Old promises not kept, BJP counts on sops in Assam
Having not fulfilled a single promise made to the people of Assam in the last Assembly elections, the BJP is banking on doles and series of ‘development projects’ to win elections this time around
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders in Assam have been studiously avoiding in public meetings and media bites raking up any of the issues on which their party rode to power in 2016. The party instead wants to inundate the people with a flood of development schemes and free doles. The reason? The party has failed to fulfil even a single promise it made to the people of Assam in the last elections.
The people of Assam are feeling betrayed by the saffron party over some of the key issues including NRC, implementation of Section-6 of Assam Accord, granting Scheduled Tribes status to six tribes of the state and declaring the devastating Assam floods as a national calamity.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has visited Assam thrice in the last one month, but did not utter a word on these issues. At a rally at Jeranga Pothar in Sivasagar district, he distributed a land lease among more than one lakh people of Assamese origin, laid the foundation stone of two new medical colleges at Dhekiajuli in Sonitpur district and inaugurated one engineering college at Silapathar in Dhemaji district on February 22.
In the presence of millions of people at the Silapathar rally, the Prime Minister described Assam as a double engine development state, while not mentioning once the perennial flood problem. It is noteworthy that Dhemaji is the worst affected district by floods and has lagged in development.
All Assam Students Union (AASU) president Dipanka Kumar Nath and general secretary Shankar Jyoti Baruah claim that the Prime Minister is cheating the people of Assam. He had promised before the last assembly election that illegal immigrants would be deported as soon as the BJP came to power. But on the contrary, his government brought the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) that would facilitate the settlement of all non-Assamese people, barring the Muslims, in the state. There has been strong opposition and resentment against the law in Assam.
The central government promised to implement Section 6 of the Assam Accord and set up an expert committee to consider it. The committee has submitted its recommendations, but now those are being deferred. The newly formed Assam Jatiya Parishad and Raijor Dal are going to the voters on these issues.
State Health and Education Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma recently said that many of the recommendations of the committee constituted on Section 6 of the Assam Accord are beyond the constitutional scope, hence cannot be accepted. The AASU president believes that the state should be developed, need good roads, good hospitals and good colleges, but what will be the meaning of development if the Assamese origin people will not remain there. Therefore, the central and state governments cannot run away from the core issue.
There is some substance in Nath’s claims. The Assam government has only promised to give the locals land on the lease on which they have been settled for decades. Apart from this, not a single core issue has been resolved.
The tea plantation workers played a major role in bringing the BJP to power in Assam, especially in Upper Assam. The BJP in its manifesto had promised to give ST status to the tea labourers, which is their decades-old demand. Six tribes of the state had been promised the ST status. But no action has been taken in this direction. Instead, all the government has done is form various Autonomous Councils for these tribals. But these councils neither have constitutional authority nor sufficient funds to work for the welfare of their people.
The BJP has also announced to set up a mini secretariat in Silchar in a bid to appease the people of Barak Valley just ahead of the elections. Big promises were made for the development of the Barak Valley, but they were never fulfilled.
In fact, the BJP is worried over the Congress party’s alliance with Maulana Badruddin Ajmal-led AIUDF as well as over the rise of two new regional parties. The Congress alliance has become a major challenge for the BJP in Barak Valley and lower and central Assam, while the new regional parties have influence in Upper Assam.
The BJP probably wants to encash the perceived popularity of PM Narendra Modi and hence PM’s frequent visits to the state. It wants to divert the attention of voters from the original issue with the help of a flood of new announcements, openings and foundation stones etc.
The government is giving scooties to girl students who pass matriculation, farmers are being given agricultural tools of free of cost and Rs 50,000 each are being given to self-help groups of rural women. The distribution of free doles is going on across the state.
Senior journalist Mrinal Talukdar said in a programme that more than 30 per cent of the voters in the state have benfited from one or the other freebies of the government.
Heera Devi of Tinsukia said that a new trend has started to influence voters by distributing election freebies. She says that roads have improved but people have no money to buy fuel that is touching the sky. Youth are not getting employment, the local industry is in a bad shape since Covid pandemic struck and a large number of employees have been laid off. In such a situation, what will one do with bridges on Brahmaputra and new engineering colleges? She believes that until the core issues are addressed, things will not change.