Ethnicity and Student Politics: A Study of Student Organizations As Political Pressure Groups in Assam

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 11:45
Oral Presentation
Chayanika PRIYAM, School of Social Sciences, Centre for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi, India., India
Social scientists working on questions of ethnicity and ethnic identity in Assam often raise arguments that view the question of ‘ethnic’ conflict in Assam as the articulation of ‘subnationalistic’[1] aspirations that are at seeming odds with a singular modern nationalistic project (See Baruah 1994). However the rise of a majoritarian national party such as the BJP in a multi-ethnic state such as Assam invites serious enquiry into the claims of ethnicity made by the multitude of political organizations in the region, especially the student organizations based on ethnic membership that have often spearheaded ethnic assertions in the state.

In light of these developments, this paper seeks to identify and analyze the politics pursued by student organizations based on ethnic membership. How does one understand the two strands of competing ideology, one with a majoritarian thrust and two, with a particularistic thrust coming together to form a coalition and how does this shape the discourse of ethnicity in Assam? From a phase when organizations questioned the legitimacy of the state through a language of rights to the present context of pursuing agendas and coalitions based on particular interests, how do we read and analyze the transformation of ethnic claims (non-negotiable) to interest-group claims that are negotiable. For this purpose, I would be analyzing the politics of the All Bodo Students’ Union and the All Dimasa Students’ Union in order to analyze and understand the patterns of continuity and break in organizational politics by studying the role of political leadership and cadre base in response to the larger sociopolitical context since the fall of Asom Gana Parishad to the rise of BJP in the 2000s.

[1] Baruah (1994) uses the term subnationalism to refer to the political and economic contestations pursued by political organizations as separate from the interests of the state.