Wrong Plans for 2016
With the selection of a new president of the Assam Congress recently, we have had frequent exercises in the Congress about what needs to be done to win another thumping victory for the party in the Assembly elections of 2016. The first initiative of the Congress could well be called Operation Gag. The new president of the Assam Congress has issued a fiat that no member of the Assam Congress could issue any statements to the media or even talk to the media, and that Congress members who do so or indulge in any criticism of the party or the government would lay themselves open to very strong discipliry action. Another action has been to claim that rendra Modi had made several promises but has now backtracked on them. In fact, the Assam Congress has even brought out a booklet listing all aspects of governce where the NDA government has backtracked on earlier promises. Anjan Datta, the new State Congress president has even dubbed the Prime Minister’s mode of functioning as the “rendra Modi Tsumi”. The first action is blatantly undemocratic, and can only lead to disaffection and resentment within the party. After all, one cannot afford to forget that freedom of speech and expression is a sine qua non of democracy not only within the polity but also within the functioning of every political party. This is something that the Congress, claiming itself to be the oldest and largest political party of India (though it has now been reduced to no more than a dystic organization), must remember at all times especially when it seeks to provide gratuitous advice to other parties. The third significant action of the Assam Congress, undertaken with the Assembly elections of 2016 in view, was a cosmetic reshuffle of the Tarun Gogoi ministry on Thursday. People had expected a radical change in the Cabinet considering (a) the large number of allegations of corruption against several ministers and (b) the total lack of efficiency of several departments headed by incompetent ministers. The dropping of ministers like Pradyut Bordoloi, Akan Bora, Neelmani Sen Deka and Gautam Roy was widely expected and has come about. However, people are aghast at the retention of ministers like Rockybul Hussain, zrul Islam and Ajanta Neog against whom the allegations are not merely related to inefficiency. During Rockybul Hussain’s long stint as Forest Minister the Kaziranga tiol Park has lost the largest–ever number of one–horned rhinos to poachers allegedly enjoying the support and patroge of the Forest Minister. We have zrul Islam who provided a carte blanche to unscrupulous traders and syndicates to increase food prices at will. Under Ajanta Neog, the PWD projected itself as the most inefficient department that was clearly taking orders from contractors who insisted on getting paid in advance for the shoddiest and most substandard work that has turned Guwahati into an eyesore. True, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has also taken back into his Cabinet senior former ministers like Sarat Barkotoky and Dr Bhumidhar Barman, but considering that their tenure is likely to be just about a year, it is unlikely that the new Cabinet will be able to achieve anything more than increasing some ministers’ scope for hefty commissions to compensate for lost time. What a senior Congressman and a former Union minister of state ought to have been keenly aware of is that mere gimmicks and rituals cannot substitute for good governce. During the last two innings of the Tarun Gogoi ministry we have had any number of new awards, semirs, conventions and other pointless rituals that perhaps everyone in government imagined would make up for the total lack of performance, but today people are in no mood to accept such substitutes and distractions as acceptable surrogates for good governce. Unfortutely, Tarun Gogoi and his Cabinet colleagues have got the equations for electoral success in 2016 utterly wrong. Denigration of the Union government formed with a thumping majority of just one party is not going to earn votes. Nor is the distribution of laptops to meritorious students or bicycles to girl students going to count for anything if the crime rates are about the highest in the country, alcoholism is rampant because it is being encouraged by the State government itself, real education and proper health care are non–existent and the unemployment rate is about the highest in the world because we have had no industrial development in the State worth talking about during the last 35 years. If anyone is looking for a State that has had no governce but a great deal of tall talk for 13 years at a stretch, that State is Assam. If anyone is looking for a State that has beaten all records for corruption, that State is Assam. If anyone is looking for a State where departmental heads are so inefficient that a sum of over Rs 12,500 crore of the Union government’s development grants have to be surrendered because we have no bureaucrats competent enough to furnish the necessary utilization certificates and statements of accounts in time, that State is Assam. One can go on bickering at Prime Minister rendra Modi’s style of governce or his apathy to the Northeast, but these devices are not going to get translated into votes. The ruling Congress in the State ought to start looking at the pattern that is beginning to emerge after successive State Assembly elections where the Congress is getting badly beaten every time so that today there are very few States in the country that are ruled by the Congress. The Assam Congress has also to wake up to the reality that the so–called “largest tiol party” has shrunk to the extent that it cannot account for more than 44 seats in the Lok Sabha and has become a party that is controlled entirely by one family. The Congress should be able to read the writing on the wall better than anyone else because it is now on its back foot.