The Assamese town of Hajo is known as an oasis of communal harmony for it is a popular pilgrimage centre for Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists.
But, with the stakes high for political parties looking to gain during the ongoing assembly elections, religious and community-based issues could disrupt this peace.
“We have never had any communal or religious tinge during elections in Hajo. This time some parties are seeking votes on religious lines, but it won’t work,” said Azizul Haq, a local resident.
The second and final phase of polling starts on April 11 and the BJP, Congress and minority-based outfits like the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) could stir up an air of unrest.
The constituency which has over 1.5 lakh voters, of which nearly 60,000 are Muslim, is represented by Dwipen Pathak of Trinamool Congress, a surprise winner in 2011 seeking to retain his seat.
Incidentally, allies BJP and Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) have fielded candidates from Hajo in a ‘friendly contest’. AGP’s Nurul Hussain has represented the constituency earlier while BJP’s Suman Haripriya is a greenhorn. Other than them, 13 candidates are in the fray including Congress’s Dulu Ahmed and AIUDF’s Mujibur Rahman.
In a bid to pre-empt ill-will spreading, heads of the town’s most sacred temple and mosque appealed to political parties and candidates to not spread communal hatred while campaigning for votes on religious lines. For locals, issues like good roads in interior places, better health care facilities and more opportunities for employment will more likely sway their votes than communally charged appeals.
“The contest in Hajo is too close to call. But as voters, we hope whoever wins focuses more on development and maintain the area’s reputation for peaceful coexistence,” said Karuna Kalita, a retired teacher.
Located on the banks of Brahmaputra, 24 kms from the state capital, Hajo is home to Hayagrib Madhab Temple, a Vishnu shrine constructed over four centuries ago. The temple is also visited by Buddhists who believe Buddha attained ‘nirvana’ here.
The Powa Mecca Mosque, constructed over 350 years ago, is also located at a close distance. The mosque is sacred for Muslims who believe the structure was constructed on soil brought from Mecca, the religion’s most sacred location.
“Centuries old communal harmony among residents of Hajo shouldn’t get affected because of elections,” said Siba Sarma, the chief Doloi or administrator of Hayagrib Madhab.
Agreeing, the chief imam at Powa Mecca, Hafiz Ibrahim said, “Hindus and Muslims have lived in harmony here for centuries. We take part in their religious celebrations and they join us in ours.”
Residents here have in the past shown exemplary bonhomie in the face of communal tensions. When the Babri Masjid was demolished and communal riots broke out across India, people of the town carried out a joint procession, led by the chiefs of the two main religious centres.