D. N. Bezboruah
The Republic of India has vast differences in the levels of development of its constituent States. There are States like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Goa, Kartaka, Tamil du, Punjab and Harya that are well developed and others like Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Assam that are far from being developed. The case of Assam is exceptiol. When India became independent, Assam was among the top five States of the Union in terms of per capita income. Today, it is among the last five States of the Union in terms of development. But that is not all. Assam is among the backward States of the Union and had been placed among the Special Category States of the Union that receives Central assistance in the special formula of 90 per cent grant and just 10 per cent loan. This is a dispensation that is most humiliating to me as an Assamese, and I call this not the Special Category, but rather the “begging bowl” category. Strangely enough, our Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi and his Cabinet colleagues suffer from no sense of humiliation that our State should have remained in the “begging bowl” category for the last 46 years. On the contrary, his ire against the Centre stems from the fact that Assam’s Special Category status should have been taken away by the Centre that probably has more concern about what the Special Category status is doing to our self-respect than the Chief Minister of the State.
So, after 46 years of the “begging bowl” status Assam is still a backward State. Did anyone expect anything different after taking away Assam’s need to compete with other States on equal terms? We have a kck of failing to learn our lessons from experience even though this is what is called intelligence. Look at what happened to the reservations like Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe that the architects of our Constitution had given us for just 10 years. Our lawmakers amended the Constitution itself so that they could perpetuate reservations and politicize it to win elections. Today, more than 65 years after we gave unto ourselves the Constitution, no one in Parliament is willing to talk about ending reservations. The irony of the situation is that lawmakers approach unreserved groups and have to say, “Good heavens! You have still not been made backward? Never mind, I will do it for you. All you have to do is vote for me at the elections.” Thus, it is not just an ethnic group or a community that can be made backward with the implementation of reservations. An entire State can be made backward if it has the sufficient number of ethnic groups and communities that seek reservations because of the so-called advantages that come with reservations. Actually, these are not advantages but rather gratuitous handicaps that ethnic groups seeking reservations—69 years after Independence—are trying to acquire. After all, what do reservations ensure? They ensure that there will be no competition and no place for merit. They ensure that securing jobs and promotions will be automatic. Such ‘benefits’ work only for individuals and a community or an ethnic group. They do not work for the State or the region as a whole. They are actually very short-sighted ‘benefits’. They are like crutches provided to normal, healthy people who do not need crutches. Reservations can make the people of a State backward for ever, because people have opted for the transient benefits of backwardness for individuals of the community since they make it so much easier for people to get jobs and promotions without any competitions. It also happens to be a system that puts extra-constitutiol powers in the hands of politicians. While reservations along caste and tribe lines are useful to give the necessary leg-ups to long-deprived sections of our society, they can be justified only if they are temporary measures of equalization. If they are extended beyond a period of 10 or 15 years, they do grave injustice to those born in other communities that do not have the privileges of reservation and are willing to give merit its rightful place and to compete for the jobs they seek. After all, it cannot be just for any society to deprive people with merit and those who are willing to compete for what they seek merely because of the accident of their birth in the ‘wrong’ communities. This is virtually asking people to choose their parents. As such, there can be nothing right about continuing reservations even 69 years after Independence and turning them into tools of electoral success.
But a State does not remain backward only because the system of reservations has been perpetuated for nearly seven decades. A State remains backward for other reasons too, though the in-built mechanism of reservations plays a major role in influencing the other reasons too. One typical example is the abolition of merit and competition that are vital for any real collective development. The present dispensation blocks all real progress by rejecting merit and competition. Look at all the advanced States of India. They have progressed because they have retained merit and competitions in various fields of human endeavour other than politics, government jobs and promotions in government service. These States are also beginning to tell the backward States of the country that they are doomed if they reject merit and competition in all fields of human activity.
We are backward largely because we have rejected a healthy work culture and honest means of earning a livelihood in favour of the easy money looted from Central grants that involves very little work. We are backward because our government has stoked high ambitions about industrial development without doing anything to develop the skills that are needed for a sophisticated industrial culture. In fact, the Congress that has remained in power the longest in Assam did nothing in all these years to build the infrastructure of adequate power generation in all these years. The installed capacity of the ASEB in 2001 was 514 MW. This got reduced to about 200 MW by 2015 despite the addition of the 100 MW Karbi-Langpi hydel project. We still do not know what is preventing the government from reviving the Bongaigaon Thermal Power Station. With 200 MW of power generation, no State has the right even to talk about industrial development in the 21st century. So we do not have industrial development. We only have a lot of talk about 15 years of development. turally, Assam has the highest unemployment rate in the country, not to speak of the highest rate of crimes against women. The general crime rate too is increasing very fast. This deadly combition of a total lack of industrial development, a high rate of unemployment, increasing rural poverty, malnourishment giving rise to stunted growth among village children, a high rate of materl mortality and a high level of alcoholism among the youth has pushed us back several decades. Other socio-economic aberrations have raised their ugly heads to keep us backward. One of them is total lack of professiolism in our undertakings. Another is the pretence that whatever we do to put money in our pockets is business. In Assam, we have a group of young men who claim to be in business. But what they actually do is to find ‘smart’ ways of diverting development funds from the Centre to the coffers of privileged parasites in society. This is not business. This is pure and simple loot even though it may have the blessings of those in power and even though it involves some exertion. Obviously, the bigger the loot the greater will be the exertion. As for lack of professiolism even among those who do honest business, not keeping time, not honouring delivery schedules and not keeping one’s word are being pushed into becoming acceptable norms. They will never be acceptable norms in efficiently run businesses. The humblest entrepreneur succeeds in business if he always keeps his word in his business dealings.
For quite some time, Assamese businessmen will be confined to the service sector whether as contractors, as people running the tourism industry or as suppliers. They will discover that they can prosper only if they are honest and can keep their commitments. The businessman who thinks he has made quick profits by giving his customers less than their due, will shrivel up very soon. Likewise, youths who charge disproportiotely extortiote amounts for small jobs completed in a couple of hours will also discover that their business is drying up. Filly, the Assamese entrepreneur who hopes to succeed in business must acquire skills appropriate for today’s industries and impart them to his employees. This has become particularly important at a time when the commissioning of the gas cracker unit at Lepetkata has thrown up excellent opportunities for downstream plastics industries. The opportunities have arrived, the potential for success is there but the mind-set must change radically if we are to take Assam from its present status of a backward “begging bowl” State to that of an advanced State.