WITH EYES WIDE OPEN
D. N. Bezboruah
Of late, there has been a lot of talk about development in Assam despite the fact that there has been no visible development or progress at all in the last 30 years or so. It is high time one started looking for the acceptable indicators of progress rather than having to go by what the State government’s propaganda machinery puts out almost on a daily basis. It is imperative to take a closer look at what does constitute progress and what is made out to look like progress just because it suits the Chief Minister of the State to decide what shall constitute development. One cannot help recalling the ine and risible statements he has lately been making about his ways of assessing the progress being made in the State. “Look at the number of women going to beauty parlours,” he says. “Is not that an indicator of the development taking place in the State?” Or: “Look at the condition of the contractors in the State. Have you ever seen contractors so well off?” He was trying to pretend that the fincial condition of the most hated human species was an acceptable indicator of development in the State! There is clearly a glaring mismatch of what the Chief Minister of Assam regards as progress or development and what most people of the State are prepared to accept as progress. This mismatch arises from the fact that the Chief Minister equates progress with living standards or material possessions whereas any sensible person would equate real progress with a better quality of life. A better quality of life hinges on respect for a value system and on visible indicators of better human living conditions and better human aspirations and achievements than just better incomes, and therefore, the means to a better way of living. A better quality of life hinges on better health because the health-care scerio is better; on better education because the quality of education provided is better; on a life that does not require too much manual work because the per capita consumption of electricity can afford to be higher; on better persol security because the general level of security in the State is much better. When the government of a country is concerned about such wholesome benefits for all its citizens, the country begins to move towards the ideals of a welfare state without the publicity machinery of the government having to proclaim about the kind of progress made or about having become a welfare state. None of these conditions can be met in a society that is steeped in corruption and where the objective of the government is to see how many people can be deprived of what is due to them rather than how many more people can be assured of the welfare-state benefits that contribute to a better quality of life. What we have witnessed in Assam during the last decade is the licence given by the government to a small section of the people to loot the exchequer without any let or hindrance from those entrusted with the governce of the State by the electorate. And what is tural in such circumstances has happened. The relatively small group of ruling party members who were the beneficiaries of such a perverse dispensation have increased by leaps and bounds, with more and more people privy to what happens to public money saying “Me too” or “Why not me too?” and the administration being quite helpless to resist their demands. And that is precisely how a corrupt society rots from its head downwards unless the people decide to stand up unitedly against the loot of their money instead of deciding that it may be more profitable to join the evil gang.
It is unlikely that the government of Assam will ever gear up for the needs of a welfare state or even provide the minimum facilities that make aspirations for a better quality of life remotely possible. We have a State that is chronically short of resources for development not because the Centre has starved it of such resources, but rather because what was given by the Centre has been looted and siphoned out. Let us look at what this State is capable of giving to its citizens from its resources and what it ends up giving. Any government should be able to pay the salaries of its employees regularly and without fail, since the outlays for most of the jobs had been budgeted for earlier or should have been so provided for. There was a time when people preferred government jobs mainly because they assured regular salaries and greater job security. We now have a government that is uble to pay its employees their salaries for months together without anyone losing any sleep over such a major lapse. We even have the Chief Minister himself saying that people should be willing to forego their salaries for some time because of the development activities of the State. There are two noteworthy aspects of such a statement. One is that all civilized governments regularly undertake development activities. After all, such activities are the raison d’ etre of governments. What else should governments be doing if they were not to take up development work in addition to the nitty-gritty of day-to-day administration? But we have never come across any government that feels impelled to state that salaries might not be paid regularly because the government is burdened with development projects. And this brings me to the second aspect of the situation. If salaries cannot be paid regularly, who should be the first to forego their salaries? Obviously, those who are responsible for creating such a situation should accept accountability for such a situation and be the first to forego their salaries. But has anyone ever heard of ministers, MLAs and senior bureaucrats having to go without their salaries even for a month? I am sure such a situation will never be allowed to arise, and that ministers, MLAs and bureaucrats will continue to draw their salaries regularly regardless of what happens to the lakhs of government employees and teachers who have not been paid for months. In other words, those largely responsible for the fincial crisis in our treasuries continue to insist on their monthly salaries every month while urging lesser mortals to forego their salaries because invisible development activities are going on in the State! Where is the transparency and accountability that this government boasts of at every opportunity?
Apart from the ibility even to pay salaries regularly every month, here is a government that has had to wind up some of the laudable schemes that it had undertaken earlier in the day like heart surgery for children of poor families, fincial assistance of up to Rs 1 lakh for cancer patients, and several programmes for expectant mothers, girls and children in general. Instead, it has started a plethora of awards that succeeding governments will neither be able to sustain or justify as necessary adjuncts of development.
If we are brutally honest, there would be no way of escaping the fact that we have had several indications of our society moving away for what could be regarded as a desirable quality of life. The most important sign of our veering away from a better quality of life is what the government has done to send out the message that people need not work for a decent livelihood because there is always the easy money of Union government grants that can be so easily siphoned out without the government doing anything about it. The other visible parameters are the almost total lack of persol security for citizens who are not VIPs, a steadily increasing unemployment rate giving rise to a great deal of frustration among educated youths, burgeoning crime and highway accident rates, very poor standards of health care and education and an alarming rise in alcoholism in the State. Coupled with a total lack of planning about industries that could generate employment and increased power generation, we are faced with an alarming outlook for the future. These are trends that serve to reverse initiatives for a better quality of life. These are trends of negative development. And when Tarun Gogoi completes 15 years of being in power next year, these signs of negative development and trends counter to a better quality of life are going to be held against him. And not all the bicycles and laptop computers and citations of awards that he has given away are going to make any difference to what his regime has done to the lowering of the quality of life that he has maged to achieve in 15 years. His regime must also take responsibility for making our entire society averse to work, dependent on easy money without work and the outbreak of hitherto unheard of crimes like the murder of parents or children that have become so common. He must also be accountable for scuttling the departmental inquiry into the latest APSC recruitment examitions scam.