to economic factors such as the lure of construction jobs in India and the worsening climate factors in Bangladesh making it harder for farmers to seek a livelihood in a shrinking agricultural space. Climate change is a border-less issue as compared to immigration. Its effects can trickle down and contribute to social, political and economic tensions. The security challenges due to climate change will only stoke tensions to a state that has seen years of conflict.
The 1.5 lakh Muslim voters of Assam constitute only 1 percent of the total voters of the state. Further, intelligence agencies contend that “There is no big threat of fundamentalism in this part except that recently a few people were caught for connections with the Burdwan blasts.”
What is required of the next government of Assam is to focus and be responsive to the needs of its citizens and the rapid changes in environment. The next government will have to understand the need of existing with greater interdependence. There has to be a nuanced dialogue with Bangladesh with both nations putting their resources on climate adaptation and water and food security to prevent migration. Increased state diplomacy on this issue would be a better solution rather than sealing the borders.
The polarization created while going into polls would increase the probability and frequency of conflict in the coming years while resource scarcity brought by climate change adds to insecurity and growing hatred. By focusing on creating an exaggerated enemy the BJP is creating a dangerous pit for itself and others in the future.