A month after Guwahati witnessed bloody clashes over the Citizenship Amendment Act, it presented a very contrasting picture on Thursday. Many parts of the city were decked up for the third edition of the Khelo India youth games, set to be launched today, with images of Prime Minister Narendra Modi adorning every banner, poster and placard put up for the occasion.
PM Modi will however, not inaugurate the event despite being invited by the Assam government. The reason, official sources told NDTV, was "lack of time". "There was no plan of the PM to come to Assam in the last one month. We did invite him for Khelo India, but it was never confirmed and he turned it down on the first day itself," Assam Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said.
Critics think differently. Assam has witnessed sustained protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act through the month, and Northeast student groups have already warned of widespread protests if PM Modi makes an appearance.
Last month's violent protests had resulted in the authorities imposing a curfew on many parts of Assam, including Guwahati. Five people were killed in police firing, and peasant rights activist Akhil Gogoi and two associates were arrested by the National Investigation Agency and booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. A nine-day internet clampdown imposed on the state was withdrawn only through a Gauhati high court order.
It was in the backdrop of this scenario that the administration went about making arrangements for Khelo India. But the initiative failed to assuage the feelings of those opposing the citizenship law, especially the All Assam Students' Union (AASU) and North East Students' Union (NESO).
"We are not against sports. Sports will happen and agitations will continue. But whenever PM Modi comes, he will face protests until he scrap the Citizenship Amendment Act," said AASU advisor Sammujjal Bhattacharyya.
While agitating groups organised no less than 400 agitations across Assam in the past month, the BJP responded by taking out massive rallies and aligning its main opponent - the Congress - with illegal Muslim migrants. "Ninety per cent of Congress MLAs are descendants of Bangladeshis. The Congress had made four Arabic college and several madrassas," Himanta Biswa Sarma claimed in a massive BJP peace rally at Dhemaji on January 9.
On Thursday, the Congress hit back. "Himanta Biswa Sarma should prove his allegation or apologise. The predecessors of Congress MLAs have come from what was East Bengal in British India. Therefore, fathers migrated from one British India state to another, which is Assam," said Debabrata Saikia, leader of the opposition in Assam.
Many non-political personalities at the forefront of the agitation claim that the agitation has now evolved into a battle against the BJP. "The Assamese people are angry with this government and that is why this uprising is happening. Hopefully, they will face defeat in the next election," said singer-composer Zubeen Garg, who has been at the forefront of anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests.
Meanwhile, the state government has opened communication lines with the centre in a bid to turn the tide in its favour again. Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal and Himanta Biswa Sarma met Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Thursday to look at ways to regain lost ground in Assam.