Assam’s own Lit Fest – The Brahmaputra Literary Festival



Series of resourceful programmers along with cultural activities in front of enthusiastic audience turned the venue of first Brahmaputra Literary Festival into a confluence of creative writers, energetic journalists, committed filmmakers, active theater personalities, dynamic  publishing professionals etc to attract a sparkling gathering for three days at Srimanta Shankardev Kalakshetra in northeast India.

The pre-historic city of Guwahati welcomed over 15 eminent authors from 10 foreign nations along with over 150 writers from different parts of the country for the three-day literary festival starting on 28 January 2017. Organised by the National Book Trust of India (an autonomous organization under the Union human resources development ministry) in association with the Publication Board Assam (under State government’s education department).

The festival witnessed over 50 panel discussions, many book release and readings, a number of cultural events including film screenings based on literary creations in presence of thousands. First of its kinds in the alienated region of India, the festival witnessed overwhelming response from the participants to  various sessions hosted in six venues inside the cultural complex namely Tagore Hall, Pandita Ramabai Hall, Premchand Hall, Subramania Bharathi Hall, Nalinibala Devi Hall and Bezbarua Hall. With this unique festival, the expanding city has emerged as an important venue of literary festivals lately coming up in Jaipur, Hyderabad, Chennai, Bangalore, Delhi, Lucknow, Patna, Bhubaneswar, Chandigarh, Ajmer, Jammu etc.

Inaugurating the festival under a sunny winter sky, Union human resources development minister Prakash Javadekar appealed to the litterateur & authors to contribute for the mission to build a culturally sound society through their literary pieces reflecting the truth. Once a journalist, Javadekar also assured the government’s
support in ensuring the freedom of thought & expressions in the country.

Talking about the country’s strength in diversity, Javadekar cited the rich cultural heritage of India since time immemorial and asserted that it would further grow stronger with the true spirit of pluralism. The Union minister urged the young people to inculcate a habit of reading and emphasized on revitalizing the library movement across the populous country. Javadekar also mentioned about the rich tradition of libraries in Nalanda, Takshila and Vikramshila era.

Addressing the august gathering, Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal expressed hope that the festival would provide a rare platform for interaction & exchange of ideas between readers & litterateurs from all over the country and abroad. Commenting that literature is the mirror of the society, the young chief minister asserted that
it has also the power to transform the society. Sonowal did not forget to mention about the mighty river Brahmaputra which remains the essence of life for millions of dwellers in the fertile valley.

Legendary Assamese singer Dr Bhupen Hazarika  created many of his masterpieces adoring the misty river with his creative zeal and immortal voice, added the enthusiast chief minister.

The State education minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, while welcoming the visiting participants to the ‘land of red river and blue hills’, stated that the festival was a dream event coming true for everyone in the region.

The energetic minister pointed out that the literature is ‘the art of discovering something extra ordinary about ordinary people and saying with ordinary words something extraordinary’. “Since time immemorial, the human civilization has thrived mostly on the bank of a river whether it is Indus, Nile, Mesopotamia, Huwang He
or the Thames….Brahmaputra has also been at the core of Assam’s folklore, inspiring literature, art and music even though often left behind a wave of destruction during the monsoon. Thus Brahmaputra Literary Festival seeks out to recreate the magic of convergence of literature from all over the world to create stronger ties,” commented


Mentioning about the 15th century saint, philosopher, cultural icon Mohapurush Srimanta Shankardev,  19th  century authors like Ananda Ram Dhekial Phukan, Hem Chandra Barua , Lakshminath Bezbarua, Chandra Kumar Agarwal , Jyoti Prasad Agarwala etc, Jnanpith awardees Birendra Kumar Bhattacharya & Mamoni Raisom Goswami with others, the minister claimed that the Assamese creative writing is among the most vibrant regional literature in India.

Celebrated Japanese author Randy Taguchi, Konkani author DamodarMauzo, Arunachali writer Mamang Dai, NBT chairman Baldeo Bhai Sharma & its director Rita Choudhury, the State chief secretary VK Pipersenia also addressed the gathering under the pleasing winter sky. It was preceded by a spectacular literary carnival welcoming the participants to the festival venue in the southern part of the ancient city. Eminent authors including Neal Hall from USA, Alessandra Bertini & Carlo Pizaati from Italy, Nicolos Idier & Francois Gautier from France, Subramani from Fiji, Dhunpal Raj Heeraman & Ramdeo Dhorundhur from Mauritius,  Selina Hossain, Shaheen Akhter & Urmi Rahman from Bangladesh, Rajiva Wijesinha from Sri Lanka, Raj Heeramun, Ramdev Dhoorandhar & Niranjan Kunwar from Nepal, Yugyen Tshering from Bhutan along with many others joined in various discourses and bared their hearts on different relevant issues. Many prominent writers from the mainland India including Narendra Kohli, Rami Chhabra, Vimala Morthala, Khalid Mohammed, Subhash Kashyap, Makarand Paranjape,  Bhagirath Mishra, Amar Mitra, Binod Ghosal, Angana Choudhury, Mirza Ali Baig etc also participated in different sessions of the festival. Similarly resourceful personalities like  Manju Borah, Leena Sarma, Khalid Mohammed, Jahnavi Barua, Ravi Singh,  Preeti Gill, Nabin Baruah, Bhaskar Dutta-Baruah, Dipa Choudhuri, Bela Chandrani,  Utpal Borpujari, Rabijita Gogoi, Arup Jyoti Choudhury, Nanigopal Mahanta, Arup Borbora, Shiela Bora, Basab Rai etc contributed in various discourses.

A number of famed north-eastern creative personalities and journalists including Arup Kumar Dutta, Yeshe Dorjee Thongchi, Sanjoy Hazarika, Dhruba Hazarika, Kula Saikia, Jnan Pujari, Prabuddha Sundar Kar, Wasbir Hussain, Phanindra Kumar Debachoudhury,  Pradip Phanjoubam, Monalisa Chankija, Dileep Chandan, Anuradha Sarma Pujari, Maini Mahanta, Mrinal Talukdar, Prasanta Rajguru, Aniz Uz Zaman,  Sananta Tanty, Srutimala Duwara, Monikuntala Bhattacharjya, Nilim Kumar, Suparna Lahiri Baruah,  Geetali Borah, Monalisa Saikia, Juri Borgohain  etc were also present on the occasion. As a part of the festival, few acclaimed movies including Adajya (Assamese feature film, directed by Santwana Bardoloi) and  Mirzya (Hindi film, directed by  Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra) were screened at the venue. Moreover, distinguished film maker Mehra, Bollywood film stars of yesteryear Asha Parekh & Shatrughan Sinha and film writer Shahid Rafi  interacted with the art appreciators. The glamour queen of Kati Patang,  Teesri Kasam, Dil Deke Dekho, Mera Gaon Mera Desh etc movies, Ms Parekh repented that she did not take the opportunity to perform in a movie of great Bengali film maestro Satyajit Ray. The Oscar winning film maker offered a major role to Ms Parekh for his movie Kanchanjungha, but she had to refuse it because of her busy schedule in Bombay (now Mumbai). The former  chairperson of national film central board now regrets that she actually lost a life time opportunity with that refusal. On the other hand, the actor turned politician Sinha  claimed that he had the experience of  Uphas (making fun), Upeksha (neglect), Tiraskar (criticism) and Daman (exploitation) in his filmy life. He also commented that his  biography titled Anything But Khamosh was an honest revelation of a struggling performer in the glamour world of Mumbai. Terming the Brahmaputra Literary Festival ‘a grand occasion for the people of northeast India to celebrate’, the New Delhi based daily newspaper Pioneer described that with the celebration  the region has also joined the league of glamorous literary festivals across the country, which is a reason to rejoice after decades of turmoil and conflicts.

“The very name of the event, which is kept after a mighty river in the State, will remain a source of congregation, unity and festivity for the common people. As Brahmaputra has an age-old tradition of spreading both its fertility and fury equally throughout the State of Assam, the literary festival must symbolise and take it forward now in terms of exposing the rich reservoirs of the literary and cultural dynamics of the region,” said the editorial. It also added that there should have been a literary festival in the region long before and now the festival would rediscover the literary and cultural extravaganza of all the States of the alienated region. The editorial expected that the literary festival, proposed to be an annual affair, would help in channelizing new ideas and their dissemination simultaneously.

Earlier the NBT director Ms Choudhury also expressed hope that the festival would focus not only on languages & literature, but also on cultures, society, politics, performance, traditions, music, identity and the regional media. Herself a Sahitya Akademi Award winning author,  Ms Choudhury also added that Assam aimed to make the festival a landmark event in the country’s literary calendar. She opined that after years of conflicts, the people of the region received a fresh air of friendliness, accomplishment and joy.

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose, while  posting in her blog after participating in the festival, has termed the endeavour  a refreshing experience. It had a crackling good mix of regional writers from all over India along with a few international delegates.

It was heartening to note how all the guests were treated at par. The hospitality arrangements made by the organising committee were impeccable, she added. Talking about the Lit Mart, which was conceived & inaugurated by Ms Choudhury, the admirer described it a fascinating experiment at the venue.

Assam Governor Banwari Lal Purohit graced the closing ceremony, where Gauhati University vice-chancellor Dr Mridul Hazarika, eminent Italian author Carlo Pizaati, famed Indian author Narendra Kohli along with few others were also present. Introducing himself not as a writer, but a vivid reader, Governor  Purohit also recited few poems from Hindi literature.

The curtain came down to the festival on  30 January  evening with a long poetry reading session among the delegates on an exotic cruise over the misty Brahmaputra river. The setting sun and its gloomy reflection on the wavy river water articulated a final goodbye  to the visitors with the promise to meet again in near future on this small

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Indian author bats for free mingling of people



Guwahati: Prominent Assamese writer, who is an Arunachali by native, Yeshe Dorjee Thongchi opposes the idea of inner line permit (ILP) arrangement, which is presently applied to three northeastern States
namely Mizoram, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh.

Attending the ‘Guest of the Month’ program of Guwahati Press Club  on 4 October 2016, the Sahitya Academi awardee author argued that free movements of native citizens inside a country should not be opposed. Thongchi strongly batted for mingling of the people of different origins.

Answering queries from the scribes in the interactive session, Thongchi clarified that he would not comment on the present movements going on in Manipur and Meghalaya for the ILP, but he is convinced
that the present laws in his home State are effective enough to safeguard the interest of the indigenous people. The prolific author argued that the initial idea of imposing ILP was to prevent criminal & anti-locals entering into a particular State, but today the concept is changed. Now the threat is no longer from the outsiders, but the alternate media which poses real danger to the indigenous cultures across the globe.

A retired top-ranked bureaucrat, Thongchi started his literary pursuit since his school days. Although his mother tongue is a dialect called Sherdukpen spoken by few thousand families in Arunachal, Thongchi
started practicing his writings in Assamese language as it was the medium of instruction in NEFA schools those days. The soft spoken gentleman, while speaking about the replacement of Assamese language in Arunachal’s medium of instruction, Thongchi clarified that it was not because of any conspiracy hatched by the Hindi lobby. The widely recognized author disclosed that actually the English replaced it as the medium. Hindi is taught in Arunachal schools as a subject only.

Born in 1952 in west Kameng, Thongchi completed his schooling in Arunachal Pradesh and later sfifted to Assam for higher education in Cotton College and Gauhati University. After graduation,  Thongchi was
appointed as an Arunachal Pradesh Civil Service officer and later inducted to the Indian Administrative Service in 1992.

Immensely popular with Assamese readers through his literary works like  ‘Mauna Oath Mukhar Hriday’, ‘Sonam’, ‘Beeh Konyar Deshat’, ‘Shaw Kota Manuh’, ‘Moi Akou Janam Lom’, ‘Papor Pukhuri’, ‘Banh Foolar Gondha’ etc, Thongchi has received a number of awards including Bhasha Bharati, Phulchand Khandelwal Sanghati, Basudev Jalan besides Sahitya Akademi.

Thongchi was honored with a traditional Assamese Zapi and Gamocha at the beginning of the interactive session, which witnessed the presence of many senior journalists like Rupam Barua, Ranen Kumar Goswami, Girindra Karjee, Nava Thakuria along with writer Jagadindra Raichoudhury, Surya Das, Ahsan Majid, Archana Bhattacharya etc.

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Neda emerges from  saffron cocoon



The energetic Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which thrashed the ruling Congress in the last general elections under the banner of National Democratic Alliance (NDA), now floats a northeastern political alliance with an aim to counter the century old party in one of its  strongholds.  The formal launching of North East Democratic Alliance (Neda) is scheduled  for  13 July in Guwahati, which is expected to be graced by the BJP president Amit Shah, the architect of the regional political forum.

In fact, soon after the historic win in Assam Legislative Assembly  polls held in April 2016, the BJP announced formation of Neda for pursuing the development of northeast India. Most of the regional political parties, which are not inclined to the Congress, showed interest in joining the forum, headquartered in Guwahati, to boost the morale of BJP for making Northeast Congress Mukt.

“The primary objective of Neda will be to work out State-specific strategy in respect of like-minded regional parties,” said its convenor Himanta Biswa Sarma, a powerful Assam minister who abandoned the Congress to join the saffron brigade before the Assam polls. But seemingly the inherent agenda would be the BJP’s mission to grab at least 20 out of 25 Lok Sabha seats in the next general elections from the region of eight underdeveloped States.

Till date some important   non-Congress (also non-Left) parties of the region namely Mizo National Front (MNF), Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), Ganashakti, Naga People’s Front (NPF), People’s Party of Arunachal (PPA), United Democratic Party (UDP), National People’s Party (NPP), Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura
(IPFT), Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) etc have joined in  the initiative.

Neda was formed in the virtual capital of northeast India on 24 May, the day Assam’s first BJP chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal took oath in the city, which was graced by BJP chief Amit Shah along with the party’s national general secretary and Northeast in-charge Ram Madhav. Besides Assam CM Sonowal, State minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, Nagaland
chief minister TR Zeliang, Arunachal Pradesh chief minister  Kalikho Pul, former Mizoram chief minister and Mizo National Front president Pu Zoramthanga, Parliamentarian and NPP president Conrad Sangma, legislator and UDP leader Paul Lyngdoh etc were present in the meeting.

Ram Madhav, who is credited for sealing the nationalist party’s alliance with the AGP and the BPF prior to Assam polls, opined that the Neda would ensure greater development as well as mutual cooperation in the region. It has the potentiality to enhance the cooperation among various northeastern political parties and also improve coordination  with the Narendra Modi led Union government in New Delhi.

It may be mentioned that three years back a regional (read non-Congress) political forum  named Northeast Regional Political Front was floated by the NPF and the AGP. Now both the parties have joined Neda signalling the silent death of the forum, which was launched in October 2013. The immediate target of Neda seems to be Congress ruled Manipur,
where the veteran Meitei leader Okram Ibobi Singh is approaching the end of his third term chief minister-ship. Congress strongman Ibobi led his party to win 2012 Assembly elections with 42 legislators (out of 60 seats) for the consecutive third term.

But now more than 25 sitting Congress legislators are expecting to change their loyalty towards the nationalist party, in and around the forthcoming Assembly polls scheduled for early 2017. The poll-bound Mizoram, Meghalaya and Tripura, where State elections are due in 2018, may also pave the way for the saffron party to strengthen their bases in the region.

Optimism is in the air as the Neda has been projected as a platform to resolve conflicts among different States particularly on border issues. Assam has been facing border conflicts with Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya for decades. Similarly Mizoram encounters border issues with Tripura and Manipur with Nagaland. Amidst all, the BJP has shown its shrewdness in collaborating with all these regional political parties of the trouble-torn region and conveyed the message that it is ready to work with the regional parties maintaining their ethnic, linguistic and cultural identities.

The initiative is bound to give fillip to the Hindutva-centric party in both political battlefields as well as in rough socio-cultural pitches of the alienated region.

The author is a Guwahati based journalist and commentator

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BJP’s rise in northeast India


Sonowal and GogoiAnti-incumbency wave against the 15 years old Congress government at Dispur, roaring assurances over curbing on Bangladeshi (read Muslim) migrants and the fast-paced development etc were few major reasons that influenced the electorate of Assam in northeast India to make the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) victorious in the recently concluded State Assembly polls.

After the poll debacles in Delhi and Bihar (also in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry & Kerala Assembly elections), Prime Minister Narendra Modi has finally found a reason to smile as the electorate of Assam, where the saffron party won seven seats in the last Parliamentary elections, gave thumps up to his party along with its alliances an absolute majority.

Need not to mention that Assam, unlike many elections in the last three decades of turmoil, witnessed a peaceful electoral battle for its 126 members State Legislative Assembly with two phases of polling on 4 & 11 April, where altogether  1,064 candidates tried their lucks. Moreover, for the first time two national (also powerful & resourceful) political parties with a few regional parties joined in the polls, where the State voters exercised their franchises with as high as 83 percent (out of 1.92 crore) turnout to overthrow the ruling Congress.

The BJP along with Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) saw a convincing victory with  86 legislators, where the Congress was restricted to only 26 seats (the party won 78 seats in
2011 Assembly elections). The electorate with the high influence of popular Modi wave not only ended the era of Tarun Gogoi’s uninterrupted 15 years rule, but also defeated a number of Congress veterans.

Once termed as a party of Brahman and Bania (trader), the BJP alone won 60 seats, where as it had only five legislators got won in the last  Assembly elections. Energized as the BJP’s alliance partner, the AGP won 14 seats (10 seats in 2011 polls) and  the BPF succeeded in 12 seats (same with last Assembly polls, though it was with Congress that time).

With the Congress, the other losing party was the Badruddin Ajmal led All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), which could succeed  only in 13 constituencies in contrast to 18 seats in 2011 polls. A known
sympathizer to Bangladeshi migrants in Assam, Moulana Ajmal, who is a Parliamentarian from Dhubri Lok Sabha constituency, too lost from South Salmara constituency.

Some of the important winners include outgoing chief minister Tarun Gogoi, Assembly speaker Pranab Gogoi, BJP’s chief ministerial candidate Sarbananda Sonowal,  AGP president Atul Bora, former chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, former State ministers Brindaban Goswami,  Pradip Hazarika, Chandra Mohan Patowary, Phani Bhusan Choudhury,   former All Assam Students’ Union leader Tapan Gogoi etc. All four seats in greater Guwahati area were won by BJP candidates namely  Atul Bora (senior) from Dispur constituency, Siddhartha Bhattacharya from Guwahati East, Ramendra Narayan Kalita from Guwahati West and Himanta Biswa Sarma from Jalukbari constituency. Guwahati’s
BJP Parliamentarian Bijaya Chakrabarty’s daughter Suman Haripriya also won from Hajo constituency.

Among prominent losers from the Congress include former Union minister Paban Singh Ghatowar, former State ministers like Pradyut Bordoloi, Gautam Roy, Sarat Barkataki, Bharat Chandra Narah, Atowa Munda, Chandan Kumar Sarkar, Nurzamal Sarkar, Tanka Bahadur Rai,  Prithibi Majhi, Bishmita Gogoi,  Ajit Singh, Siddique Ahmed, Pranati Phukan etc.

Congress veteran Gogoi, who won from Titabor constituency, accepted the defeat of his party and  affirmed to play the role of constrictive opposition in the  Assembly. On the other hand, PM Modi  thanked the people of Assam for helping his party for winning and commented that Assam elections win for BJP was ‘historic by all standards’.

The saffron party leaders also promised that it would urgently seal the border  with Bangladesh, complete the NRC without a single illegal migrant, clear a huge volume of lands belonged to Vaishnavite Satras under encroachment, initiate for all round development with 24×7 power & water supply, ensure 100 percent irrigation coverage of arable lands, offer employment to 25 lakh youths, withdraw oral interviews for 3rd & 4th category government  jobs in the State etc. It now expects all possible help & cooperation from the Centre to the new government at Dispur under the leadership of Sonowal.

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Underlining India’s productive engagement in Myanmar



As Myanmar (formerly Burma) is opening up to the world, various experts are advocating for India’s pro-active initiatives in this fast  changing neighbourhood. Two recently concluded discourses in different parts of northeast India revealed that the participants in large numbers supported New Delhi’s aggressive involvement in the process of sustainable development in the southeast Asian nation.

The first meet, held at Shillong on 20 &21 April and organized by Heinrich Boell Foundation, Institute of Social Sciences, Burma Centre Delhi and Asian Confluence, was attended by media persons, former diplomats and experts from both the countries, whereas the second meet was organized by Guwahati Press Club on 21 April as an interactive session with a Yangon (formerly Rangoon) based Assamese journalist and political analyst.

Bidhayak Das, who hails from the alienated region, emphasized the immediate role  New Delhi needs to play to shape up Indo-Burma policies with regards to present day needs. Advocating better ties
with Myanmar, journalist Das asserted that the country had changed its face rapidly after the 2015 November general election, where Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi led National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide victory.

The soft spoken analyst observed that Myanmar had been adopting a quasi-democracy that would directly or indirectly bring enormous benefits to the people of northeast India. The situation in Myanmar, which was ruled by the military generals for decades, has been improved rapidly in recent past. Commenting on Suu Kyi, Das claimed that  the daughter of Burmese independence struggle hero General Aung San is still respected by all communities in Myanmar. He argued that she could really do wonders in reforming her country for a full-fledged democracy after decades of dictator’s rule.

The NLD earlier won a massive victory in 1990 general elections, which were largely free & fair, but the brutal & isolationist military regime did not recognize the voters’ mandate and refused to hand over
power to the elected representatives. The head of the regime Senior General Than Shwe, who grew enmity towards Suu Kyi, even ordered brutal crack downs over the NLD activists. Subsequently Suu Kyi was put under under house arrest as a political prisoner.

After 15 years of house arrest, Suu Kyi was released, but her party was not allowed to participate in the last polls for lower house of Myanmar Parliament that took place in 2010. The military backed Union
Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) swept the polls.  The immediate past President Thein Sein came to the scene in place of Than Shwe and the reform process started gaining momentum. The media was also moderately freed from the clutches of censorship.

Journalist Das was however apprehensive about Nobel laureate Suu Kyi’s  roles in the Htin Kyaw led Myanmar government at NayPieTaw, as she might face an uphill task to deal with the Burmese armed forces (popularly known as Tatmadaw).  Moreover, the 2008 Burma Constitution, which prevented her to become the President of the country, cannot be changed without the support of more than 75 percent lawmakers.

At the same time, it is noticeable that the Burmese armed forces have 25 percent Parliamentarians reserved in both the houses of Myanmar Parliament. Myanmar’s lower house of Parliament (locally known as  House of  Representatives or Pyithu Hluttaw) has 440 seats, where 110 Army candidates got appointed by the commander-in-chief of Tatmadaw. Similarly, the upper house of Parliament (known as House of Nationalities or Amyotha Hluttaw) has 224 seats, where 56 military personnel were nominated by the Tatmadaw chief. With more to it, the ministries of defence, home affairs and border affairs are kept under the control of the military. Hence, the Yangon based analyst argued that the Myanmar’s new foreign minister Suu Kyi, for the time being, might embrace the Tatmadaw as a partner in the process of democratization of her country.

Speaking about the opportunity of northeast India’s virtual capital Guwahati as a health, education and tourism hub, the journalist turned an expert on political affairs commented that the political will and
supports from the locals would be essential to materialize the dream. He also insisted that the Myanmar government should open a diplomatic office in Guwahati and a direct flight from the city to either
Mandalay or Yangon be operated for the benefit of the commuters. He however did not forget to mention about various challenges in chasing the dream as a number of militant outfits from northeast India were still taking shelter in the jungles of northern Myanmar. The rebel outfits are also reportedly enjoying China’s inherent support.

As Beijing remains influential to the Myanmar government till now, the northeastern militants may continue enjoying the privileges there for some more years. However, it seems to be difficult for the militant outfits including Paresh Barua run United Liberation Front of Assam (Independent) to
achieve much from their hideouts in Myanmar, even though the militants from the region recently formed an umbrella of insurgent outfits named United National Liberation Front of Western South East Asia.

Earlier addressing the Shillong meet, titled as India- Myanmar Media Dialogue, former Indian ambassador to Myanmar Rajiv Bhatia argued that the media, strategic community, academia and civil society should come together and collaborate in the initiative to understand India’s immediate eastern neighbours. Bhatia also referred to several achievements in Myanmar since the reforms were initiated by the President Thein Sein.

The Institute of Social Sciences director  Ash Narain Roy emphasized on more media representation in the bilateral initiatives primarily focusing on the borders areas of India and Myanmar. The Burma Centre Delhi director Alana Golmei also supported his views claiming that the meaningful interaction between the scribes of both the  countries would help in the practice of capacity development and partnership.

Khin Zaw Win, who came from Myanmar, expressed hope that the media in both the countries can help boosting ties between the two neighbours. The Tampadipa Institute of Myanmar director also commented that the Act East Policy, adopted by New Delhi should be helpful to the people of Indo-Myanmar border areas. Award winning Myanmarese  journalist Ester Htu San commented that the Indian media has better opportunities to be more visible in her country.

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Election-time shambles for Left intellectuals in Assam


Assam elections

The seasoned politicians often make and break news in the time of elections, but a section of Assamese intellectuals recently emerged as the creator of news and noise just ahead of State Assembly polls. The group of over 40 intellectuals (read academician, author, socio-cultural activist, journalist etc) appeared in public  space and made an appeal to the electorate not to vote a particular political party in Assam polls, which however backfired in the mainstream and alternate media.

Led solely by noted author and former Gauhati University professor Hiren Gohain, the group organised a press conference on 2 April  in Guwahati to term the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a fascist & communal entity and also urged the electorate to stand against the saffron party in the Assembly elections held on 4 and 11 April, counting of which is scheduled for 19 May 2016.

The anti-BJP campaigners including distinguished poets Nalinidhar Bhattacharya, Nilamoni Phukan with columnists Nirupama Bargohain, Anima Guha, former college principals Udayaditya Bharali, Dinesh Baishya, socio-cultural activists Sitanath Lahkar, Loknath Goswami, Shivanath Barman,  Akhil Ranjan Dutta, Sanjoy Borbora etc termed the saffron party as the ‘primary and biggest enemy of the people’ and urged everyone to prevent the BJP in its march to power at Dispur.

As the Guwahati based satellite news channels beamed the news, harsh reactions against those intellectuals  started pouring in the alternate media. The outspoken Congress-turned BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma  commented critically against the group saying that they were actually Left aligned intellectuals (read not impartial individuals) and the electorate of Assam  would never listen to their campaign against the pro-development party.

Parliamentarian Ramen Deka, who is also a national secretary of BJP, accused Gohain for indirectly campaigning for the candidates of Congress and AIUDF in the poll fray. He also appealed to the electorate not to pay attention towards the intellectuals’ diktat and support the nationalist party, which came to power at the Centre two years back.

Instant sharp reactions also came from senior journalist Dhirendra Nath Chakrabarty, who termed the appeal of those intellectuals as a paid statement (like paid news in nature). Saraswati Sanman awardee Assamese author Lakshi Nandan Bora and former bureaucrat Rohini Barua also expressed annoyances that a section of intellectuals gratuitously tried to diktat the electorate of the State.

Meanwhile,  the Indigenous Tribal Sahitya Sabhas of Assam issued a statement with strong words against Gohain and his team for their motivated appeal. The literary forum also targeted Krishak Mukti Sangram Samity leader Akhil Gogoi for indirectly asking the voters to support the ruling Congress, which had been protecting illegal Bangladeshi migrants in the region since long back. They ridiculed Gohain for organizing the press conference on the eve of  polls with the directive not to vote BJP nominees and stated that the Indian democracy allows every single citizen to cast his/her conscience vote. Hence the intellectuals’ unwanted appeal to the  electorate was interference in people’s right to cast their conscience votes, asserted  the literary forum.

The debate gained momentum as few more prominent citizens came out with resentments against the appeal made by Gohain and his team just two days before the first phase of Assembly polls. Acclaimed academician and former Gauhati University vice-chancellor Nirmal Kumar Choudhury with  former Assam police chief Nishinath Changkakoti criticized the stand taken by those intellectuals. “Asking people not to vote for a particular party is in itself a threat to democracy. Nobody has the right to issue a fatwa to the electorate on exercising their franchises. They (Gohain and his team) are trying to mislead the voters on the eve of polling day,” said a statement signed by Choudhury, Changkakoti with few others.

They also urged the electorate of Assam to come out in large number to give their mandates without any fear or under any kind of influence. Similar appeal was given by non-political organization Loka Jagaran Mancha, which urged everyone to cast his/her vote to make it a cent percent turnout and amazingly Assam had recorded over 82 percent of polling in both phases of recent Assembly elections.

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Court directive for Dighalipukhuri war memorial

The war memorial that was under construction has been stopped now

The war memorial that was under construction has been stopped now

Bringing relief to the people of northeast India, the Gauhati High Court recently dismissed a public interest litigation [PIL] for permanently halting  the construction of a war memorial on the northern bank of historic Dighalipukhuri [literary meaning long pond] arguing that the construction activities would  affect the ecology of the pond and also destroy its link between present and the past history.

However, the high court in its order pronounced on 30 March described that the proposed memorial would inspire the children and youths of Assam to join the armed forces. It would also inculcate in them respect for the members of armed forces who have sacrificed their lives for the country, added the verdict. The division bench of Chief Justice Ajit Singh and Justice Manojit Bhuyan observed that the respondents including the State government assured that there would be no construction activity in the water body of Dighalipukhuri and the pond would be preserved and protected from the encroachment.

It may be mentioned that noted Assamese academician Dr Hiren Gohain led a group of Guwahatians to knock the door of the court through a PIL two months back challenging the construction, following which the court directed to maintain status quo on any construction activities around Dighalipukhuri.
Amazingly the banned United Liberation Front of Asom (Independent) also came out with a statement that it would not allow any war memorial in Assam, as it would only glorify the Indian armed forces. The armed group claimed that New Delhi had been ‘forcefully invading Assam’ and hence it would continue opposing the project.

Initiated by Sainik Welfare Board of Assam, the war (martyr’s) was financed by Assam government and its foundation stone was laid on 18 May last year by State chief minister Tarun Gogoi. Acclaimed Assamese sculptor Biren Singha designed the statues and other artifacts for the 100 million budget project.

The memorial is designed to comprise the statues of Ahom General Lachit Barphukan with many other soldiers – who fought the 1671 Battle of Saraighat (over the mighty river Brahmaputra), an Amar Jawan Jyoti reverse rifle with a helmet on top, a uniformed soldier with his rifle reverse arm salute and also relief panels depicting iconic battle scenes from pre and post independent India.

Sainik Welfare Board of Assam director commodore (retired) Kamalesh Chandra Choudhury earlier said in an affidavit to the court that the construction of war memorial started on the government land outside the area of Dighalipukhuri. He also committed that no construction activity would be carried out in the water body of the 4.5-hectare tank.

Regarding the location Choudhury highlighted that the Dighalipukhuri played an immense role in the famous naval battle of Saraighat and hence it would be the most appropriate place for a war memorial in the whole of Assam.  Moreover, a war memorial in the city was a long standing demand from the patriotic people of the alienated region, added Choudhury.
Meanwhile, the Patriotic People’s Front Assam [PPFA] welcomed the verdict clearing all hurdles to complete the proposed memorial in the heart of the city. Many civil society groups including the PPFA supported the move to erect a war memorial and the court directive had finally vindicated their stand.

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Bangladesh dishonouring Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus?


Muhammad Yunus

There may be numerous ways to honor a Nobel laureate, but if one wants to know how to malign an internationally recognized social scientist, even though he is the one and only Nobel prize winner of the nation, come to Bangladesh.  The Bangla government at Dhaka has perhaps created a kind of records in insulting a legendary economist turned banker turned social thinker Professor Muhammad Yunus on various occasions.

The recent one has been reported from the capital city of the populous country, where Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed claimed on 16 January 2016 that a former managing director of a bank (read Prof Yunus who created celebrated Grameen Bank of Bangladesh) had provoked high officials of the US government in Washington to threat her to stop financing of Padma multipurpose bridge project over his removal. Addressing a prestigious award (in memory of Kazi Mahbub Ullah) function at Shilpakala Academy in Dhaka, Ms Hasina commented, “Some high officials from the USA told me that funding (of Padma bridge) would be stopped if a particular person is not there in the post (of Grameen Bank).”

The veteran politician, who leads Awami League party, without mentioning Prof  Yunus’s name in the reference asserted that he influenced the World Bank management to cancel the financial support to Padma bridge project due to the conflict with her government. “Even I was directly threatened,” claimed Ms Hasina. She also added the particular person (Prof Yunus) went to the court and the court gave the verdict. He violated the law of that bank and remained as the managing director for extra 10 years. If anyone failed to win in the court that is not our  responsibility….Could the construction of Padma bridge be stopped for that? PM Hasina pondered.

It may be mentioned that Prof Yunus was compelled to resign as the managing director of Grameen Bank in March 2011 on the ground that the ‘banker to the poor’ had crossed the official age limit (60 years).

Though Prof Yunus approached the apex court of the country against Bangladesh Bank, the highest banking authority of the south Asian nation, he lost the case. “There was huge pressure on my government to reinstate him (Prof Yunus) as the managing director. But I did not bow down,” asserted the third time Prime Minister, who is the daughter of Bangladesh’s founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Though it was an oblique reference to Prof Yunus by PM Hasina, the Yunus Centre immediately hit back to the Prime Minister alleging that she was carrying out a smear campaign against Nobel laureate. The centre, which functions as Prof Yunus’s secretariat, stated in a press communiqué, “We are saddened and frustrated by the baseless remarks made by the Honorable Prime Minister.” It is out of the question that Prof Yunus encouraged World Bank to cancel the loan for the bridge over river Padma, added the statement.

“Prof Yunus has dedicated his whole life to build various institutions for the welfare of the people of Bangladesh and would never do anything against the interest of the people of Bangladesh. Such unfair and unfounded smear campaign to discredit one of the most respected and celebrated Bangladeshis and his work is unfortunate,” asserted the Yunus Centre. Regretted that same allegations keep on resurfacing, even though Prof Yunus had already given elaborate clarification on the matter long back, the centre dedicated for promoting and disseminating the Nobel laureate’s philosophy, also added, “It is shocking that Honorable PM keeps repeating the allegation without ever presenting any proof in support of her allegation.”

Arguing that the Padma bridge is a dream project for the people of Bangladesh (so thus Prof Yunus) and hence he would never stand in the way of realizing that dream. The centre also cautioned that PM Hasina’s unfounded comments might have serious global implication over the country as a whole and Prof Yunus in particular.  Mentionable is that Bangladesh government inked a contract with the World Bank for financing the US $1.2 billion  Padma bridge in 2010. However the international lending agency backed out from the Bangladesh’s biggest ever infrastructure project in 2012 citing the reason of unusual high-level corruption. Under stress, the Hasina  government later took the initiative to complete the 6.1 km river-bridge with financial supports from Asian Development Bank, Japan International Cooperation Agency and Islamic Development Bank.

Prof Yunus, who  initiated a lending exercise in 1976 at some villages of Chittagong locality and later it inspired him to launch Grameen Bank of Bangladesh in 1983, received the global recognition for his micro-lending initiative as he and his bank were jointly honored with Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. The Grameen Bank is recognized as the only bank in the world which is owned by the loan receiving women of  Bangladesh. Their share is around 97%, where as the rest share of ownership is with the government. The bank that provides small loans to poor Bangladeshi nationals, who are mostly ladies, without any collateral is today emerged as a brand name across the globe.

Many socio-political analysts of Bangladesh argue that the elevated fame of the unique bank annoyed Ms Hasina as she was often introduced in public space as the Premier of the land of Muhammad Yunus.
Moreover, PM Hasina herself was expecting the Nobel award for her successful initiative in ending the decade long tribal insurgency in south-eastern Bangladesh. She maintained her suspicion that Prof Yunus received the award because of the Clinton family’s lobby to the Nobel committee.

Days back, the Prime Minister made the same allegation in Jatiya Sansad (National Parliament of Bangladesh), while responding to a Parliamentarian’s query, that ‘some domestic evil forces’ (implying Prof Yunus) were running negative propaganda against the poverty stricken country. She also added that ‘there were unprecedented efforts to attach the stigma of corruption to her government’, where she and her family were put as the prime target. Even later in a cabinet meeting, PM Hasina commented that Prof Yunus was conspiring against her government.  The local media reported the Premier’s comment which tempted the Yunus Centre to issue a formal statement protesting against her remark that Prof Yunus was waiting for Hillary Clinton to become the next US President to create more troubles to her government.
The centre also added, “The theory (Prof Yunus is plotting to bring down the government of Bangladesh when she becomes the US President) is stretching the imagination to the limit….Implicating a front-running Presidential contender of a friendly country with such a serious accusation does not promise our country a good start with new President if she is elected.”

It is known to everyone who tracks Prof Yunus’s spirited mission to make the world poverty-free within our lifetime that he is close to Bill Clinton’s family. Even the US presidential hopeful Ms Clinton, who visited Dhaka as the US Secretary of State, publicly asked PM Hasina to resolve the conflict with Prof Yunus amicably. But even then one would expect, because of the proximity only, Prof Yunus should not be blamed as a conspirator to a national project engaging the graceful American lady.


Nava Thakuria is a journalist based in Northeast India. Views expressed are personal. 

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Northeast India celebrates Republic Day despite militants’ call for boycott


Republic Day in Northeast

The residents of northeast India, whom the mainstream Indian agencies often misunderstand as sympathizers to various separatist militant outfits, joined in 67th Republic Day celebrations one and all to pay their heartfelt tributes to the martyrs. For the first time in recent decades, the auspicious day on 26 January 2016 was observed without a single incident of violence across the region that is surrounded by Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet (China), Burma and Bangladesh.

The people of trouble-torn Manipur, Assam, Meghalaya and Nagaland with Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Tripura and Sikkim have participated in both government and community celebrations on R-Day to hoist the national flag with great fervour. They not only saluted the martyrs, who made supreme sacrifices for the motherland, but also rejected the militants’ yearly rhetoric to boycott the R-Day and Independence Day in the alienated region.
The northeast militants under various banners namely United National Liberation Front of Western South East Asia, co-ordination committee of Manipur based militant outfits, Garo National Liberation Army, Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council etc called for a total shutdown in the region on R-Day this time too raising voices against the Union government in New Delhi. A joint statement issued the rebels asserted that there is no reason for Western South East Asia to celebrate India’s R-Day. They also argued that the citizens of the region should introspect and analyze Indian policy here and initiate to dislodge Indian occupation from the alienated region.
Indian President Pranab Mukherjee, while hoisting the national flag in New Delhi on the revered day, where French President Francois Hollande was also present as an honoured guest, emphasized on various  national issues including the peace which is the foundation of civilization. “Peace is the primary objective of a rational consciousness as well as our moral universe. It is the foundation of civilization and a necessity for economic progress. And yet, we have never been able to answer a simple question: why does peace remain so elusive?” said President Mukherjee. The President also highlighted that India today is a rising power, a country fast emerging as a global leader in science, technology, innovation and start-ups, and whose economic success is the envy to the world. He also added that love for one’s motherland is the basis of all progress.
Meanwhile, the Governors and chief ministers of northeast India unfurled the tri-colour in their respective capital cities in presence of dignitaries and general audience. Meghalaya Governor V Shanmuganathan, while unfurling the tricolour at Polo Ground in Shillong, expressed concerns about the ongoing internal security problems in Garo hills locality. The Governor, even after appealing the local militants to come forward for peace talks, reiterated that the security agencies would deal with the situation and neutralize militant activities.

Manipur chief minister O Ibobi Singh hoisted the national flag at historic Kangla fort in Imphal. He appreciated the people for joining the celebrations across the State despite militants’ boycott call and urged everyone to make Manipur a peaceful and prosperous State in the coming days. Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi also expressed his gratitude to the people for spontaneously celebrating the R-Day.

“The spontaneous response of all sections of the people to celebrate the 67th R-Day defying the boycott call given by the proscribed organisations is an indication that the people want peace and development and not rebellion,” said Gogoi while hoisting the tri-colour in Guwahati. He also added that the  people’s participation on R-Day functions waiving the tricolour in hands indicated that the insurgents groups were losing popular support from the common people. Gogoi however asked the fugitive militant leader Paresh Barua, who leads the anti-talk faction of United Liberation Front of Asom, to shun the path of violence and join in the mainstream for the sake of Assam’s overall interest.

Nagaland Governor  PB Acharya, while unfurling the tri-colour  in Kohima, urged all Naga underground groups to leave the path of violence. Mizoram Governor Lt. Gen (Rtd) Nirbhay Sharma, while unfurling the flag in Aizawl, emphasized on the connectivity in all dimensions, which is essential for economic growth and development.

The Governor predicted that the Kaladan multi-modal transit transport project, once it is completed, would open up great opportunities for the international trades with various ASEAN countries. Tripura  Governor Tathagata Roy unfurled the tricolor in Agartala and expressed hope that India-Bangladesh relations would further improve as bus services between the two countries had encouraged the people for more trade & commerce.

Arunachal Pradesh Governor Jyoti Prashad Rajkhowa, while hoisting the flag in  Itanagar, called upon all government officers and employees to work with full commitment for an efficient, people-friendly, corruption-free administration in hilly State. “We have to ensure smooth, prompt, hassle-free delivery of public services. We have to provide corruption-free administration and all those involved in corrupt practices and other unlawful activities must be dealt in with firm hands,” said Governor Rajkhowa.
Republic Day NE

Along with the nation, the city based scribes and patriotic citizens celebrated the R-Day at Guwahati Press Club. Editor-journalist Girindra Kumar Karji hoisted the national flag in the morning, following which the participants took out a procession on the streets. Senior journalist DN Bezbarua and social worker Ajay Dutta led the procession where many children also took part lifting the tri-colour.

Others who joined in the mission included Rupam Barua, Ranen Kumar Goswami, Mukul Kalita, Pramod Kalita, Jagadindra Raychoudhury, Pankaj Duara, Dayanath Singh, Pulin Kalita, Kailash Sarma, Pradip Thakuria, Soumyadeep Dutta, Mrinal Ali Hazarika, Ujjal Saikia, Samir Sandilya, Nayan Bhuyan, Hiren Kalita, Bikash Singh, Ravi Ajitacharya, Sabita Lahkar, Sumana Dutta, Purabi Barua, Kuntala Chakrabarty, Alaka Goswami, Akhyamala Bora,  Anjali Deka, Mamata Mishra, Tarali Chakrabarty etc.


Meanwhile, four distinguished personalities from the region were declared as Padma award winners on the occasion of 67th R-Day. Eminent Manipuri theatre personality Heisnam Kanhailal   was  announced as a recipient of Padma Bhushan in art-theatre category, where as noted Assamese journalist DN Bezbaruah was selected for Padma Shri. Similarly Ajoy Dutta (Assam), Prahlad Tasa (Assam), Kameshwaram Brahma (Assam), Tokheho Sema (Nagaland) and Veena Tandon (Meghalaya) were also nominated for the important civilian award.
Prior to the celebration as usual, the Journalists’ Forum Assam had ridiculed the militants’ R-Day boycott call and appealed to each and every patriotic resident of the region to hoist the national flag on the auspicious day and  pay homage to the martyrs. The forum argued that if the citizens do not recognize the immense sacrifice made by millions of known and unknown freedom fighters to make India an independent nation, ‘we would only turn ourselves as the most ungrateful nationals on the planet’.

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Rahul Gandhi lied about Barpeta Satra visit in Assam?


Rahul Gandhi votes

Congress veteran Tarun Gogoi, who is in power in Assam after winning third consecutive Assembly polls, often amuses the audience with his rhetoric. But not all the time Gogoi has received appreciation from the people of Assam. Like the latest one on the controversy related to Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi.

A month back, All India Congress Committee vice-president Rahul visited Assam and he got involved in an unwanted controversy regarding his entry to an important  Vaishnavite monastery. Very recently Assam chief minister Gogoi claimed again that Rahul was prevented by none other than few workers belonged to Rashtriya Swayang Sewak (RSS) and Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) from entering the Satra. Otherwise Rahul’s two-day Assam visit (11 and 12 December 2015) started well as he interacted with a group of SHG women from different parts of the State, addressed a party meet and talked to some selected Assamese  intellectuals in the city. He had another round of interactions with few distinguished media personalities next morning before flying to Barpeta to participate in a harmony-walk.

As the winter had already gripped Assam, the morning was cold and also foggy that day to ultimately delay his chopper from Guwahati. Need not to mention that Rahul’s visit to Barpeta in western Assam was expected to attract a huge crowd nurturing Muslim vote-banks in lower Assam for the pro-minority party, which lost the Barpeta  parliamentary constituency this time to AIUDF’s Sirajuddin Ajmal. As he flew to Barpeta for the Padayatra involving both Hindu and Muslim residents there, it was naturally expected that Rahul would seek blessings from the Satradhikar (head of the Vaishnavite monastery) of Barpeta Satra. Hundreds of women of the locality assembled in the century old monastery to have a glimpse of the young Congress leader. The local television channels also captured the mood of the people, who were waiting for him with enthusiasm, and telecast the visuals accordingly.

But for some unknown reason, Rahul did not enter the monastery and joined the harmony march for around five km towards Medhertari, a Muslim dominated locality of the district. He also addressed a public rally there advocating communal harmony and propagating Congress ideologies. But surprisingly, the Congress scion did not utter a single word about any opposition he faced at Barpeta Satra few hours back. Till the rally was completed at Medhertari, a debate related to Rahul’s ignorance about the Satra was initiated by the Guwahati based satellite news channels. The BJP leaders alleged that Rahul did not go inside Barpeta Satra only ‘to appease the Muslim voters’. Some local residents of Barpeta also aired their views that Rahul actually ‘ignored the sacred monastery’.

Following the spontaneous debate, Rahul Gandhi returned to the Satra and sought blessings from the monastery people just before flying back to Guwahati on his way to New Delhi same evening.

As the issue gained momentum in the public domain, Gogoi argued that Rahul had not shown any disrespect to the Satra, rather he was prevented by some local people belonged to RSS and BJP from entering the monastery. However there were few people to buy Gogoi’s clarification. Even a Congress minister in Gogoi’s cabinet explained a different story on the event. Chandan Sarkar, while talking to the scribes, argued that Mr Gandhi did not take bath in the morning and hence he avoided visiting the Satra. Moreover, Rahulji was not wearing the traditional Assamese attire for rituals inside the monastery added Sarkar.

With more to it, Assam Congress president Anjan Dutta also echoed the same version that Rahul was late while arriving at Barpeta and the local Congress leaders showed hurriedness to arrive at the Medhertari rally where thousands had already gathered to listen to Rahul. So they immediately postponed the Satra visit till the afternoon. The debate later went out of proportion when Rahul himself claimed on 14 December in New Delhi that he was prevented by some RSS people from entering the monetary. He repeatedly mentioned the 16th century Vaishnavite monetary as a temple, which only shows his lack of knowledge about the Satra institutions across Assam.

The Satras were established in Fifteen century by the greatest Assamese Mahapurus Shrimanta Shankaradev for preaching Vaishnavism ideologies. Assam today has more than 900 Satra institutions across the State including some major Satras in Majuli river islands. Need not to mention that each and every Assamese is directly or indirectly inclined to the Satra institutions. Later Burha Satradhikar of Barpeta Satra (senior head of the monastery) Basistha Dev Sharma also came out with public announcement that that nobody prevented Mr Gandhi on that day from entering the monastery.  Sharma argued that it would be unethical to oppose any one to get inside the Satra premises.

“I strongly deny all these allegations that Rahul Gandhi was opposed to come inside our Satra. Rather I was also waiting for him in the morning hours at the main entrance. Many senior Congress leaders including Dr Bhumidhar Barman were also with me to welcome him,” asserted Sharma adding that Rahul actually by-passed the main gate of the Satra and proceeded through a separate route for the rally.

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