Looking back at the Assam Assembly polls 2016

BY NAVANIL BARUA

The elections are over and so is the Bihu. While the dust is settling, yet the heat is not completely off. The 2016 Assembly elections in Assam is still not lost its fire completely considering what we see in the media. The elections that was, has raised lots of thoughts in me and as I analyse it, there is a sense of satisfaction along with a sense of impending worry. Let’s examine what were unique in this election.

After 1977, it is perhaps the first time in Assam that the two principal contenders are national parties with pan-India presence. There may have been national parties of regional importance in the past. The regional forces, predominantly AGP, has found itself relegated to a secondary player in the current scenario for the first time since its inception.

In the history of Assam, perhaps this has been the the worst form of communally-polarised campaign. If we look back to 1985, there was polarisation but it wasn’t strictly based on religion or community. It was more of an upsurge in Assamese sub-nationalism versus the so-called ‘immigrant’ Muslims. This was aided to a great extent by Bengali settlers of British Assam, who always felt they had superior culture and language and needed to dominate. Their imperialistic tendencies in the Barak and some areas of Brahmaputra valley and their icons like Kalipada Sen aided a threatened feeling among the ethnic people of the state. The ‘immigrant’ Bengali had history of Maulana Bhasani with them. They have always lived under the threat of expulsion by different political parties. People like Golam Osmani exploited this and formed the United Minorities Front (UMF) as a backlash. The same phenomenon saw the rise of AIUDF in the later stages. This time, it has been almost a Hindu versus Muslim kind of campaign. Even iconic legends like Azan Fakir were not spared of communal vitriol.

This election perhaps was the most negative of all campaigns. Each party were outdoing each other in trying to prove how bad is the other rather than saying how good they themselves are. The use of art in form of cartoons, songs or rhymes were insipid compared to yesteryears. The cartoon war started by Congress was funny and hard hitting to begin with but lost steam. The BJP’s response was poor and unintelligent.

The election manifesto met with its formal death in this elections. These days leaders either have no plans and programmes, or make any promise they feel like without having any scheme or intent to fulfill them. Political parties make vision documents for 10 years when they seek election for 5 years!

Corruption, integrity of the candidates are no longer issues with which the electorate decides its mandate. Persons who are epitomes of corruption, persons who have changed parties or stands on the same issue, finds easy acceptance among the masses. Criminals are no longer a taboo for parties and public alike. People who were part of a party for a long tenure seems to have no qualms in accusing their old party of corruption and inefficiency without having to answer the voters or media.

The fourth estate – the press, specifically the audio-visual media has lost all credibility in the run up to this election. Channels took sides, aired views in place of news depending on which party their owners belong to or with whom their owners have business interests!

The other feature of this election is the rank display of intolerance, especially in social media. Any view contrary to one’s own was met with abuses rather than debate. Even in debates, specially in audio-visual media, the quality was very poor and most spokesman of different parties were ill-equipped to appear for the party they represent. The matter and language were far from cordial, much less intelligent!

It is not that there are no redeeming features. The relatively peaceful nature of the elections inspite of the highly communally inflammatory atmosphere is a good commentary on the people of the state and the administration. The large voter turnout, the enthusiastic participation by the young and the upper middle class are pointers to a vibrant democracy. However, the large voter turnouts in the recent years could be attributed to some factors. First of all, due to increased levels of education and awareness brought about by media and IT, more people participate. Secondly, booths have increased and so has accessibility. Thirdly, a more accurate voter list reduces the number of non-existent voters and thereby raises the voting percentage effectively.

Now that the votes are already locked in the strongrooms, what can we look forward to? Seriously speaking, it is a Hobson’s choice for us. Assuming that BJP-led front shall come to power, what can be expected ? It will be a very fragile combination. AGP and BPF have little love for each other and both individually even lesser love for BJP! The later is also not very fond but it has been a marriage of convenience. Should the interests of these parties as a whole or its leaders individually are not protected, they shall create nuisance first and part ways later, leaving the government no time to devote to development or even governance. Even within BJP, there are several forces. One who is pure communal hindutvabadi, another ideologically aligned to BJP but not to Hindutvabaad and the third a group of frank opportunists who have only self gratification as ideology. One can easily imagine the tussle for power within power, in these groups. Moreover, the ascent of BJP also deals a death blow to the age-old communal harmony of Assam and is very likely to engineer social and communal tensions which may be permanently damaging. The rise of non-Assamese language and cultures seeking to dominate and annihilate the local culture, shall get a fillip too.

If Congress comes to power yet again, it will suffer from complacency leading to inactivity and penury due to state bankruptcy aided by Centre’s fiscal non-cooperation. There shall be lack of initiative and constant game of passing the buck to the centre. The irregular payments to contractors will halt developmental and maintainence works and irregular salary to employees shall lead to a disgruntled demoralised work force.

Another scenario could be realignment of pre-poll partners into post-poll foes. Politics today is devoid of all morality and anything is possible. Hence, if need be, a BJP-AIUDF government cannot be an impossibility. Personally, I would love to see that happen. It shall disarm all the proponents of communal politics and also weaken the political base of both parties – which essentially are religion based and hence inimical to traditions and culture of Assam and its people.

Lets hope for the best even in despair.

The views expressed are his own.

NAVANIL BARUA

NAVANIL BARUA

Dr Navanil Barua is Director Neurosurgery, GNRC hospitals. He graduated from Gauhati Medical College and specialized from AIIMS, New Delhi. Son of Luit Konwar Rudra Barua and actress Arati Barua, he was born in Shillong and grew up in Guwahati. Well-travelled and acclaimed professionally at various national and international levels, he has written professional as well as general articles at various forum and publications. Basically interested in life and nature.