WITH EYES WIDE OPEN
D. N. Bezboruah
The recent announcement that the elections will be held in the month of March had come as a jolt to all right-thinking people who do not want elections to be held before the updating of the tiol Register of Citizens (NRC) is completed properly and accurately. However, it was revealed later on that the Board of Secondary Education, Assam (SEBA) had requested that the elections be held some time in early April 2016 so as not to clash with the HSLC examitions of the Board. The Election Commission is bound to heed this request because it needs the services of thousands of teachers to conduct the elections, and it must wait until they are free from their examition duties. But we are not sure whether the Election Commission or the Union government has given due thought to the implications of holding the elections before the updated NRC is ready. Unless the NRC update is completed before the elections, the lakhs of Bangladeshi voters who have been illegally voting in our elections will again vote in the 2016 elections. Even with an updated NRC as a strong means of keeping out illegal voters, we shall again have an election in which foreigners will vote and determine our future. There are no visible indications that the Election Commission has not overlooked this very vital implication of holding the Assembly elections before the updating of the NRC is completed. If the HSLC examitions come as a sort of deciding factor to hold the elections after Rangaali Bihu, this might be a godsend since it is just about possible that the updating of the NRC would be completed by then with a bit of extra effort.
As far as the illegal foreign voters are concerned, the ruling party does not have to do any campaigning. These Bangladeshis have not just been allowed to come to India without any travel papers and to live here permanently. They have been welcomed like sons-in-laws, given ration cards, been enlisted very promptly on our electoral roll, provided livelihoods and land to occupy, and permitted to practise polygamy and multiply much faster than Indian citizens. They have even been protected better than Indian citizens. No one could touch a hair on their bodies—whatever their crimes—without landing up in jail. What more could anyone ask for in a foreign country? They don’t have to be told who to vote for. They know their magnimous benefactors only too well.
All the campaigning that the Congress needs is for the Indian citizens of Assam. [I mean real Indian citizens and not just residents of India.] Unfortutely, we have arrived at stage where the government is no longer able to issue citizenship certificates. It can only issue residency certificates. [I would like to draw the attention of my readers to the recent television advertisements relating to residents of India!] And what can the campaigning really focus on after almost 15 years of chaotic rule (almost bordering on archy) during which we had huge colour advertisements on so-called development, rampant loot of development funds coupled with rampant corruption, a total breakdown of law and order and very high levels of unemployment? A ruling party that has totally failed in terms of performance (to the extent of even failing to furnish utilization certificates to the Centre for about Rs 12,000 crore) can only talk vaguely about ‘development’ without anyone in government even being aware of what development means in the 21st century. Unfortutely, a lot of voters will swallow hook, line and sinker whatever the ruling party has to say, and cast their votes accordingly. That is why a brief idea of what development ought to mean in the 21st century, and why a government of the kind that we have had in the last 15 years cannot ensure real development even if it got 15 more years, needs to be attempted. The people should also be made to see in how many different ways we have actually had negative development.
To be developed is to grow bigger, better and more advanced in every way. As such, all development implies change for the better, and therefore, progress. Quite obviously, the level and direction of change that could be called development in the 20th century would not do for the 21st century. Given the government’s obsession with mere material development and the promotion of consumerism, its idea of development rules out development of the human mind and intellect. There is no denying that a certain amount of development that is entirely related to infrastructure and the material world is inevitable and desirable for all kinds of progress. For instance, the government here seems to have completely overlooked the fact that for all real material progress there is need for electricity. Actually, the level of per capita power consumption is an accepted parameter of progress. Gone are the days when a tion’s progress could be assessed solely on the basis of its per capita income. That was why per capita income as a yardstick of progress was eventually replaced by a whole set of parameters related to what is today referred to as human development indicators. The human development indicators include per capita income among a whole gamut of other indicators like literacy rate, the percentage of educated and technically qualified people, per capita consumption of electricity, per capita consumption of fertilizers, the percentage of the population buying newspapers and books, the level of health care, the empowerment of women, the level of individual security, the effective control of adverse law-and-order situations and so on. Therefore, when a government keeps bragging about the development it has been responsible for, it needs to be asked searching questions on the levels of change in the realm of power generation, infrastructure development, an increasing number of better schools and colleges with better qualified teachers, a far better level of health care with competent doctors and nurses posted even in the rural health centres, a fair distribution of water, food, fuel, medicines and building materials even in the rural areas, a steady growth of industrial units from year to year ensuring a much higher rate of employment than we have now and facilities to develop skills needed for the kind of job opportunities that will arise in industrial units geared to the demands of the 21st century. And the acid test of real development is that all this has to be inclusive and not exclusive keeping out all but the blue-eyed looters of government funds and their cronies. It is important for people to realize that there is none of this now regardless of what full-colour government advertisements might say to the contrary. True, the tiol highways passing through the State are in better shape than they were 10 years ago and the cars whizzing along them far more powerful and sleek. But what percentage of the people do they benefit? Let us look at things more basic. How is the public distribution system geared to the needs of people below the poverty line functioning? According to several newspaper reports, the blue-eyed boys of the rulers are selling food grains of the PDS in the open market for huge profits. What is the control of the government over abnormal and exploitative price hikes of essential commodities dictated by unscrupulous traders? It is almost non-existent. Listen to the Food Minister of the State. He gives you excuses for why he cannot control prices. But he does not talk about the real reasons, because the syndicates or cartels that control prices are manned by his own party men including some lawmakers. Listen to the Chief Minister of the State. Does he ever talk about the bridges collapsing all over the State, the highest level of unemployment in the entire country and the poor state of education and health-care in the State? No he does not. But that does not prevent people from seeing the reality around them. Does he talk about the miserable law-and-order situation in the State that ensures much better persol security to the Bangladeshi than to the Indian citizen? Does he talk about the high rate of suicides or the high level of alcoholism among the youth that stems from frustration? He certainly does not. Instead, he seeks to hide the total lack of real inclusive development, the high level of corruption, the ibility of the government to provide utilization certificates to the tune of Rs 12,000 crore and the unchecked loot of the exchequer behind the numerous awards that he has created just to make people forget about the totally incompetent administration that he has been running for the best part of 15 years. He should begin to look at how the society and its institutions are beginning to wilt because of a total lack of performance. What he calls development is not development—not by a long chalk. For want a better way to describe what he achieved in the last 15 years, we can call it negative development. He has kept us chained to the 20th century. He should be judged by this performance of his when he goes to people asking them for their votes.