Negative Politics Taking Assam Backwards
Not one, not two, but nineteen. That is the number of departments Tarun Gogoi is now additiolly holding, despite the much delayed and trumpeted ministry reshuffle. Ostensibly Chief Minister Gogoi will divest himself of a few portfolios if and when he inducts four more ministers after the civic elections a month away. Even if this is accepted at face value, it means that some departments still await a minister who can only discharge their duties for about ten months before the model code of conduct comes into force for the 2016 Assembly elections. And these are not departments to trifle with. Power, Industry and Commerce, Social Welfare, Labour and Employment, Urban Development are some of the departments Tarun Gogoi is holding additiol charge of, departments upon which the well–being of much of the state’s population depends. If the Chief Minister is serious about development, he would have taken care to put capable men in charge of these key departments at the earliest, so that they would have hit the ground running. But all his actions proclaim a single–minded determition to hold on to power at any cost, for reasons that appear to be increasingly dystic. This is borne out again in the reshuffle of his ministry, where vision and proven capability as yardsticks have been brusquely swept aside in favour of political expediency.
For thirteen long years, Chief Minister Gogoi has held on to the Home and Fince departments. His track record in both has been disastrous, partially mitigated only because the Congress also happened to be in power at the Centre from 2004, till the bubble burst last year. The Planning Commission’s largesse went a long way to prop up Chief Minister Gogoi’s budgets. Meanwhile ethnic and commul tensions in the state grew sharper, frequently exploding into bloodshed while militant outfits of various hues mushroomed and had free run. While the Unified Command instituted by the Centre did all the fire–fighting to douse extremist violence, law and order enforcement in the state was feeble. There have been occasions when the Chief Minister has publicly contradicted senior police officials, leading to much confusion. Political observers have noted that despite Chief Minister Gogoi’s choke–hold on the Home and Fince departments, he has never bothered to answer queries pertaining to these departments in the Assembly, fielding deputies to do the job. Meanwhile one state government department after another fails to give utilisation certificates to the Centre for funds spent, and therefore cannot qualify for the next phases of funding. The truth is that only a very strong and pro–active Chief Minister can do justice to Home and Fince portfolios, apart from discharging his onerous responsibilities. This is brought out even if we compare Tarun Gogoi to another Congress Chief Minister, the redoubtable Hiteswar Saikia who ruled the state in no less difficult times. Old timers still recall Saikia at his office in Dispur long past midnight, working overtime to meet the demands of the Home department he held additiolly.
If the Lok Sabha elections last year proved one thing, it is that the patience of voters is wearing thin. rendra Modi did spectacularly well for himself and his party, because large numbers of voters thought he will deliver on his promises to bring about all–round development. They considered his track record as Gujarat Chief Minister, and decided to take him for his word. Assam too was rocked by the Modi wave, despite Tarun Gogoi’s false bravado and penchant for baiting Modi at every turn. Prime Minister Modi’s time for reckoning will come in the next four years, and by all accounts he is setting a breakneck pace with Union ministers and senior bureaucrats working round–the–clock to meet targets. The mood of the country now favours a new kind of politics, asking searching questions about work done, contemptuous of cynical votebank calculations. In one state election after another, voters irrespective of caste or creed, are registering their displeasure with parties out of step with the demand for concrete development on the ground. A similar unpleasant surprise may await Tarun Gogoi in 2016, given his cavalier attitude to development. An overburdened Chief Minister with a weak and incomplete team, a creaking administrative machinery with key positions vacant, making promises right and left which his government has no intention or capacity of fulfilling — is courting political disaster as the lesson of 2014 shows. Thanks to Tarun Gogoi’s negative politics, the Congress in Assam has an uphill battle on its hands.