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Business News/ Politics / News/  Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma's Hindutva politics and anti-Muslim stance: Five big controversies
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Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma's Hindutva politics and anti-Muslim stance: Five big controversies

Sarma, who joined the BJP from the Congress in 2015, has been critical of Rahul Gandhi like other defectors. He had famously claimed that Rahul Gandhi often kept him waiting in Delhi when he went to discuss state matters and would, on some occasions prefer feeding his dog, instead.

Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma said no benefit will come out of Rahul Gandhi's two day visit to Manipur (ANI arranged)Premium
Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma said no benefit will come out of Rahul Gandhi's two day visit to Manipur (ANI arranged)

The Himanta Biswa Sarma-led BJP government in Assam has sparked yet another political row by deciding to repeal the Muslim marriage and divorce registration legislation.

The move is considered the first step taken towards Uniform Civil Code, a controversial legal framework aimed at standardising personal laws across all communities in the country.

Sarma, 55, said that the 'Assam Muslim Marriages and Divorces Registration Act, 1935 contains provisions allowing marriage registration even if the bride and groom had not reached the legal age of 18 and 21 as per the law. He also said that this decision taken by his cabinet signaled a significant advancement in the efforts to prohibit child marriages in Assam.

Repealing Muslim Marriages

The current law provides the facility of voluntary registration of Muslim marriages and divorces besides authorising the government to provide licenses to Muslims to register such marriages and divorces. Once the law is repealed,  such people won't be able to register marriages and divorces.

District commissioners and district registrars will take custody of registration records held by 94 Muslim Marriage Registrars or Qazis.

The decision has already elicited reactions. Guwahati-based advocate Aman Wadud said that repealing the act would only increase child marriages as against the government's claim that it will eradicate them. 

"Authorised Registrars under the 1935 Act won't be able to register Muslim marriages now. The registration will now happen under the Special Marriage Act. I am not sure how many Muslims can afford it. The government believes that this will completely eradicate child marriages. But, this will only increase the number of unauthorised Qazis and child marriages," said Wadud who is also a member of the Congress party.

At about one crore, Muslims make up 34 per cent of Assam's 3.12 crore population, as per the 2011 Census,

Sarma, who crossed over from the Congress to join the BJP in 2015, has a history of stirring controversy, with several other instances where he has sparked rows.

Piddi dog and Rahul Gandhi

The former Congress leader has been critical of Rahul Gandhi like other Congress defectors. He had famously claimed that Rahul Gandhi often kept him waiting in Delhi when he went to discuss state matters and would, on some occasions prefer feeding his dog, instead.

Also, read : Uniform Civil Code EXPLAINER | What is UCC? What does Constitution say about it

 

In October 2017, the then Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi put out a video on social media of his pet dog, Pidi, doing namaste while standing up on its haunches. Sarma, then minister in CM Sarbananda Sonowal-led BJP government in Assam was quick to take a swipe at Rahul with a counter-post: “Sir, who knows him better than me? Still remember you busy feeding biscuits to him while we wanted to discuss urgent Assam issues.

On February 11, 2022, while addressing a rally at Uttarakhand, Sarma sparked another row when he asked Rahul Gandhi, "Did we ever ask you for proof of whether you are Rajiv Gandhi's son or not?

Miya Muslims votes

Sarma has been most vicious in attacking “Miya" (or Bengali-origin) Muslims of Assam, the most vulnerable to the citizenship determination process in Assam.

Ahead of the Assam assembly elections, Sarma had in 2021 courted controversy when he said that the BJP did not need votes from 'Miya’ Muslims to win the elections. He also accused the community of “openly challenging Assamese culture and language and the composite Indian culture".

“These so-called Miya people are very very communal and fundamental and they are involved in many activities to distort Assamese culture and Assamese language. So I don’t want to be an MLA with their vote. I will not be able to sit in the Assembly if they voted for me," said Sarma, who eventually went on to become the Chief Minister of Assam after BJP won the 2021 state elections.

Eviction drives and Renaming Madrasas

Sarma has also been criticised for the state government’s eviction drives which allegedly targeted the Muslim community in the state. The resistance drives that kicked off soon after Biswa was sworn in as Chief Minister have often led to violence and deaths. In 2016, two Bengali-origin Muslims were killed in police firing while protesting an eviction drive near the Kaziranga National Park. In September, 2021. Two protestors were killed in the DhoLpur area of Darrang district when Assam police opened fire at villagers protesting an eviction drive

The Sarma government’s drive to clear the alleged encroachment has faced communal charges. Between May 2021, when Sarma became chief minister, and September 2022, about 4,449 families, mostly Bengalis of Muslim origin, have been evicted for allegedly encroaching on government land, according to a report in Scroll.

In 2021, Sarma also urged the Muslim community to adopt decent family planning. In 2020. Assam government under his leadership has announced the decision of converting 740 state-run Muslim madrasas into general education schools. "The madrasas were not shut. They were renamed. All they did was stop Urdu and Arabic subjects," said a Guwahati-based journalist who did not want to be named.

Covid Mask Need

In April 2021, Sarma, then the state's health minister, led to a political row when he announced that there was no need to wear masks as there was no more Coronavirus prevalent in Assam. The comment came at a time when India was undergoing the second wave of COVID-19 and on a day India recorded nearly 90,000 new cases in 24 hours - the most in a day for many months.

Sarma, who has been serving as the 15th Chief Minister of Assam since 2021, has been elected five times as MLA from Jalukbari. He was in the Congress for 20 years until 2015. In the grand old party, Sarma was mentored by stalwarts like Hiteswar Saikia and Tarun Gogoi.

"If you look at the BJP government under Sonwal, it followed its agenda but not as vocally as Biswa does. He makes more noise and believes in publicising whatever he does much like, in the repeal of the Muslim Marriage Act. We know he wants to bring UCC, but he wants to lead up to that by repealing the Act," the Guwahati journalist said.

From his rise and role in helping the BJP expand in the north-east, Sarma is seen as the next big leader of the saffron party, especially when the party is expected to return to power under Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the record third time.

 

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Published: 24 Feb 2024, 02:36 PM IST
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