Governments all over the world have the power to constitute ephemeral ad hoc committees for a wide range of purposes that are felt to be of importance at some point of time but get disbanded and forgotten soon after their purpose is served. This, with minor variations, is the practice of governments that perpetually talk about cutting waste of public resources, but constantly contribute to such senseless waste through such actions. The practice is far more common in relatively younger democracies like India and the many more in Africa. The more seasoned democracies of Europe are smarter and unwilling to waste time and money on activities that are of an ephemeral nature. An outstanding example of a country totally unconcerned about the waste of public resources is the United States of America where anyone being unduly careful about the use of public resources would cause many eyebrows to be raised. In India, wasteful practices begin with the number of cars that chief ministers of States have in their motorcade and the number of times communication is sent to an individual for the same purpose. I, for one, have always wondered at the number of vehicles deemed necessary or appropriate for a chief minister when the Prime Minister moves around in New Delhi with just three or four vehicles in his retinue. Perhaps the chief minister who broke all records in terms of the number of vehicles in her motorcade was Mayawati when she was Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. She generally had more than 100 vehicles in her motorcade every time she went out of Lucknow. What can constitute a greater waste of public resources? However, some waste of public money will continue to be the norm in all democracies since all important decisions are bound to be arrived at after discussions and consultations. One-man decisions of any importance are generally the prerogatives of monarchs and dictators. Since the responsibility of important decisions must be shared in democracies, meetings and discussions are deemed the inescapable adjuncts of decision-making in democracies. So there will be notices issued to those expected to participate in discussions, and to make sure that no one is missed out, on many occasions more than one letter will be sent out to the same person. All this is wasteful not only of precious paper but also the time of government functionaries that is also paid for out of the exchequer. These are the inescapable facets of democratic functioning that slows down all processes but also makes sure that responsibilities are shared so that no single official is held responsible for major decisions.
The north-eastern States of India are at some distance from New Delhi. The physical distance has ceased to matter considering that air travel has considerably reduced the time required to travel to New Delhi, while the high-tech means of communication and teleconferencing have greatly reduced the need for government officers to make a dash to the capital for the simpler exigencies of administration. However, the advances in the field of telecommunications seem to have worked in ways contrary to expectations. Visits of mandarins to Delhi have increased exponentially in an age when so much can be achieved through telecommunications.
What is of real concern to everyone is that the psychological distance between New Delhi and the Northeast should have increased to such an extent during the last 40 or 50 years despite the fact that the Ministry of Home Affairs has a North Eastern Division. What is ironical is that the constitution of the North East Division has not made any difference to the attitude of the Centre to the problems of the Northeast or the special abilities of the people of the region in certain facets of human activities. This growing alienation of the Northeast can be attributed partly to the cultural and linguistic differences of the region from what pertains in the mainland. In part, it can also be attributed to the failure of people from the region to assert themselves and their genuine needs and aspirations. There is a very distinct tendency not to be articulate about our expectations and to keep blaming the Centre for its “step-motherly attitude” to the Northeast. This is unlikely to get us anywhere. There was also the misconception in New Delhi about the people of the Northeast being less competent or poorer achievers than people from other States. The emergence of Hima Das as a sprinter of international standards has been just one of the welcome changes in the recognition of the talents and abilities of people from the region. Even the number of persons from Assam who qualify in the competitive examinations of the UPSC has increased impressively during the last ten years or so. We are beginning to assert ourselves, and this process must get stepped up from year to year.
One of the outstanding instances of the Centre being insensitive to the aspirations and problems of the Northeast was seen in the passing of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 even against the objections of all the States of the Northeast. What is significant is the statement of the Union Home Minister that the Bill was meant not just for Assam but for the entire country. There was really no need to emphasise this known fact relating to the Bill that was passed in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday but not raised in the Rajya Sabha thereafter. What is significant, however, is that the Bill has special significance for States like Assam that have had the largest number of illegal migrants from Bangladesh over the last three or four decades. There is no other State of India apart from Assam and the other States of the Northeast that need to worry about the implications of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 considering that the immigration of Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Parsees, Buddhists and Jains from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan to India has been more or less confined to States of the Northeast like Assam and Tripura mainly in the form of migrants from Bangladesh. Actually, the illegal migration of Muslims from Bangladesh to Assam over the years has led to a major demographic change in the State because Muslims in Assam (whether indigenous ones or migrants from Bangladesh) have been permitted to be polygamous, resulting in a huge increase in the immigrant population over the years. Assam has already had millions of Bangladeshi migrants living clandestinely in the State, and therefore, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is a piece of legislation that will have the effect of legalizing the presence of the Bangladeshi Hindus by granting Indian citizenship to them. The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 does grave injustice to Assam and the Assamese because it ignores the realities of the illegal migration from Bangladesh to Assam. What the Centre has clearly overlooked or chosen to ignore is that the illegal migration from Bangladesh to India has been mainly to Assam. This is a fact that the people of Assam would have expected the Centre to bear in mind and consider when bringing in a new piece of legislation that does even grater injustice to Assam. All that the Centre was probably thinking of was a means of pushing through a piece of legislation that would look appropriate and take care of the other States of India without considering the incalculable harm that it could do to Assam. After all, Assam has been a dumping ground for illegal migrants from Bangladesh for as long as we care to remember. And the mandarins of Assam are largely to blame for their callous neglect of their responsibilities.
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