The time is just right in Assam for the Tarun Gogoi government to distribute pre-poll sops before the electoral model code of conduct kicks in. Come November, more than 76 lakh beneficiaries across the State can look forward to freebies like blankets for the poor, seeds and power tillers for the farmer, yarn for the weaver, laptops for the student and pension for the senior citizen. There will be cash assistance for flood-hit people to repair or rebuild their homes, while schemes like ‘bou’ and ‘Bowari’ will target different sections of poor, underprivileged women with one-time fincial grants. Having bitterly complained for months that the rendra Modi government at the Centre is squeezing funds the State ought to be getting, the Chief Minister has now said that his government will pick up the entire tab of Rs 862 crores for distributing the benefits under 25 schemes. In his characteristic fashion, Gogoi has said that if distributing mosquito nets and blankets among poor people is ‘politics’, then surely he will indulge in more such politics. ‘Who doesn’t do politics? If this helps me, why will I not do it?’, he asks. These schemes were actually announced by the Chief Minister on New Year’s Day this year, so it is high time his government got moving to deliver on his promises.
With assembly polls likely sometime in April-May next year, the Congress government risks cutting it a bit fine by planning to distribute freebies from November. In its haste, the government cannot again go about distributing among unsuspecting farmers the kind of ‘special’ seeds that have been yielding much more husk than grain lately. Neither can the government afford the kind of fiasco it made last year with the Chief Minister’s budgetary promise of distributing blankets among 20,000 poor beneficiaries. Winter came and went, but the blankets were not to be seen even by February this year. It transpired that the concerned file had been shuttling to and fro in the bureaucratic maze that is Dispur — with the Handloom & Textiles department first making a mess of its tendering process in October and then re-starting it in November, the Fince and Planning departments posing their own queries, and much dithering over compiling the list of who will supply the blankets. The Fince department then turned around and questioned the Handloom & Textiles department why it could not complete the exercise by January 31! If this is the sort of muddle our officialdom makes of a Rs 50 crore scheme, the mind boggles at what it can do with a Rs 862 crore plan to distribute a variety of goodies at short notice. Hopefully, the urgency of delivering with the compulsion to woo voters will act as a check against such silliness.
In his 14 years at the helm, Chief Minister Gogoi has given the State little to enthuse about when it comes to his economic vision. His brand of economics has mostly been about handing out doles and sops; he bristles at allegations of being populist, saying he knows how important it is for a poor man to get a blanket or a bicycle. It is this view of Assam as perennially and hopelessly poor, where the common man cannot keep body and soul together without government largesse — that more and more people nowadays, particularly the young, find galling to accept. They question why the State is still limping along with grossly idequate infrastructure, victimised by brazen and ubated loot of developmental funds, muddling along without any credible vision of leveraging its resources. Political commentators have spoken about an aspiratiol India becoming increasingly impatient with a ‘petitiol’ culture — in which the poor remain in perpetual want, ever dependent and grateful to the ‘mai-baap sarkar’. In such a milieu, government policies ostensibly designed to help the poor actually become tailored towards winning elections. If the Congress suffered from such a perception in the Lok Sabha elections last year, can it continue with the same old tactics to face the assembly elections in Assam? Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi in his third term and having held the Fince department throughout, will have to answer for an Assam which cannot see its future beyond doles handed out patronisingly by Dispur or New Delhi.