This time, the people of Assam have wholeheartedly voted for a change. The victory of the BJP-led alliance is, in a sense, a victory of the people. The only other time when the people’s mandate was able to bring about a radical change in government was in the year 1985, when the newly formed AGP came to power at the end of the six-year-long Assam movement. Unfortutely, the performance of the AGP government during its two brief stints of five years each is something that most people would like to forget. Not to speak of a very high level of stagtion and poor performance, there was even a total failure to implement the clauses of the Assam Accord during those 10 years. It is important not to forget what euphoria alone can do in the absence of purposefulness and determition to achieve targets set and promises made. The Assam Assembly elections of 2016 are different on two counts. In the first place, the people have not voted for a regiol party, even though the AGP is a part of the BJP-led alliance and has maged to win 14 seats. Secondly, the indigenous people of Assam have proved that regardless of the huge number of illegal migrants from Bangladesh, who had maged to get their mes included in the voters list, the people of Assam can still mage to elect the people they want as long as they come out in sufficient numbers to do their sacred duty of casting their votes. Perhaps this is the most important way in which the latest elections have differed from the earlier general elections. We have had voter turnout of close to 85 per cent. At the other extreme, we have also had almost two lakh people preferring not to vote for any of the listed candidates. This is another significant facet of electoral behaviour that was not witnessed in earlier general elections.
The massive mandate for the three-party alliance led by the BJP has not come without a sense of deep-seated anger against the 15-year-long performance of the Congress government that grew complacent very early and soon turned its back on the needs and aspirations of the people. Not surprisingly, very soon the Tarun Gogoi government plumbed the worst depths of corruption that the State has been witness to ever since Independence. There was also total rejection of any kind of fiscal discipline during his regime. This resulted in the State government’s failure to furnish utilization certificates and satisfactory accounts relating to over Rs 12,000 crore received from the Centre as development grants. The popular vote for the BJP and its alliance partners represents the people’s mandate against rampant corruption, the total derailment of fiscal discipline and the diversion of both tax revenues and grants from the Centre to private coffers. There was a very purposeful collective anti-incumbency vote as is evident from the fact that very few of the non-performing and allegedly corrupt ministers of the Tarun Gogoi government won in the elections. This constitutes a powerful message not only to the government that has been voted out, but also to the new government headed by the BJP that was sworn in yesterday. The message is that people have had their fill of both corruption and total failure to perform, and that they can continue to use the power of the ballot again and again to oust governments that have not served the people. This time the operative word was ‘change’ or parivartan. Obviously they were not looking for just any kind of change. In fact, the results of the latest Assembly elections come as a very strong message for the new government: that people want a change for the better in all respects, that people want the State of Assam to rise to the level of other mainland States in respect of development instead of having to be given a humiliating special status for a few more decades, and that they want the representatives they have elected to perform so that the changes that people have dreamt of can come about in the next five or 10 years. As such, the challenge posed to the new government is a serious one. First of all, it must perform in a way that all development grants are properly used so that there are no problems in furnishing utilization certificates in time or in furnishing satisfactory statements of accounts on all grants received from the Centre. Actually, this is a small expectation. After all, why should any State government blessed with special norms for Central grants (90 per cent grant and 10 per cent loan) fail to perform the very basic duty of maintaining and furnishing proper accounts of fincial assistance received? It is because of the high levels of corruption and incompetence that people have experienced during the last 15 years that the expectations from the newly elected government are bound to be very high. The people are in no mood to accept any kind of corrupt practices even though they are aware that there are no magic wands to makes deeply ingrained corruption disappear overnight. What they will certainly expect is performance of a high order rather than full-page advertisements that make tall claims about development where there is none. If anything, the BJP had made grand promises before the parliamentary elections of 2014. They included employment for 2.5 million people and round-the-clock electricity. Such commitments will call for dedicated performance against great odds. However, tasks like sealing the Indo-Bangladesh border, weeding out the mes of foreign tiols from our electoral roll, ensuring a foreigner-free NRC as well as rapid detection and deportation of illegal migrants from the State are matters that can be put high on the agenda and undertaken with sincerity and dedication. Once the people see that the new government means business and will not resort to citing precedents of what the earlier government had done, there is bound to be a lot of support and goodwill for the new Ministry. We join the people of Assam in wishing the new Ministry under Sarbanda Sonowal every success.