Agonies of Assam

GAUTAM K BORDOLOI tries to unravel what will unfold under the rule of new government

The people of India gave a decisive mandate this time around and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is back in power in Delhi to provide a stable government and hopefully, better governance. The Congress has been hoisted by its own petard and it faced a debacle that would shut the big mouths of most of its leaders at least for some time, taking their cue from ever taciturn, out-going Prime Minister, Mr Manmohan Singh.

What will unfold at the national level under the rule of new government even angels cannot predict at the moment, but my mind is presently occupied with the thoughts of so many issues that have stalled the growth and development of the north-eastern region, and especially my own state Assam, for  decades together. Will the leaders of the new government in Delhi and their local representatives remember their pre-poll words and bring about some positive changes to this moribund region so that sense of alienation in the people’s heart may evaporate gradually? For a long time and to be more precise, for the last four decades, Assam has been a cauldron boiling with internecine feuds, killing and extortion at will, large-scale siphoning off public money, unending border disputes with neighbouring states, dismal power position, lack of fruitful employment for the youth, an unhealthy medical sector, unchecked commercialisation and dilution of education sector in the name of privatisation, buffoonery in the garb of political dissidence and so on. There are more issues at work to shove an entire new generation to an uncertain future. No wonder, thousands and thousands of our youth from all the north-eastern states migrate annually to places like Bangalore, Pune, Goa, Delhi, etc. either to pursue higher education or to undertake petty jobs, chasing amorphous dreams for their survival.

Assam’s socio-political transformation in the last four decades has been replete with many traumatic events having countless ramifications. Ambling down the memory lane is a painful exercise. Apparently, the momentous ‘Assam Agitation’ can be considered as the point of beginning. However, the feelings of anger and frustration, born out of political mishandling and apathy, were simmering even years before the agitation had started in 1979. The indigenous people of Assam, cutting across caste, community and religion barriers, fought a remarkable battle for six long years, mostly through peaceful means, to oust the ‘illegal immigrants’ entering through the porous national border. Despite attracting the attention of the world community for its avowed non-violent method in the initial phase, the agitation failed to deliver the expected results. Instead of detection and deportation of ‘illegal immigrants’ and proper sealing of the border, the central government doled out some sops only through a so-called accord signed in 1985 to quell the agitation, which had already become directionless with its befuddled leaders. These leaders, who promised a golden Assam, betrayed the trust of the common people unbelievably when they were voted to get power to govern the state for two terms. Rather, most of them cheated to turn their own lives golden, looting from the public exchequer. The only poetic justice one derives as a die-hard, fellow agitationist is that most of the leaders are now languishing as the fallen heroes in the political firmament of the state. Even the shameless migration to the political camps propagating diametrically opposite ideology has not given them any chance to scale the ladder of public estimation, except a free hand to indulge in pilferage to amass wealth disproportionate to their earlier state of pauperism in many cases. Yes, Asom Gana Parishad betrayed the people’s trust to the extent that it has almost vanished into oblivion now, facing repeated rejection by the people whom they deceived.

The Congress, the next available alternative, seemed to be on the right track in the first two terms of their rule, but following the truism ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely’, they too got puffed-up soon and are behaving almost crazily in the on-going third term of power. Overshadowing some of their good works like providing encouragement to the brilliant, school-leaving students by giving computers and also arranging free educational tours for school students of rural areas; construction of roads and bridges to improve the rural connectivity; free ambulance service to the needy; regular payment of salaries to the employees and provision of pension to the college teachers; recruitment of sizeable number of teachers in schools; strengthening of  panchayati raj system through timely elections etc., the bitter infighting of the leaders of the party came to the fore, forcing them to face the most ignoble defeat in the recently held parliamentary elections. Not for nothing they could scrape through the test to manage only three seats out of the total of 14 seats, despite the fact they had 78 MLAs of their own in the 126 member-strong state assembly. Along with other parts of the country, the Congress has been decimated in Assam too, owing, to an extent, to the Modi wave, but mostly to the people’s genuine desire for a change, following disillusionment with the Congress rule as quickened by their antics and inaction, particularly in the third tem.

Assam is still groaning under agonies of many burning issues. The incessant killing of rhinos in and around the Kaziranga National Park has become a matter of global concern as the fact remains that as many as 30 rhinos in the last year and 15 rhinos till May20 of this year, were brutally killed there, but the government has miserably failed to tackle the problem of poaching. The policing in the state is conspicuous by its absence. The carnage in the BTAD, right after the elections, testifies to the fact that the perpetrators of crime care a fig for the police and other protection forces in today’s Assam. Leave aside an organized pogrom, even petty criminals are having a field day with their loots under the very nose of the police in all parts the state. The newspapers and TV channels are almost full with the news of killing, rape, accident, extortion, theft, drug abuse, witch hunting and all other imaginable crimes on daily basis, pouring in from all corners of the state. Guwahati, once a paradise with the blue hills and the mighty but quietly flowing Brahmaputra, has become a dangerously crime-prone city. The monster of extremism in the state seems to be in hibernation and with no hope of negotiated settlement of the problem through fruitful parley between the “seekers of justice” and the governments in the immediate future, it might raise its ugly head and cause terror among the defenceless people at any time. In fact, sporadic activities of killing and extortion to the glory of ‘revolution’ are still going on unremittingly, in the two hill districts of the state as well as the border areas between Assam and Arunachal. To make matters worse, the governments—both at the centre and the state, are hell-bent to keep alive the burning problems like border disputes with Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland, dismally bleak power situation, hazards of big dams, large-scale migration of the youths to outside the state, socio-economic issues raised by the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samity, vexed problem of illegal migrants, promotion of perverse culture in the name of fusion and so on.

This is the general scenario of gloom in all other states of the North-east too, barring perhaps Mizoram and Tripura, where the state authorities are compassionate enough to listen to the voice of the common people to usher in an era of lasting peace and progress. The political tsunami has brought in unprecedented changes at the centre and it made a palpable effect at the state level too. However under the back-breaking agonies that we are still facing in Assam, we should better keep our fingers crossed for the time-being, in the hope of a better future ahead. In an asphyxiating atmosphere of perpetual deception and betrayal, the million dollar (oh no! million rupee) question is : will the wind of change eventually be able to mitigate the agonies of Assam, my dear state, so as to bring back genuine smiles to the faces of umpteen common people, who have been a haggard lot for so long a period?

Gautamk K Bordoloi

Gautamk K Bordoloi

Gautam K Bordoloi has more than twenty-five years of experience as a journalist, public relations practitioner and a book publishing editor. A former public relations officer of Assam Agricultural University,and news editor of The Sentinel, Mr Bordoloi also served as a correspondent of The Asian Age. He writes both in English and Assamese.(email:gkbordoloi11@gmail.com).