“Development issues need to be above political issues”: Ashraful Hussain, Assam’s youngest MLA

12 May 2021
Courtesy Ashraful Hussain
Courtesy Ashraful Hussain

A 27-year-old social activist from Assam, Ashraful Hussain, successfully contested the 2021 assembly elections from the Chenga constituency to become the youngest legislator in the state. Hussain was born in Haripur village in the riverine area of Assam’s Barpeta district. He grew up in a community of Bengal-origin Muslims—or Miya Muslims—and witnessed first-hand the struggle for citizenship faced by his people, especially while the government updated of the National Register of Citizens in the state. The process, which requires residents to prove their citizenship, stripped lakhs of Assamese residents of their rights.

Hussain has been part of a literary movement of Miya poetry in the state, in which poets highlight the discrimination and existential fears of the Miya Muslim community. The poets’ assertion of their Miya identity and language prompted backlash, including police complaints accusing them of defaming the Assamese people, and prominent intellectuals claiming that the poems insulted the Assamese language. At the time of his election to the state assembly, Hussain had three cases pending against him for his poetry.

Hussain won the Chenga constituency on a ticket from the All India United Democratic Front, and secured 58.3 percent of the votes, defeating Rabiul Hussain and Sukur Ali Ahmed from the Asom Gana Parishad and the Congress, respectively. After the results, Kimi Colney, a reporting fellow with The Caravan, spoke to him about his entry into politics, his poetry and what he seeks to achieve as a member of Assam’s new legislative assembly.

Kimi Colney: You are a poet and an activist. Why did you enter politics?
Ashraful Hussain: From my early years I tried to do something for the society. Because of my love for people and the need of people, I went into politics. If I don’t enter into politics, from the outside, there are many things that we are powerless to do. This time, the time had come for me to enter into politics. Everyone, people from my community, people from the party, they all told me it will be right for me to join politics. And the party took a great measure by giving me a ticket at such a young age. I am the youngest MLA this time. Party gave me the ticket, I fought and I won by a 52,000-vote margin.

KC: You had a job in the corporate sector, in Pune. What motivated you to return to Assam?
AH: From 2014–16, I was in Pune. And later I went to Guwahati and I began roaming around Assam and working for people, like on the citizenship crisis, the NRC, the eviction movement. I was very concerned about the citizenship rights and I volunteered for the people in my native place. Most of my community people, all of them face this problem. They are facing deportation problems. Many people are already dropped from the NRC.

Kimi Colney is a reporting fellow at The Caravan.

Keywords: Assam Assembly Elections AIUDF National Register of Citizens Anti-CAA Protests Bharatiya Janata Party