Saturday, March 18, 2017

Ranoj Pegu's exit: Endism of Mising ethnic politics in Assam?

As the regional television channels, local dailies and social media users are updating their views on noted ethnic Mising Tani leader Ranoj Pegu’s exit in the context of upcoming Dhemaji by-poll, I felt I should write on this transition that would likely to have implications in the Mising nationality’s political life in particular and northeast Assam’s politics in general in the years to come. The
Misings are the second largest recognized Schedule Tribe social group in Assam.

Since the 1980s, Mising people has been demanding political autonomy under the Sixth Schedule even before Ranoj Pegu’s entry into marginalized tribal people’s movement. The Mising Agom Kebang (MAK), the literary body, was formed in 1972. The MAK too had the roots with Adi and Mising tribes students and teachers led alfresco feast while in Cotton College, one of the oldest centres of higher learning, founded in 1901 in northeast India. The apex body, Mising Bane Kebang,  was formed as old as in 1924 in the colonial period. Student organizations such as the Takam Mising Porin Kebang (TMPK) had the history of organization in co-ordination with Adi students since the days of India’s independence in 1947.

Ranoj Pegu is known for Left-oriented political inclination. It is said that Vinod Mishra faction of Communist Party of India-Marxist-Leninist (CPI-ML) had considerable influence on Karbi and  Mising national organizations struggling for autonomous state and constitutional autonomy in their respective inhabited areas. I called it Leftist-orientation because Mising ethnic movement is independent of Left parties although it has mixed influences of Marxist, Leninist and Maoist political
philosophy.  Pegu, a son of civil servant originally hailing from fringes of Kaziranga National Park of Bokakhat, is said to be educated in Shankardev Seminary at Jorhat and Guwahati Medical College and Hospital. However, Ranoj Pegu is more contemporaneous in north bank of Siang river of Assam where majority of the Mising lives. He mostly shuttles between Gogamukh, head quarter of MAC, of which he is the chief executive member and Guwahati, the capital city of Assam. There were fratricidal clashes in 1990s between the supporters of Indian National Congress party-influenced Mising Autonomous Demand Committee (MADC) and the national bodies such as the TMPK, Mising Mimag Kebang (MMK), Takam Mising Mime Kebang (TMMK) in Mising inhabited areas.  The intense struggle for supremacy and influence among the political organizations created an atmosphere of chaos and anarchy in the less-governed inaccessible Mising territories of those times. The infamous 1995 Bilmukh killings of Mising ethnic nationalists over the grant of boundary-less Mising Autonomous Council (MAC) by security personnel was the consequence of tussle and differences among the ethnic leaderships.

Come 21st century, there was a change in the political course in Mising autonomy movement. During the early Congress-led state government, after regionalist Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) was defeated in 2001, constituted Cabinet sub-committee to study the feasibility of  Sixth Schedule based autonomy but it was met with violent opposition from neighboring indigenous communities in the north bank of Siang/ Brahmaputra river.  The government response was due to the Mising-Rabha-Tiwa alliance popular movements in their respective belts and demonstrations for autonomy in New Delhi and Dispur. Thus, it led to undeclared moratorium of growing intense non-violent political mobilization for autonomy. In 2006, the Mising leadership prior to state assembly poll with other sympathizers in their inhabited areas founded the Sanmilita Ganshakti, Asom, a micro-regional party with Leftist orientation that claimed to fight for marginalized communities in the upstream belt of north bank of Siang in Assam. It vowed to wage ‘’parliamentary struggle’’ instead of armed movement in contrast to the tendency of many ethnic groups in northeast India. However, in contrary to perception from media it would be wrong to called Ganshakti as Mising-only party. It draws supporters and political aspirants from neighboring communities in the Tani belt. A simple analysis of elected representatives of MAC in 2013 poll clears the air.  By then, the political tempo had resulted in strong support-base for pro-Sixth Schedule voice particularly in Jonai, Dhemaji, Majuli and Dhakhuakhana constituencies challenging the ruling Congress party along with parallel anti-autonomy organizations mainly from the indigenous non-tribal Assamese-speaking populace. Bhubon Pegu won the Jonai constituency in 2006 from Ganshakti party. In 2011, he lost to Congress’ candidate Pradan Baruah. Bhubon Pegu, son of a forest officer from Silapathar, has the distinction of being a former general secretary of Cotton College Union Society (CCUS) at prestigious Cotton College. Pegu has huge following in Mising-inhabited areas which was established during his days at TMPK and subsequent struggle for Sixth Schedule based autonomy. Sixth Schedule became a buzzword in Mising society in early 2000s during his leadership for political autonomy where Johan Doley was the president of TMPK.  In 2016, he won again with the distinction of being the only independent candidate elected to Assam assembly when there was Modi-wave in most of constituencies of Assam that promised security for ‘jati, mati and bheti (nation, land and homestead) under the leadership of former All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) leader, Sarbananda Sonowal. It may be recalled that the Ganshakti, having Leftist-orientation, did not enter into pre-poll alliance unlike other smaller parties in the 2016 Assam poll.
Ranoj Pegu and Bhubon Pegu seen with Sarbananda Sonowal Photo: Facebook

The Mising political imagination of achieving constitutional autonomy is on the crossroad. The main steering figures of non-violent political struggle for autonomy such as Ranoj Pegu joining of BJP  and Bhubon Pegu’s hinting of joining the saffron outfit marks an era of mainstreaming of Mising ethnic nationalism to pan-Indian nationalist fold after a break of three decades. Three decades can be counted from post-Assam Accord (1985) to BJP’s triumph with the mantra of aligning the “khilonjia’’ (indigenous) in 2016 assembly election. The advent of populist Hindu nationalist fervor since 2014 together with many regional sub-nationalist leaders aligning with BJP in Assam may be attributed to the exit of ethnic leaders. And most significantly, the decades of experiences and experiments of parliamentary politics on Mising ethnic nationalist plank could be the factors behind this development.

Drawing from theories of international relations, the latest political development in Mising political life may be identified as “endism''. Endism is different from declinism. While declinism is conditionally pessimistic that provides warning to the pathway to historical decline of ethnic politics and longing for reverse political state but endism signifies unwavering optimism with the illusion of well-being and escape from history (emphasis added). According to Sameul P. Huntington, endism does not provide corrective action but relaxed complacency. There is a widespread hope, optimism and complacency in the society that Mising ethnic leaders are joining the alliance of powers. Endism, when consequences are met with errors, could be far more “dangerous and subversive.”  The ‘political’ Mising society, bereft of its key personalities and ideologues, may riddle into disarray. It may also lead to 'no exit" at all from the ethnic politics but a shift in the cycle of Mising ethnic nationalism. Nevertheless, the forthcoming by-poll of Dhemaji constituency, whether Ranoj Pegu wins or loses, would be an outlier in the political history of the community.

(Views expressed here are entirely personal. This article doesn't reflect the views of institutions or organizations the author is associated with.)

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