Assam political row continues over museum
Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said on Saturday that Congress MLA Sherman Ali Ahmed will “be sent to jail” in connection with the Miya museum controversy after next year’s state elections unless he publicly apologises for his statements on the issue.
In response, the two-time Congress legislator has challenged the influential BJP leader to go ahead with his move instead of “waiting” for six months for the polls to be over.
Sarma’s threat and Ahmed’s response is set to keep the controversy alive despite the Congress state unit’s apparent effort to put a lid on the controversy by formally restraining Ahmed from commenting on the “sensitive” issue. Sarma’s statements also suggested that the ruling BJP was confident of getting second straight term in the polls. He has also tried to differentiate between indigenous Muslims and migrant Muslims.
The controversy was triggered by a Facebook post by Ahmed on October 19. In the post he had mooted setting up of a Miya museum at the Srimanta Sankardeva Kalakshetra before the Assembly’s departmentally related standing committee (DRSC) meeting and that his proposal was accepted.
There was no mention of a expediting the process for setting up a museum for people living on the char chaporis (riverine areas) along the Brahmaputra in the post, something he had pushed for in his official letter to the director of museums a day earlier, something those opposed to his Miya museum proposal say was done “intentionally” by Ahmed to stoke the controversy for political gains.
The ruling BJP has asserted that the state government will never construct any such museum at the Kalakshetra, an outcome of the 1985 Assam Accord, the culmination of the six-year-long Assam Movement against illegal foreigners, to showcase the culture of the Assam, and Miyas are widely seen as infiltrators in the state.
Some consider “Miya” as pejorative term, used to describe Muslim migrants from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) living in the riverine areas, a community perceived as a threat to the culture and language of Assam’s indigenous communities.
Other communities such as the Mising, Deori, Nepali and Bihari also live in the riverine areas. Leading organisations such as the AASU and the AJYCP have criticised Ahmed’s push.
Sarma said: “He (Sherman) will be in jail. This is my commitment to the people of Assam. He has said that lungis (a colourful cotton fabric worn around the hip) will be kept at the Kalakshetra. He will be sent to jail once we come to power after the polls unless he publicly apologises.”
The BJP’s pointsman in the Northeast said he has been unable to sleep since Ahmed’s lungi remark. “It is not acceptable. I don’t know why the intellectuals are silent. I don’t know what the Congress is thinking? Ahmed comment has only hurt the indigenous Muslims of Assam who are not in favour of any such museum. It is distortion of Assam’s culture.”
Sarma had tweeted last week in response to Ahmed’s proposal: “In my understanding, there is no separate identity-and culture in Char Anchal of Assam as most of the people had migrated from Bangladesh. Obviously, in Srimanta Sankardeva Kalakhetra, which is the epitome of Assamese culture, we will not allow any distortion. Sorry MLA Sahab.”
Assam PCC president Ripun Bora, overseeing preparations for the maiden visit of AICC general secretary Jitendra Singh’s maiden visit to the state as the in-charge of the state unit from Sunday, said he would not like to react to Sarma’s threat but added that the BJP wants to keep the controversy alive.
Ahmed in response said that he would “ask urge/challenge” Sarma to go ahead with his move instead of waiting for six months because it may become difficult for him to arrest him because he will be getting more votes this time.
Ahmed, 53, asked why Sarma is so allergic to the term Miya.
“Aren’t they not Indians? Aren’t they part of the greater Assamese society. They were brought by the Britishers in the 1850s. If they are not Indians, please issue a notification saying so? People have become so allergic to the term miya but don’t mainstream Assamese society refer to these people as Miyas?” This migrant population is pegged to about 7 million, both Hindus and Muslims.
The two-time MLA also said that he had spoken about lungis and saris but he had also spoken about the contribution of the Miyas to the construction and agriculture sector, their boat-making quality, their delicacies and their songs.
“But those have not been highlighted. If a Bodo or a Missing dress can be kept at Kalakhetra, why can’t the dress of a Miya. People are talking about my FB post, not my official letter where I have pushed for the char chapori museum. Forget about the name. Sarma should tell us whether char chapori museum will be constructed or not,” Ahmed said, his tone combative.
“I feel proud to identify myself as a Miya from the greater Assamese community. As a politician, I have to stand up for my country, state and my community. If politicians stand up for these three there will be no problem whatsoever,” Ahmed said.