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The Hiren Gohain Interview: The NRC Question is not one of sympathy but of rights

Dr. Hiren Gohain is an Assamese public intellectual and political scientist. A veteran intellectual in the state, Dr. Gohain speaks to Raghu Pratap about the future of India under BJP and the ramifications for the state of Assam, which is in a volatile state currently, with the passing of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016.

Raghu Pratap: If the BJP does indeed return to power in the country, what consequences if any do you think would it have on Assam and the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 and in the larger context- the country and the controversy surrounding free speech and liberty?

Hiren Gohain: The people do not realise that the BJP is a Fascist party being controlled from the wings by RSS with its project of a Hindu Rashtra. It has openly admired Fascism from the time of its founding fathers and it will certainly be in a rush to dismantle the democracy of the country and establish a Hindu Reich. The methods used will predictably be draconian in its character.

RP: Do you find it worrisome that apparently draconian laws like sedition are being invoked frequently and in a frivolous manner ? You were charged with sedition in January. Could you elaborate on your experience and the context?

HG: I consider it to be a typical fascist ploy where powers of the state are misused to muzzle dissent. In such a situation, political murders are also on the cards. Well, my experience has been one of disgust, bafflement and anxiety and in the precise manner that they wanted. But there has been a lot of public support.

RP: You have supported the National Register for Citizens (NRC ) but have consistently differed from a chauvinistic interpretation of the same. It has been frequently voiced that the Bill renders the NRC meaningless. Also, many have persistently maintained that there is a chauvinistic element to the NRC or have found it to be of that nature. However, in an article in Sabrang India by two young scholars, you have been said to have ‘limited sympathy’ while seeking a safe environment for the ‘Assamese’ whereby they contend that the Assamese identity itself is ambiguous. How do you see this and what are your views on this?

HG: There is a difference between a chauvinistic and communal misuse of an instrument like the NRC and an exercise following due process, observing decency and fairness and being aware of its possible lapses.

I have said time and again that the NRC was a compromise solution to the unending social disorder, mutual distrust and hatred and recurrent massacres. Outsiders simply don’t have an idea of the chaos that it has gradually overcome. Citizens and aliens are nowhere placed on the same level and given equal rights. The question is not one of sympathy but of rights.

RP:  What do you make of the narrative of the lack of an alternative to the BJP and the Modi Government and how do you view the prevalent scenario? Do you believe that ‘nationalism’ which has been touted to be the core issue driving this election, will play an equally significant role in Assam keeping in mind the recent controversies and events?

HG: In my opinion, Anything would be better than the plunge into Fascism. Even if a patchwork coalition comes to power it will be a relief and especially if it takes strong steps against looming Fascism.

RP: What do you make of paradoxes present if any in voter sensibilities as regards to free speech and nationalism when you intertwine it with the politics of the Bill and the NRC?

HG: The confusion has been sown by clever and constant propaganda. Nationalism has been conflated with repression and domination and free speech, an insult to a nation that has been deified.


Raghu Pratap is a student of law at Gujarat National Law University.

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