WITH EYES WIDE OPEN
D. N. Bezboruah
We Indians are never very good at saying sorry for the mistakes we make. Politicians are, by and large, quite a bit worse in this respect than the common man. I think there are at least three valid reasons for this shortcoming among politicians. In the first place, they keep forgetting that this is a democracy and that people are the masters in all real democracies. Politicians have always regarded themselves as the masters except just before elections when they have to go around cadging for votes and quite often even paying for them. There are many politicians who regard themselves as some kind of morchs even within a democratic system. In fact, one can count the large number of politicians who are in the process of creating dysties on the model of the Nehru-Gandhi family. Once the election is won and the politician concerned has become a minister, the people who elected him don’t matter to him at all. In fact, he takes all precautions to ensure that he can remain iccessible to the people. This hypocritical attitude towards people tends to make politicians believe that they are above the law and also that they need have no contact with the people except before elections. And that is why, perhaps, they are most reluctant to ever accept that they made a mistake and to acknowledge mistakes publicly. Secondly, most politicians suffer from the delusion that they are infallible. This shortcoming generally arises from a lack of education and the kind of megalomania that is infused by the show of respect by the people that they have got accustomed to. Thirdly, repeated success at the elections is the kind of heady wine that makes them regard themselves as being accountable to none. And most of these illusions get magnified when someone like Tarun Gogoi gets to remain in power for three consecutive terms. That is when people tend to forget about the day of reckoning around the corner that awaits people who have run a government for the government and not for the people. That is when a cavalcade of 20 vehicles seems a normal thing for a chief minister and he starts referring to adversaries and members of rival political parties in disrespectful terms.
When the latest Assembly elections did not give Tarun Gogoi and his party a fourth term in office, he probably felt that he owed it to the people of Assam to make some admissions about where he had gone wrong in order to explain why the people of Assam did not give him a fourth term in office. So, instead of doing what he should have done much earlier, he chose to admit just one failure—the failure to wipe out corruption. What he possibly overlooked was that people did not hold him responsible for not being able to wipe out corruption as they did for making the government much more corrupt than when he first took over in 2001. In fact, it was not just a case of not being able to control corruption but rather a case of legitimizing corruption at all levels within the government. One of the best proofs of this is the way he made all fiscal discipline totally redundant and even went to the extent of ridiculing the need to furnish utilization certificates and proper statements of accounts of funds received from the Centre for development. He created the impression that funds had to flow from the Centre without questions being asked about proper utilization and without the need for anyone to submit satisfactory accounts. And the total funds for which utilization certificates and statements of accounts were not furnished exceeded Rs 12,000 crore!
But this is not all. The people of Assam are concerned with the dishonesty displayed in respect of the updating of the NRC. After the election results were announced, Tarun Gogoi took credit for the fact that the updating of the NRC was done during his regime. In other words, he is expecting the people of Assam to forget that it was he repeatedly created hurdles in getting the work of updating the NRC started. People have not forgotten that the updating of the NRC was due to have been completed by the year 2007. In 2007, the work did not even get started. And if the Supreme Court had not intervened to compel the State government to take up the work of updating the NRC, Tarun Gogoi would not have allowed the updating of the NRC to commence. It will be recalled how his government made a show of starting the updating work with pilot projects in two places in the year 2010 (just before the Assembly elections of 2011) and how both pilot projects were abandoned instantly after the outbreak of violence in Barpeta led to the death of four persons. And filly, when the work of updating the NRC had to get started due to the directives of the Supreme Court, he made sure that the work of updating the NRC could not be completed before the Assembly elections of 2016. I am not sure whether he knew that the Election Commission would have nothing to do with an updated NRC, but to be on the safe side he did everything possible to ensure that the updating of the NRC could not be completed before the Assembly elections of 2016.
What sounds downright ominous is the way he has thrown the task of detecting and deporting foreigners from Assam as a challenge to the newly formed government. This is what Tarun Gogoi told reporters on Wednesday: “The BJP said Assam was full of foreigners and accused us of sheltering them. It has now formed the government. I hope the new government will detect all foreigners without delay and resolve the issue for good... The BJP went ahead with the same core issue of making Assam free from foreigners as the AGP did in 1985. The issue was taken to the masses by the RSS in such a manner that we failed to gauge its effectiveness.” In a sense, Gogoi has thrown a gauntlet at the new government to undo what decades of Congress rule had done to our State which also happens to be his State. It is like saying, “We have filled the State with illegal migrants in order to secure our vote bank. Let us now see how you can undo in one term what we have done over decades.” It is as though someone was gloating over a major disservice done to one’s own State with a sense of achievement if not also with a sense of pride. Obviously, people do not regard such leaders as patriots.
It is certainly possible that Tarun Gogoi and the Indian tiol Congress might have overestimated the numerical strength of the illegal vote bank that they had created over the years. It was a powerful vote bank as long as the indigenous voters of Assam did not come out in full strength to exercise their voting right. This time they got very close to doing that. In doing so, they confirmed that the people of Assam can still mage to elect the government they want and more importantly the government that has a better chance of not betraying the interests of the State and its people. And having filly done what they could have done 10 or 15 years ago, they have certainly woken up to the realization of the indigenous people of Assam being able to determine their own mandate and destiny. It is unlikely that they will repeat their earlier mistake of not coming out to vote in large numbers. And if the BJP-led government can even clean up the electoral roll of the State and take away the voting rights of the illegal voters, the indigenous people of Assam would have gained much in terms of their power to elect their own representatives. For many years, they were under the mistaken notion that they had lost that power.