A New Year is upon us, the year 2016 in which Assam will go for assembly polls. Facing politically fraught times, its people have a right to expect, y demand, that in getting to exercise their right to franchise, they do not have to bid goodbye to peace and social harmony. In a State with a high proportion of religious minorities, the hope among its people is that political parties behave responsibly — that they desist from creating and sharpening commul divides to reap short-term electoral advantages. It is a sensitive State with many ethnic groups and tribes, all jockeying for rightful political representation and share of the developmental pie. Six large ethnic groups have come together to demand ST status in return of political support; opposing this, an umbrella organisation of 19 tribal groups have threatened to move the apex court. Tensions due to political consolidation are inevitable; but good governce has to ensure these tensions do not blow up into lasting enmities that tear the State’s social fabric apart. The people of Assam must not be held hostage by bad politics merely because it is election time once again. Political leaders may slander each other and supporters take their battle onto the streets — but voters here need to rise above this drama of the absurd to take a good, hard look at party agendas and candidates, their promises and performances. Whichever party or coalition comes to power in Dispur this year, it cannot afford to be hamstrung any more by Centre-State rivalry. It is heartening that the State government is now going for expert help to raise resources on its own, cut wasteful expenditure and plug leakages. The Delhi-based think tank ‘tiol Institute of Public Fince and Policy’ has been given 18 months to study the State’s finces and recommend a 10-year perspective plan, along with structural and institutiol reforms in public fince. This is something the Assam government should have done long back, but better late than never.
In the New Year, the thinking that should really occupy our powers-be is how to hanker less for special category status to the State, how not to depend solely upon the Centre to under-write Dispur’s non-plan and salary expenses. After all, all this politics has to deliver on the economic front — to raise farm production, revive and set up appropriate industries, build infrastructure, create jobs and operate a sound mechanism to deliver benefits to the poor and needy. As for infrastructure, the passage of the tiol Waterways Bill, 2015 in the Lok Sabha, which includes nine more rivers of Assam to be developed as waterways — is a welcome development to add to the 891 km Sadiya to Dhubri stretch of the Brahmaputra already desigted as tiol Waterway 2. Developing the State’s long neglected waterways promises far-reaching economic benefits, side by side with expansion of the broad-gauge rail network to Silchar and other destitions to benefit Tripura, Manipur and Mizoram along with Assam. Hopefully, the initiatives taken by the Central government to open new waterways with Bangladesh, and the Kaladan multi-modal transit transport and Rih-Tedim road projects in Myanmar will pick up steam in the next 2-3 years to mitigate the isolation of Assam and other Northeast States. As for the Assam government, it needs to take a new year resolution to develop human resources. The drift apparent in different levels of education needs to be checked and corrected; skill development to make the youth employable as per market demand needs the government to apply its mind seriously to this aspect. The laurels brought to the State by Hari Shankar Brahma who served as Chief Election Commissioner, Lt General Prab Kumar Bharali as Director General of Army Aviation Corps, award winning scientist Dr Mukut Gohain, litterateurs Dr Lakshmi ndan Bora, Kula Saikia and Brajendra Kumar Brahma, artiste Anita Sharma, boxer Shiva Thapa, the Assam Ranji cricket team and many other achievers, the fact that as many as 16 candidates from the State made it to the UPSC Civil Services fil list last year — prove once again in no uncertain terms that there is no dearth of talent in Assam. It is this resource that has to be nurtured in the right atmosphere if the State is to take large, confident strides in the New Year.