We feel impelled to dwell concisely on the vast subject of development here, as allowed by this column’s space, because these days we hear a lot about development, especially the requisites for development and the imperative of development. The imperative of development in a development-starved region as the Northeast goes without saying. Anyone visiting this region with a desire to know its pulse, its aspirations, and its many trysts with turbulences stemming from agitations and violent ethnic upheavals would be saddened to be informed of its sustained suffering due to long years of neglect and alietion from the ‘heartland’ and as to how this region is crying for development even after 70 years of Independence. Poverty and the associated backwardness, lack of employment avenues due chiefly to lack of industry and of course lack of vital work skills among the youth, insurgencies (which later on morphed into cowardly terrorism) of varied shades arising not just out of historical discontent but also due to acute unemployment, endemic corruption, and political apathy, to list just a few major ones, have all contributed to the sustence of underdevelopment here. The imperative of development, therefore, cannot be overemphasized. Of late, in Assam, Chief Minister Sarbanda Sonowal, emboldened by the huge mandate he got last year to form the first BJP-led government in the State, has been sounding the development bugle with the right note that development is the only cure to the maladies afflicting the State and that his government is determined to take its people out of the morass of backwardness. His development mantra seems to be sound, and this is welcome. However, given the serious faultlines in the so-called development trajectory that successive governments have trodden without doing anything substantive and meaningful for ordiry citizens – long held to ransom by political fraud – the requisites for meaningful development, and not of the cosmetic kind like setting up a medical college without the required human resource infrastructure, call for deep introspection, alysis, and a sustaible action plan. Here comes the acid test.
First, development remains a mirage without the atmosphere of peace – law and order, and justice, that is. For long, peace has eluded Assam, as it has in the rest of the Northeast too, home to a melange of militias that have rebelled against the system for what they call a ‘colonial’ regime. The ULFA fear factor in the State has diminished to a large extent, thanks to the continued counter-ULFA operations backed by the powerful Indian Army and dismantling of its terror factory in Bangladesh following the ouster of the anti-India Khaleda Zia regime and the installation of the relatively pro-India Sheikh Hasi dispensation that had top ULFA leaders land up in Indian judicial custody (though on bail now). Most of the other ethnic non-state actors too are on ceasefire modes. By and large, therefore, peace seems to have ultimately dawned. But the sustaibility of this peace is what counts, and it is here that the political and intelligence smartness of the government will be tested. Given this dawn of peace, it is hardly surprising that the government should go all out to woo investors, both domestic and foreign, to set up their businesses here and contribute to development as well to themselves in a win-win situation. Hence the euphoria around the Global Investors Summit scheduled in Guwahati in February next. Second, for such investment – and consequent development – to happen and flourish, the fact that a solid infrastructure is a must calls for a lot of governmental measures, including timely release of funds and their proper utilization (here corruption has unfailingly assumed its monstrous form) for infrastructure build-up. Among other things, infrastructure obviously includes better connectivity (dilapidated roads remain a major impediment), adequate electric power supply, proper educatiol and healthcare facilities, recreatiol avenues, and most importantly, doing away with a colonial-minded bureaucracy poking its nose everywhere but doing precious little to speed up clearances to business/entrepreneurship aspirants. Here the Sonowal government has its task well cut out: less stereotype and baggage of an outmoded bureaucracy, and more out-of-box thinking or innovation. Third, the grand and powerful architecture of corruption must be demolished totally so that an era of transparency and accountability, beyond the routine and repugnt political slogans, is heralded. Little would anyone doubt that corruption is a large-scale industry of sorts in Assam, with a blend of unscrupulous politicians, bureaucrats, police officers, businessmen (mainly contractors), dubious organizations ostensibly championing some ‘rights’ (including human rights?), and, worse, non-state actors (terrorists dressed up as people’s revolutiories) siphoning away a huge chunk of development funds – the Rs 1,000 NC Hills scam is a classic case in point. This industry of surreptitious loot of the taxpayers’ money has dealt a body blow to the engine of development in whatever form it is. Unless this crime is checked and foolproof mechanisms institutiolized to stem the rot, all talks of development will remain mere pages of a distasteful political history – despite the democracy in place. In recent times, the government has been zealous in its crackdown, as exemplified by the unearthing of the murkiness in the APSC scam and the action that followed. Much more needs to be done to decimate this monster. And four, there is a crying need for inculcating work culture in the State. To not work is a culture here; to be honest and to work is considered out of fashion! Its reversal is a must for development to happen. One cannot expect a society to develop, whatever other favourable factors there may be, unless there is the right attitude towards work: passion for work and having to earn a living by working, and not by living at the expense of others; respect for those who work and total rejection, not condemtion alone, of those who do not work or are averse to working for a living; and incentives for work based on the quality of work, not its quantity.
These are not any Herculean task. After all, where there is a will, there is definitely a way. The measure of the will of the government and the people at large will decide the way and the result. Let the talk of development not remain a mere rhetoric. Let it happen really.