Book review: Akhil Ranjan Dutta, Hindutva Regime in Assam: Saffron in the Rainbow and Nani Gopal Mahanta, Citizenship Debate over NRC & CAA: Assam and the Politics of History

AuthorPapia Sengupta
Published date01 December 2022
Date01 December 2022
Subject MatterBook Reviews
Book Reviews 303
Akhil Ranjan Dutta, Hindutva Regime in Assam: Saffron in the Rainbow. SAGE Publications. 2021. 329
pages. `1295. ISBN: 9789391370411.
Nani Gopal Mahanta, Citizenship Debate over NRC & CAA: Assam and the Politics of History. SAGE
Publications. 2021. 326 pages. `1395. ISBN: 9789391370299.
DOI: 10.1177/23210230221135819
Debates surrounding the issue of citizenship and illegal immigrants in India’s northeastern state of
Assam have remained at the core of Assam’s political journey from the colonial to post-colonial period.
The tea garden folk song Chol Mimi Asom Jabi, the reminiscent of how attractive its fertile land and
plantations are, remains vivid in Indian imaginaries, as much as the transition of this land to the other
extreme, marred with violence and killings, echoes the politics of belonging and othering, common in
most post-colonial countries. So, when two colleagues teaching in the same university department
publish two scholarly works on a differential understanding of the Assam discourse and acknowledge
each other, it is the mark of academic collegiality and true essence of debating with dignified difference.
A common thread that knits Dutta and Mahanta’s respective books is both Dutta and Mahanta focus on
Assamese politics and citizenship. While Mahanta traces Assam’s political history from pre-colonial era
to the present, attempting not to fall in binaries, Dutta’s is a narrative on the rise and development of
Hindutva’s saffron in the Assamese political canvas. Dutta’s contribution to the ongoing debate on citi-
zenship in Assam is the lucid narrative intertwining neoliberal policies, appropriation of the local con-
sensus by the populist agenda, electoral strategies and how all this outplays in the case of Assam. These
books are significant, providing a powerful understanding of the nuances of Assam politics and ethnic
relations in contemporary times.
Mahanta’s exhaustive investigation, drawing from archival sources, laws, legislative activities, legal
cases and secondary sources, makes a fascinating read. Some of his own important inferences from
the study point to the distinction he makes between the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the
Citizens (Amendment) Act (CAA) 2019. He argues that these two pieces of legislation must be under-
stood separately in the case of Assam. Interestingly, his analysis of citizenship in India is based on ‘citi-
zenship as a seamless flow and essentially a continuous mythical existence of India as Bharat: which is
a union of states (p. 100).’ He further elaborates that the Hindutva notion of citizenship is based on such
a notion. Using the justification that the NRC has been a long-drawn-out process in Assam since 1951
and follows from the Immigrant (Expulsion from Assam) Act 1950 (p. 115) and is not the handiwork
of the present BJP-led government, Mahanta asserts that the outcry over the NRC-CAA has been
attributed to
the Hindutva plan to polarize the nation, [that] is wrongly understood by the ill-informed critics who simplify
and narrow down the issue as Hindu-Muslim and Bengali-Assamese, whereas the issue of citizenship in Assam
cannot be viewed through such a binary lens but must be based on Assamese composite identity … and the
serious challenge posed by unchecked immigration. (p. 102)
He argues that Assam has adopted one of the most flexible accommodative approaches to inclusive citi-
zenship and the NRC-CAA should not be viewed as the Hinduization of a smaller nationality, as advo-
cated by the BJP and RSS (p. 103). Mahanta flags the marked distinction between protestors against
NRC, what he calls all-India left liberals and Assamese elites. He opines that Assamese people favour an

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