2016 Assembly Elections in Assam and the aftermath

GAUTAM KUMAR BORDOLOI

Although the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) failed to fulfill its target of ‘Mission 84’ in Assam on its own, yet the BJP-led coalition could create a kind of history by winning 86 out of 126 Assembly seats in the election held in April this year, inflicting a major blow to the ruling Congress, which staged a poor show winning just 26 seats. The 14th Legislative Assembly election in Assam is significant in the sense that it saw the trouncing of the Congress government which ruled Assam for three consecutive terms since 2001.

The Congress suffered from the malaise of dissidence and defection, particularly in its third term. The situation of lawlessness coupled with the unchecked corruption during the Congress rule heightened the anger of the electorate, especially the young generation, which resulted in the decisive mandate for a ‘change’. The anti-incumbency factor also worked against the previous government. The large-scale using of hoardings and posters throughout the state to project 15 years of ‘development’ by the Congress couldn’t save the situation for the octogenarian Chief Minister, Tarun Gogoi.

The pre-poll alliances of the BJP, the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) and the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) worked fine in overthrowing the Congress rule and reducing the party’s strength to 26 from 78 seats of the previous election held in 2011. Interestingly, the BPF supported the Congress government till 2014, but severed the ties as it felt that adequate concern was not being shown to the issues of the Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD). The BPF had no alternative but to forge an alliance with the BJP, a national party, which was “crucial in order to ensure that the voices of the Bodo people are heard”.

On the other hand, the AGP also got an opportunity after a long time to recuperate itself which was mired in umpteen controversies in the past. Although the AGP, formed after the famous Assam Accord of 1985, was in power from 1985 to1989 and again from 1996 to 2001, it was discarded later by the people primarily due to its failure to tackle the illegal foreigners issue and also due to the serious charges of corruption, nepotism, dissidence, including the horrifying ‘secret killings’ that took place during the period. With the altered political axis, the BJP could upgrade its tally this time to 60 seats (it got only 5 seats in 2011 election); the AGP and the BPF 14 seats and 12 seats respectively in the last election. The All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) fought the recent election in 79 constituencies, but could win only 13 seats as against 18 in 2011. The party president Badaruddin Ajmal himself lost in South Salmara constituency.

All said and done, the majority of around 1.98 crore voters in the State, out of which 98 lakh were women, voted decisively this time around for a progressive ‘change’ with unbridled hopes. Particularly the young voters—around 7 lakh of them belong to the 18-19 years of age groups—seem still to be under the spell of “Modi-magic”, hoping that the new-found ‘change’ will soon turn Assam into a ‘Ram Rajya’ (the abode of Lord Rama). The same euphoria was generated among the Assamese masses when the AGP rode to power in 1985 with a promise of making a ‘Golden Assam’ in all sectors.

However, the hopes of the people had been dashed within a short time when the ‘power’ had gone into the heads of party functionaries and most of them turned their back to the vital issues concerning the public good. Therefore, the onus on the BJP-led present government—particularly the burden on the Chief Minister, Sarbananda Sonowal, who was conferred the sobriquet “Jatiya Nayak” (hero of the land) after his successful legal fight in the Supreme Court to repeal the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act, 1983—is too high for quick deliverance from all wrongdoings of the past. Given the media-highlighted track record of some of his party colleagues and coalition partners, Sonowal has no doubt an uphill task to accomplish by being most vigilant all along.

The AGP had failed miserably to implement the ‘Assam Accord’ for various reasons. The sealing of porous border with Bangladesh to tackle the issue of illegal migrants will be a test case of sincerity for both the Central and State governments now. As corruption was clearly rampant in Assam during the Congress regime, it will not be easy to weed out the same completely. However, even if the present government takes up the single task of making the recruitments through the Assam Public Service Commission corruption-free and hundred per cent on the basis of merit, it will earn the continuous support of the educated youth of the State.

For the less educated but otherwise skilled young people, provision of ‘gainful employment’ must be created within the State so that the exodus for petty jobs can be minimized to a considerable extent. The on-going exercise for preparing a correct National Register of Citizens (NRC) is being watched with high hopes by all the indigenous people for their secure future. Besides, there are numerous other problems wanting concrete steps for lasting solution like recurring floods and erosion, unchecked poaching of rhinos in the Kaziranga National Park and plundering of other forest resources; granting of S.T. status to six communities of the State and the consequences thereof; erosion of indigenous culture and local languages; stunted growth of the agricultural sector despite the periodical drum beating; a listless academic sector that routinely churns out ‘educated youth’, large number of whom are hardly employable; the contentious issue of construction of river dam at the lower Subansiri region, the agonies of tea tribe and so on.

The list of hurdles blocking the actual growth of Assam will be much longer than this one. While the appeasement policy and sops provided by the earlier governments could make at best a handful of tribal leaders in the hill districts and other areas richer, the plight of the common people in those remote areas is quite pathetic to say the least. Most of the development funds meant for them have been siphoned off and gone to the coffers of the bureaucratic and political class. Apart from all these problems, it will also be interesting to monitor as to how this government will handle the hidden design of some allegedly patronized Hindu zealots—who are more fixated with the demonstrative rituals rather than with the compassion as taught by Hindu philosophy—in this oasis of communal harmony called Assam or for that matter, the entire north-eastern region. The tacit design to foment mistrust among people on the basis of religion has no sanction in a civilized, global world. The same is equally true in the case of Islamic fundamentalism which is being condemned by the sensible people worldwide, cutting across religions and faiths.

While the euphoric masses across the State are awaiting positive changes with bated breath, the sceptics are keeping their fingers crossed. This – once bitten twice shy – group of people will be closely watching in the days ahead the activities of the politicians of the new ruling coalition – quite a sizeable number of whose adherence to any strong political ideology and allegiance to a political party have been evidently seasonal.

Gautam Kumar Bordoloi is a Guwahati-based freelance writer and publisher.

 

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