Prof. Apurba K Baruah
The Assam assembly election results declared on Thursday definitely indicate that the people wanted an end to 15 years of Congress rule. It is being pointed out that the anti-BJP votes, particularly the Muslim votes, got divided because of the efforts of AIUDF and the Congress seeking to mobilise the community citing belligerent Hindu tiolism as an enemy of the Muslims. Others have been saying that the penetration of the BJP in the tea belt and Congress' complacency about their traditiol support to the party in those areas was a major cause of the Congress' debacle in Upper Assam. The strengthening of the index of opposition unity as a result of the BJP, AGP and BPF, and other smaller groups coming together is also being pointed out. Factiolism in the Congress party culmiting in Himanta Biswa Sharma's joining BJP will also be seen as a cause of the defeat. All these explations have some truth but the point one needs to ask is why these developments have taken place? It is not enough to note the symptoms, it is necessary to diagnose the disease.
Despite considerably reducing insurgency related violence in the State and also introducing a large number of social welfare schemes, the Tarun Gogoi government could not win the support of the people because it came to be seen as essentially corrupt. There indeed were big scams but what hurts the common people is the corruption experienced by them in their day-to-day dealings with the administration. Whether he/she needs ration cards or needs access to government schemes, he or she needs either to pay a bribe or get a recommendation from a Congress politician, who in turn will of course demand a price. Corruption had eaten the vitals of the system. News of government functiories facing the ire of people for failing to attend to duties or for demanding bribes were becoming too common. The leadership of the Congress seems to believe that corruption has become a non-issue because it seems to have become a way of life. They seem to forget that only those who can afford to pay a bribe or those who can have a share of the loot will accept it; those who cannot afford it would find it unbearable. If there was a strong anti- corruption movement then this fact would have been driven home, but in the absence of that, the Congress leaders lived in a make-believe world created by the consumerist middle classes. Thirsting for change and in favour of development, the people definitely wanted a changing of the guard in the hope that corruption would end. Most of the infamous and corrupt Congress leaders have lost. Those who delivered despite the overall corrupt regime retained their seats.
People may now feel that end of corruption would bring in good governce which might eventually bring about development in the form of more jobs and end to age-old problems of the State. This need not be so. The Vyapam, Lalit Modi and other such cases, as well as its continuous efforts at wooing some of the most corrupt regiol satraps show that the BJP need not necessarily be 'intolerant' of corruption. This is indicated by the BJP's reluctance to follow Right To Information Act and its approach to Lok Ayuktas. So far as development is concerned, there is not much difference between the Congress and the BJP. The people voting in the hope of change will soon be disillusioned because the major issues of unemployment, corruption in administration, deportation of illegal immigrants and impending disaster to be brought by big dams will not be taken care of. The biggest gainer in these elections is the AGP. A party on the verge of extinction has re-emerged but only at the cost of forgetting regiolism, because joining hands with the BJP means accepting Bharatiyata as the ideology.
(The write is a retired professor of Political Science, NEHU, former tiol Fellow of ICSSR, Delhi, attached to Political Science department of Gauhati University, Academic Director of the Institute of Social Change and Regiol Development (ISCARD), Guwahati, Member of the tiol Working Committee on Swaraj Abhiyan and President, Sustha Samaj Bikash Chakra).