Why Assam’s farmers are furious at Himanta Biswa Sarma’s ‘fertiliser jihad’ jibe (Scroll)

The chief minister’s claim, say farmers and observers, is part of the politics of exclusion of Bengali-origin Muslims in the state.

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For many generations, Amzad Ali’s family has farmed their plot of land in No. 4 Baruajhar village, in Kharupetia area of Darrang district.

This year, for instance, Ali grew okra, cucumber and tomato on 2.5 acres of land. “We earn our living by selling vegetables,” Ali said.

He is among thousands of farmers in the Kharupetia-Bechimari-Balugaon belt in Darrang district, a hub of commercial farming in the state.

Every year, 90,000 metric tonnes of vegetables grown in this belt are sent across the region, according to Jitendra Saharia, Darrang’s district agricultural officer. “The vegetables are sent to Assam and other states in the North East, even to West Bengal,” Saharia said.

But the agriculture hub finds itself at the receiving end of a bizarre allegation.

On May 19, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, speaking at a natural farming convention, warned against the use of fertlisers in farming.

“When we started governing Assam, we informed the public that there is a rise in heart, kidney disease in the state due to excessive use of fertilisers in various food items,” Sarma said in Guwahati. The state, he said, was working “against fertiliser jihad”.

While “love jihad” is a conspiracy theory floated by Hindu supremacist organisations that claim there is an organised plot by Muslim men to seduce Hindu women and convert them to Islam, “land jihad” refers to a similar stratagem by the community to encroach on public land. Last year, after a deluge in Assam’s Silchar, social media accounts that miscreants had destroyed a river embankment as part of a “flood jihad”.

The Assam chief minister’s startling new “fertiliser jihad” coinage appeared to link the largely Bengali-Muslim vegetable growers of the state with a sinister plot.

Ali reacted sharply to the accusation. “People from our communities eat the same vegetables we grow and sell. What does he mean by ‘fertiliser jihad’?”

This is not the first time that Sarma has made such an allegation. In 2021, ahead of the state assembly elections, he had singled out the vegetable growers from Darrang district and accused them of launching a “chemical and biological attack” through their produce, resulting in an “increase” in kidney and liver disease.

A political game

Rejaul Karim Sarkar, who is the president of All Assam Minorities Students’ Union, said Sarma’s statement is part of the politics of exclusion of Bengali-origin Muslims in Assam.

“It is Himanta’s political game,” he said. “He knows that if he targets Muslims, it helps in polarisation and cements his position politically.”

Bengali-origin Muslims constitute a significant majority of Assam’s 35% Muslim population. They are often seen as a threat to the “natives” of Assam and its indigenous culture and vilified as illegal immigrants.

“In Assam, only one community is involved in industrial-scale commercial farming or agriculture,” said Bonojit Hussain, a farmer and researcher from Nalbari. “Coincidentally, this is exactly the same community that is always targeted for its identity.”

‘No other alternative’

The vegetable growers of Darrang and other districts Scroll spoke to denied they were part of any “jihad” plot. They also pointed out that commercial farming was not possible without the use of chemicals…

This story was originally published in scroll.in. Read the full story here


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