Assam Government’s bumpy ride

Verset

“What more can the Assamese people have expected from the BJP-led government here in Assam? It is doing what the Centre has asked it to do, i.e. crush the hopes and aspirations of the people,” Dr Manjit Borthakur, retired lecturer of Guwahati’s Pandu College, summarised while sharing his views about the works done so far by the BJP-led Assam Government.

“They are no different from the Congress. The change of which they promised prior to the elections was just a method to hold us hostage emotionally. From big dams in Arunachal Pradesh to the auction of oilfields, everything so far has been a lie,” Borthakur further adds on.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), created history in May earlier this year when it formed government for the first time in the North East Region by defeating the Congress in Assam. With Assam in its pocket, the BJP now has set eyes on the other states of the region. But the BJP-led government’s over two-month tenure under Sarbanada Sonowal has not been rosy so far. Time and again it has been lambasted of being breaking poll promises and making u-turns after u-turns.

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Jumla culture?

In 2014, during the Lok Sabha election, the then BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi said that if BJP came to power then it will bring back black money and every Indian will have Rs 15 lakh deposited in their accounts. But, even after two years, the 15 lakh still eludes the masses at large. Later, when the BJP president Amit Shah was asked about it he said that the ’15-lakh’ was just a ‘political jumla’ and since then these ‘jumlas’ have gone on to hurt the BJP quite badly.

“This party’s culture is all about ‘talk more and work less’ and we have seen it from the performance of the Central government since 2014. Same is happening here in Assam as well. What the BJP candidates said prior to the elections, is completely opposite to what they are doing now after winning the same,” says a Guwahati-based journalist seeking anonymity owing to professional obligations.

Various quarters on different occasions have even said that the BJP is good at winning people’s trust by any means, and that majority of its promises are just ‘political jumla’. A cross section of the population of Assam has said that in Assam too BJP has played its card of jumlas to win votes and what is has been doing now is just the opposite to what it promised.

“Look at the number of u-turns the party has taken in the last two months? When in a coalition government, every party must trust each other but the BJP’s alliance with other parties seems to stand on mistrust and lack of confidence,” says Usha Dutta, a political commentator.

“Even if I take a neutral stance, yet the rift in the coalition is quite clear for everyone to notice. Asom Gana Parishad (AGP)’s senior leader and former Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, on a number of occasions, has claimed that the BJP has not felt it necessary to discuss with its allies before taking crunch decisions,” Dutta continues, before adding, “If a party can’t move forward in harmony by taking all its allies together, then how can it claim of uniting the entire society and march forward with confidence? The slogan of unity was just an emotional card played by the party.”

When a group of Facebook users were asked if the BJP-led Assam government has been able to live up to the promises that it made, a majority of them said that the government failed.

“Right from the big dam in Arunachal Pradesh to the decision to grant citizenship to the Hindu migrants from Bangladesh, the BJP government has said lies after lies. Sarbananda Sonowal was a student leader who had fought for the rights of the people. Today what he is doing, is just the opposite,” most of the users said unanimously.

Another group said that by partnering with the Central government and giving nod to auction 12 oilfields, Assam government has ‘sold Assamese interests’. And it is quite interesting to note here that Prafulla Kumar Mahanta himself sat on agitation protesting against the decision.

Sharing his views city-based journalist Nabarun Guha says, “I don’t think the government has taken u-turn till now. Two months anyway is a too shorter duration to judge a government’s performance. I think the start has been good. Problems like flood are perennial and they can’t be solved overnight.”

When asked about citizenship to Hindu migrants from Bangladesh, Guha said, “On the issue of Hindu migrants, I don’t think it is a u-turn. I think almost everybody, including me, knew this was their stand before elections only.”

Protest for AIIMS in Assam
Police chase away protesters who were blocking road at a demonstration demanding setting up of AIIMS at Raha in Nagaon (Photo Courtesy: A PTI Photo collected from Google images)

AIIMS factor

Right from the day BJP came to power in the State, problems and controversies have followed it like a shadow. And the latest controversy is the issue of establishing All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) as ‘land’ has been the bone of contention between Raha and Changsari. Some say that the previous Congress government had promised to establish AIIMS at Raha, while some say that it was Changsari.

There, even, exists a section who says that State Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma shifted AIIMS to Changsari as the area falls under his constituency and that he wants to develop only his constituency.

“Himanta Biswa Sarma wants to have AIIMS at Changsari only because he wants to develop his constituency alone. Had he belonged to Nagaon district or Morigaon district, AIIMS would have been set up at Raha,” quotes a Raha local.

Even though the health minister has clarified that the decision to allot land at Changsari was made by a committee of experts and the decision was made during the Congress rule itself, it however has done very little to pacify the Raha public. The sad part is that on July 15 last, people of Raha came to streets protesting and the police had to resort to firing in which a local youth lost his life. And because of this, the government has faced a lot of criticism.

Sharing his views, Nabarun Guha says, “I was disappointed in the manner the AIIMS issue was handled. Even though you accuse the opposition of instigating the mob, as ruling government you are answerable when an innocent civilian gets killed in police firing.”

Adding on he says, “But I think AIIMS should be set up in the place which is most suitable, irrespective of the protests. We should see at the bigger picture.”

“Even though Sonowal declared an ex gratia of Rs 5 lakh to the family of the deceased and promised to discuss the entire AIIMS issue with the Centre, but as the CM he should have done more and intervened much earlier. He is setting up examples of being a weak CM,” further says Usha Dutta.

Postlude

To someone, everyone who comes from outside is a ‘foreigner’. Likewise, either it is BJP or the Congress or any other ‘national; party, for Assam every single party will seem to have an anti-Assam strategy and this is a fact. We support the ideology of one party and doubt the ideology of some, but if one analyses from a broader perspective then we can see that more or less these national parties have almost the same ideology. For them the ‘national’ interests always come over the regional interests.

“What BJP is doing now, was done by the Congress in the past. Only difference is the speeches and the ways of doing it. Congress supported big dams, BJP opposed. When BJP came to power, it is now supporting and Congress is blaming BJP of not sticking to what it opposed. But isn’t BJP doing that which the Congress always wanted to do? asks Plabon Bora, a research scholar.

“BJP’s performance in the last two months has been above average. I think the people are expecting little too much. And if someone believes that there is a rift in the coalition as Mahanta has spoken against the government, then he is grossly mistaken as Mahanta has his own vested interests for speaking against,” Bora further says.

The 40-year-old scholar further felt that only because of certain vested political interests, AIIMS issue has been blown up to such a proportion. As according to him, AIIMS and development should have been the main issue and not the place where it was established as after all it will be set-up in Assam!

Moreover, he says that the right on natural resources like oil lies on the Central government and auctions of oilfields in the country or in Assam is not something new.

“Oilfields have been auctioned in Assam in the past as well and an RTI application can fetch all the data. Then why this noise this time? This is more political sentiment than regional sentiment,” he says.

“We need analytical and unbiased minds to speak and make people understand about the right and the just. But sadly, the ones who have the capacity to influence the mass are mostly biased. Facebook activism is all about showing the command of your knowledge and I personally feel this has done more harm than good. Let the government work freely for at least a year. It is too early to judge and comment,” Bora adds in conclusion.

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Assam CM Sarbananda Sonowal (Left) with Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Right) (Photo Courtesy: Google)

(A rehashed version published in The Northeast Today, August 2016 edition)

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