The Himanta Biswa Sarma government in Assam holding a three-day programme, beginning November 23, in the national capital to celebrate the 400th birth anniversary of 17th century Ahom general Lachit Borphukan. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be the chief guest at the valedictory function to be held in New Delhi’s Vigyan Bhawan on November 25.
Union home minister Amit Shah will be the chief guest for the plenary session at the same venue.
But why is this hitherto unknown figure being celebrated by the Central government? Who was Lachit Borphukan?
Born on November 24, 1622, Lachit Borphukon is a 17th-century commander of the Ahom forces.
Borphukon is known for the 1671 battle of Saraighat, where he destroyed the Mughal naval flotilla on the mighty Brahmaputra river. Borphukon’s father, Momai Tamuli Borbarua, was the commander-in-chief of the Ahom army. Mughal forces was led by Raja Ramsingh-I.
Employing a combination of guerrilla tactics, subterfuge, diplomacy, valour and psychological warfare, he defeated the much larger army of Mughals.
The last battle of Saraighat challenged the frustrated Mughal army, which tried to take the Ahoms as a vassal state for decades. It disproved the belief that the Mughals were invincible.
With the decisive battle of 1671 the invincibility of the Mughals ended forever.
For the Narendra Modi government the Ahom commander is also an important political symbol highlighting how Indian kingdoms put up resistance against Islamic forces.
Legend has it that he fought the battle despite being terribly ill.
In his honour, the National Defence Academy (NDA) at Khadakwasla in Pune confers the Lachit Borphukan gold medal to its best cadet every year. The medal was instituted in 1999 following an announcement by then army chief General V.P. Malik, who said the medal would inspire defence personnel to emulate Borphukan’s courage and sacrifices.
The travesty is that despite having protected the North-East frontier against Mughals, he is not as widely known as Maharashtra’s Chattrapati Shivaji, or Maharana Pratap of Mewar. His birthday is being celebrated with great fanfare so that Indians come to know about these unknown provincial histories who may be popular among their own communities or culture but remain in oblivion for the larger country.
He is an integral part of Assam’s culture. The BJP-led government in Assam has been making special efforts to promote the story of Borphukan and make him a household name in the rest of India. The 400th birth anniversary celebrations in the national capital are part of that game-plan.