The red and white cotton gamosa, or traditional Assamese towel, has metamorphosed into an effective tool for fighting Assam elections to be held in March-April.
According to Congress election strategists, the gamosa is no longer associated with the Bharatiya Janata Party or Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It was when Covid-19 was spiralling last year that the PM extensively used the gamosa as a face mask and flaunted it with panache many times when he appeared on television during national campaigns such as lighting lamps for the corona warriors.
Assam health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, citing the example of the Prime Minister, had urged the people of the state to use the gamosa as face covers or masks. Biswa Sarma tweeted, “Gamosa is the symbol of rich culture & vibrant history of Assam. Honorable PM Sri Narendra Modi using gamosa to cover his face makes us gleam with both happiness and pride. I request people of Assam to also use gamosa to cover their faces as replacement of mask.”
From the face of the Prime Minister to the shoulders of Rahul Gandhi, the gamosa has undergone a change in its position and appeal in the assembly elections of Assam. The Assam Pradesh Congress Committee is on a gamosa collection drive ahead of the polls and has gathered over 1 lakh of these towels.
It was in Rahul Gandhi’s maiden visit to the state ahead of the elections that the gamosa rose to prominence once again, this time as an important element of Assam Congress’s campaign against the BJP. The Congress leaders along with Rahul Gandhi wore anti-CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) gamosas for the first time during the MP’s visit to Sivasagar district. According to the Congress, the gamosa that Rahul Gandhi wore was signed by the mother of Sam Stafford, the 17-year-old who died in police firing in 2019 during the anti-CAA protests that raged in Guwahati.
“The anti-CAA protest gamosa is part of the well-planned election campaign of the congress. So far, it has worked in favour of the party as we intend to collect over 50 lakh such anti-CAA gamosas. People have written their solemn commitments against CAA on the traditional towel. Even the Bengali Hindus have given us gamosas; this shows the resentment against the CAA and potential of the issue which only shall burgeon as the elections draws nearer,” said an insider of Assam Pradesh Congress, who did not wish to be identified.
“These gamosas collected bearing anti-CAA messages aren’t just pieces of clothing: they are the collective will and spirit to save and protect its honour and dignity,” wrote Ripun Bora, president of Assam Pradesh Congress Committee. “The gamosas are real and there to speak for themselves; we are not concocting figures,” added an election strategist of the APCC.
The gamosa is an article of significance for the indigenous people of Assam. It is generally a white rectangular piece of cloth with primarily a red border on three sides and red woven motifs on the fourth (in addition to red, other colours are also used). Although cotton yarn is the most common material for making/weaving gamosas, there are special occasion ones made from pat silk. It is used to cover the altar at the prayer hall or cover the scriptures. An object of reverence is never placed on the bare ground, but always on a gamosa. It is used by the farmer, fisherman or hunter as a waistcloth (tongali) or a loincloth (suriya) or gamosa; a Bihu dancer wraps it around the head with a fluffy knot. It is hung around the neck at the prayer hall (naamghar) and was thrown over the shoulder in the past to signify social status.
The state Congress has already announced its future plans with the 50 lakh odd gamosas that it intends to collect before the elections. “The anti-CAA message-written gamosas will be collected by our workers from all over the state, in order for them to be displayed at an anti-CAA memorial which the party plans to build after winning the elections,” said Ripun Bora.
The Congress has invited architects, based anywhere in the world, to send designs and layouts for the memorial which it plans to construct in Guwahati. “We will present the final design before the elections,” said an APCC election strategist.
Reacting to the gamosa collection drive, deputy Speaker of the Assam assembly and the BJP’s only Muslim MLA, Aminul Haque Lashkar, said that the gamosa shall come handy in wiping tears after the Congress loses the polls.
Will the anti-CAA gamosa garner votes for the party which has been relegated to a meagre 20 MLAs in the current assembly? According to an APCC election strategist, “Surveys so far show that our campaigns score over the BJP’s on all fronts, be it social media, tweets or local connect. As for the gamosa, it is totally ours now. Alongside the gamosa collection drive, Congress has also launched its Assam Bachao Abhiyan, the party’s first campaign in the state.
Congress leaders including the party’s state president, MP and senior leaders have crisscrossed the state to recharge their core voters. This is the first campaign and has been unique where leaders have not confined themselves to the highways or destinations on route. They have moved into villages and interior areas to meet the common people, know their needs and requirements, and feel the pulse. All these things will reflect in the manifesto which will be somewhat similar to the Chhattisgarh model.”
For the BJP, the election campaign is being led from the front by the state’s health, education and finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. His continuous cycle rallies have single-handedly evoked massive response. Three visits by the party’s star campaigner Prime Minister Narendra Modi and union home minister Amit Shah have been eventful for the BJP as they have been huge crowd pullers. The chief minister has been traversing the length and breadth of the state, reinstating the belief of “Sab ka sath, sab ka vikas, aur sab ka vishwas”, the party’s election tagline that aims to counter the Congress’s “Assam Bachao Abhiyan”.
“Unlike Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, caste politics doesn’t hold much water in Assam. However, the coming election in the state will be driven by ethnocentric sentiments rather than communal overtures. CAA, in such a situation, will be pivotal in determining votes,” said a strategist.