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Why Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma has a problem with Baidulla Khan

Why Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma has a problem with Baidulla Khan

Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma has set a new benchmark for determining the gravity of a crime. The criminality of a criminal will be determined by his religion and the area he operates in.

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Why Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma has a problem with Baidulla Khan Why Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma has a problem with Baidulla Khan

On July 7, Vineet Bagaria, a 32-year-old businessman in Assam’s Dibrugarh died by suicide following threats from three individuals. He had recorded a video before taking his own life, claiming that four individuals, including the tenant of a shop owned by his family, were threatening him and he was unable to bear the pressure. Bagaria and his father had approached the local police and district administration, submitted written complaints, but no action was taken. 

Two days later, following a massive outrage across the state, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma visited Bagaria’s family and apologised to the grieving parents. In full public view, he reprimanded the deputy commissioner and the superintendent of police for their failure in taking any action on Bagaria’s complaint. “I've never been more ashamed in my life that such an incident could happen when I am serving as the chief minister. It has hurt me a lot. I apologise to his parents and the people of the state,” he said.

So far so good. A chief minister calls a spade a spade. 

But while apologising to the family and pulling up the district administration, Chief Minister Sarma kept repeating the name of one accused—Baidulla Khan. Four persons are allegedly behind Bagaria’s suicide—Baidulla Khan, Nishanth Sharma and Sanjay Sharma and Izaz Khan. Dibrugarh Police has arrested Baidulla and Sanjay and other two are still absconding. 

But CM Sarma was worried about just one person. He kept wondering how Baidulla Khan could muster courage to operate like a mafia in a locality like Dibrugarh. “I’m worried. There could be many Baidullas roaming around in Dibrugarh. I don’t know if we are discussing Dibrugarh or Dhubri or Jammu and Kashmir. Even in Dhubri and Jammu and Kashmir, nobody will dare to commit such a crime these days,” he said. For the uninitiated, Dhubri is a border district in western most part of Assam where Muslims constitute nearly 80 per cent of the population.

Baidulla Khan
Baidulla Khan

Throughout his interaction with the family members of Bagaria, it seemed that for Sarma, the bigger issue was the name and, of course, the religion of the criminal and not the nature of the crime. By repeatedly highlighting Baidulla’s name, he perhaps sought to indicate that there were geographical boundaries for criminals to operate, based on their religious identities. Breaching these boundaries will never be tolerated. The district administration failed in protecting the life of a citizen from the threats of local mafia and the CM did not hesitate in accepting this failure and apologise to the people of Assam, but he seemed more ashamed because a certain Khan could commit a crime under his regime, that too against a Bagaria in an area like Dibrugarh.

It was nothing but a very subtle attempt to add a communal twist to a crime allegedly committed by individuals practising two different faiths. Showing concern over criminals of one faith, the chief minister perhaps forgot his commitment to constitutional neutrality. All four accused, if proven guilty, deserve exemplary punishment, not for their religious identity, but for the unpardonable crime they have committed. 

On being asked, the chief minister dismissed these inferences and claimed that there was nothing communal in what he said. “I mentioned Baidulla because Dibrugarh is a Hindu dominated area. If a person from a religious group, which is minority in a particular area, dare to threaten and force a person from the majority group to commit suicide, imagine what a dreaded criminal that person must be. He is no ordinary criminal. I’m worried that such dreaded criminals exist in our Assam and my commitment is to wipe them out,” Sarma told India Today NE.

Now, that’s a new benchmark he has set. The criminality of a criminal will be determined by his religion and the area he operates in. If Baidulla Khan had forced another Khan in Dhubri to commit suicide, would that have lessened the gravity of his crime? Or are the two Sarmas, alleged to be involved in abetting Bagaria to take his own life, less criminals because they are Hindus operating in a Hindu-dominated area?