Kokrajhar: Six weeks into the violence that hit Lower Assam, Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi joins the long list of politicians on relief camp tourism. He had a lot to cover in a day's time; camps in Kokrajhar, Dhubri and Chirang districts.
Apparently for security reasons his schedule was changed at the last moment as he landed on a football field near Gambari Beel Relief Camp in Gosaingaon. This subdivision under Kokrajhar district was the epicentre of the violence which started on July 6, but was full-blown by July 20.
At Gambari Mr Gandhi went about his business without his security persons creating a fuss. Even the media was allowed close access. An 80 year old Bodo lady fell on his feet in helpless whispers. She wants to go back home. Rahul Gandhi heard her out which was probably reassuring for the lady.
On his way out he stretched his arms to people caged inside barricades. Hundreds of people gathered around the helipad to perhaps see a helicopter take off. They were too far from him to convey their grievances.
Wherever Rahul Gandhi went he tried a healing touch and gave a listening ear. Ahila Begum who escaped with her only son after her husband was shot dead was weeping before him at Basugaon relief camp. She later told us, "I told him am left with an infant and he said he will look into the matter." That was a lot of hope for the young widow.
But there are many Ahilas' who have lost their family members and not just land. Compensation for them would not only mean rehabilitation but also justice. For the time being though they want to return home. In this camp there are 7000 of them.
In this camp Rahul Gandhi's security was tightened and even the media was forced inside an enclosure. Most of the camp inmates were huddled into rooms and their doors and windows shut. A few hundred were disciplined to tell their tales to him. It was in this relief camp where former Home Minister P Chidambaram was shouted at.
Rahul Gandhi was accompanied by Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi who in a recent television interview courted controversy when he stated that growth of Muslim population in the state is due to illiteracy rather than the popular belief of illegal immigration from Bangladesh.
Rahul Gandhi avoiding this reference, however, underlined that all are Indians.
When asked if he subscribed to the CM's theory that Muslim growth rate is because of illiteracy, Mr Gandhi said, "I think what happened here is a tragedy everybody should work together to see this pass. I came here to see this with my own eyes. PM had come and its quite shocking what I have seen today which I will carry with me for a long time. We are Indian people and we shouldn't forget we are Indians."
However, the man who calls the shots in these parts of Assam, Bodoland chief Hagrama Mohilary couldn't disagree more. He began by saying, "Muslims are encroachers and they must go." When asked whether all Muslims are encroachers he qualified: "No, not all. Some are old settlers, whoever has land documents can go but if it is in grazing land, tribal land and khas land that will be cancelled immediately."
Majority of the two lakh people still held in refugee camps are Muslims. The roadblock to their return is that the chief of Bodoland council Hargrama Mohilary is adamant that he will not allow anybody to go back unless they provide substantial citizenship proof and land documents but there are a lot of landless subsistence farmers amongst them. And with his rider about legal land holding, a law which he wrote himself, rehabilitation seems like yet another crisis unfolding. Rahul Gandhi's tour may have raised their hopes but he surely can't accelerate the process.
Story first published:
September 11, 2012 19:59 IST