Promises to keep and miles to go
If there has been a consistent pattern in the numerous promises Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has been making on New Year Day in the past 14 years, it is that many of these are broken, forgotten or repackaged time and again. And so in the last leg of his third term, Gogoi has made some more grandiose announcements with eyes firmly fixed on assembly polls only three months away. Thus it is that he has unleashed more of his development council and subdivision politics, with ry any credible plan about creating the necessary official infrastructure. After raising the number of districts from 27 to 32 in August last, Gogoi has now announced creation of 20 new subdivisions, to add to the 58 subdivisions already in the State. There are ongoing agitations in different parts of Assam demanding creation of as many as 55 new subdivisions, so this happens to be one channel for tapping into local sentiment. Meanwhile, Gogoi’s constituency Titabor is yet to function as a full-fledged subdivision despite the Chief Minister announcing its upgradation 12 years back in 2003. Another electoral milch cow has been the creation of development councils, with Gogoi’s latest announcement of six more such councils taking the total to 33, supposedly covering almost all communities in Assam. By the latest addition, Brahmins and Kalitas, Jolha Muslims, Bodo-Kacharis outside BTC, Karbis outside Karbi Anglong and disabled people have got their own development council.
Over the years, it has been common knowledge how several such councils are functioning on paper with no funds, while others have to make do with Rs 3-5 crore per year. How such development councils are ‘improving’ the lot of large numbers of backward people within their ambit is anybody’s guess; rather, these have become instruments of Congress patroge politics that keep an elite section of targeted communities happy. Chief Minister Gogoi’s announcement of reorganising development blocks with the criterion to have at least two blocks per assembly constituency is also significant politically, considering that the ruling Congress is fine-tuning its beneficiary base in targeted constituencies. Expectedly, sops for the tea garden community like land and housing assistance, drinking water, bus facilities, along with minimum daily wages of Rs 177 from February 1 have been announced in an obvious bid to check erosion in this traditiol vote-bank that was witnessed in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Then there are promises like providing rice at Rs 2 per kg under the Food Security Act, extending old age pension to all BPL senior citizens, making all medicines available free of cost to BPL patients, providing uniforms to school-going BPL students, among many others. The question is — how many of these promises the Tarun Gogoi government expects to realistically keep in the time and resources available to it?
Less than a month back, Gogoi announced a Rs 1000 crore special package for the SC community; his promised Rs 1000 crore package for developing Barak Valley continues to be re-packaged to this day. In the past, Gogoi has promised a metro rail project for Guwahati, construction of Madhabdev Kalakshetra, setting up a Petroleum University and a Sanskrit University, rehabilitating erosion–hit people and building a cyber town to bring industries under one roof. What came of these promises, what is their status of implementation at present? There have been instances galore when bureaucrats have poured cold water over Gogoi’s grandiose announcements, like the one in 2014–15 about distributing blankets to 20,000 poor beneficiaries in each constituency. As the file moved back and forth between the departments concerned, the tendering process developed flaws, the procurement and distribution of blankets was put off so late that winter ended. Opposition parties in the State are now demanding Chief Minister Gogoi bring out a White Paper detailing what happened to the promises he has made in the past 14 years at the helm. Giving his government a ‘positive’ report card, Tarun Gogoi has invoked the power of the common man — that ‘he is more intelligent and discerning than politicians think.’ What he has to watch out for is that the common man may also have a memory that goes back a long way, keeping track of promises made but never kept.