GUWAHATI: Though Bhupen Hazarika, Assam’s cultural icon has been awarded Bharat Ratna posthumously, the people of the state have termed it politically driven because of the timing. It comes as the entire region is agitating against the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill on the eve of the Lok Sabha elections with many dismissing this as a “damage control gesture” by the BJP government at the centre.

“We are happy. Bhupenda should have been given this award much before when he was alive. He deserved it much before. We, the students’ bodies in Assam and the region, have always been demanding that. Finally Delhi has listened to us. But the question is about the timing. When the entire region burning in protest against the controversial bill, the government has come up with this announcement,” said AASU chief advisor Samujjal Kumar Bhattacharya.

Bhattacharya also said that this development will not soften the demand for scrapping the bill.

“We will continue our agitation till we achieve our goal,” he added.

It is ironical that when the longstanding demand for a Bharat Ratna for the maestro has finally been honoured, it is being perceived widely as a political gimmick.

“ Bhupen Hazarika should have been given the award much earlier. Why has the BJP led NDA government waited till the fag-end of its term? Was he not a deserving figure four years ago?. The argument now being made by some is that the BJP government did recognize him whereas the Congress didn’t do it at all. But this did not hold much water. Had they recognized him immediately after coming to power, they could have made this claim. Bhupen Hazarika has been used for political gains,” Guwahati based senior journalist Sushmita Goswami told The Citizen.

The Assam Assembly had passed a resolution in 2010 urging the Centre to confer Bharat Ratna to Hazarika, who was then awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 2012.

The singer-composer-lyricist and filmmaker was awarded Dadasaheb Phalke award in 1992. Before that he received the Padma Shree in 1977 and in 2001 he became a Padma Bhushan awardee. In 1987, he got the Sangeet Natak Akademi award.

Noted cartoonist Nituparna Rajbongshi who has been critical of the Citizenship Amendment Bill which endorses citizenship to Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Parsis and Jains from neighbouring countries, said by giving the Bharat Ratna at this moment, the government has insulted Bhupen Hazarika.

“Why I’m saying so is because of the timing. The entire state and the region is protesting against the CAB and the BJP government wants to console the people by giving this honour to Bhupen da. This is very unfortunate,” Rajbongshi said.

Bhupen Hazarika has been a towering figure in the state who have been widely respected across the country and even in Bangladesh, he has a great fan following.

He has directed a number of films in Assamese language and composed music for Assamese, Hindi and Bengali language films. Many of them have been widely appreciated and have won national awards.

Among others Kalpana Lajmi directed ‘Rudali’, ‘Daman’, ‘Darmiyaan’ and MF Hussain directed ‘Gaja Gamini’ where Bhupen Hazarika composed the music. Hazarika died in 2011 at the age of 85 in Mumbai.