In poll-bound Assam, the drive by Congressman Sherman Ali Ahmed to set up a Miya museum at Srimanta Sankaradeva Kalakshetra has sparked controversy with the ruling BJP stepping up its assault on Congress, which is attempting to put a lid on it.
Ahmed’s Facebook post on October 19, in which he said he had mooted setting up a Miya museum at the DRSC meeting, and that his proposal had been approved, was what caused the controversy. A museum for people living on the riverine sandbars in the post was not listed.
This past week, the BJP announced that no such museum would ever be established by the state government in the Kalakshetra, which was set up as part of the 1985 Assam Accord, the culmination of the six-year Assam Movement against illegal aliens.
Miya is a pejorative word used to describe Muslim migrants from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) living in the Brahmaputra Riverine Areas, a group viewed as a threat to the indigenous communities of Assam’s culture and language. In 1979, this perceived danger ignited the Assam Movement. In the 19th century, the migration of these individuals began.
While Congress does not oppose a museum for people living in sar saporis (sandbars along the Brahmaputra) as recommended by the Departmentally Linked Standing Committee (DRSC) of the Assembly on Education 2020-21, Ahmed was prevented by the Opposition Party on Thursday from passing any controversial statement on the issue of the Miya museum. The committee had 15 members, 10 of whom were from the ruling alliance led by the BJP.
In a letter to the director of museums on 18 October, Ahmed urged him, as recommended by the Assembly committee in March, to speed up the establishment of a museum representing the culture and heritage of the people living on the sar saporis of Assam at Kalakshetra.
Ahmed also suggested the name of a former museum director and Sanskrit scholar, Sarharuddin Ahmed, for consultation on the subject.
He also added seven more names that could be consulted on the development of the Miya Museum, triggering a wave of criticism from the BJP and leading organisations such as the All Assam Students ‘ Union and the Yuba Chatra Parishad Asom Jatiyatabadi.
Apparently rattled by the criticism, Assam PCC President Ripun Bora told Ahmed in a letter on Thursday that his comment on setting up the Miya museum gave “scope” to the ruling BJP to polarise the people ahead of the Assembly polls with a “disinformation campaign.”
Bora said that the letter from Ahmed to the museum director was “in great order and you have done your job as an MLA.”
But because of your reaction and statement, the new controversy emerged … Bora said, referring to his dropping the original idea for a museum for people living on sandbars, for a Miya museum that was out of the contents of your (October 18) letter.
On October 26, Bora also reminded Ahmed of his call, asking the MLA to refrain from making any further comments on the subject. Ahmed was “repeatedly hammering” on the same issue despite the call, Bora said, offering the BJP and the RSS an opportunity to turn the Miya museum into a “significant controversy by dragging the Congress name.”
Making his displeasure clear, before the Assembly polls, Bora said Ahmed ‘s comment was “totally unwanted.”
“Therefore, from now on, you are hereby restricted from making any more contentious comments,” said Bora.
Bora said on Friday that many other groups, including the Misings, occupy the sandbars. Therefore, a museum for all groups would include both Miyas and non-Miyas, he said.
Ahmed refused to comment on Bora ‘s letter or the controversy when approached. “He said,” I said everything I had to say.
Ahmed had said earlier that he was a proud Miya, and that Miyas are an integral part of the larger Assamese community.
Because of strong anti-immigrant sentiment in the region, Ahmed ‘s proposal left the Congress seemingly divided with many Upper Assam leaders opposing the change.
Another Congressman, Kamalakhya Dey Purkayastha, was seen mooting a museum in Assam for the 70 lakh-plus Bengali community on Friday.
The Miya Museum was said to be a “avoidable political controversy” by Dr. Hafiz Ahmed, President of the Char Chapori Sahitya Parishad.