D. N. Bezboruah
For most people in Assam, the results of last month’s Assembly elections declared on May 19 went according to expectations. After all, this was one general election at which the people had not neglected their duty as citizens. Everyone seemed to have filly realized that much of what they wanted in a government was in their own hands. Accordingly, even those who normally kept away from voting on polling day, did not fail to do their duty as voters this time. The very high turnout of voters (around 85 per cent) this time was a rather gratifying exception rather than the rule. And the people seem to have worked to a plan. For them it was the simple plan of doing everything possible through the ballot to throw out one of the most corrupt governments in their experience. In fact, with 15 continuous years in power, the Congress government of Tarun Gogoi had ample time to prove to the hilt that “all power tends to corrupt and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely”. What most political parties tend to forget is that the people do not tend to worry too much about politics; what they are concerned with is good governce. And during the last 10 years of the Tarun Gogoi government, people began to see that there was no governce worth talking about. All that they could see around them was rampant loot of Central funds without even a shred of accountability or fiscal discipline. People could see funds meant for development making their way into private coffers. At the same time, there was much glib talk about development that did not exist. And the cheap tactic resorted to in order to pretend that there was development the State, was to introduce a number of ad hoc awards that are highly unlikely to be continued by successive governments.
Normally, whenever there is a larger than usual turnout of voters, one has reasons to expect anti-incumbency voting. Perhaps we have not had a better example of voters resorting to the ballot to throw out a government that had totally failed them despite being in power for 15 years. It was interesting to see the number of Congress heavyweights that were defeated at last month’s elections. People had no use for ministers who had failed to perform or those against whom there were allegations of corruption. In any case, ministers like Nilmani Sen Deka, Gautam Roy, Pradyut Bordoloi, Bismita Gogoi, Prati Phukan, Etowa Munda, Akan Bora and Sarat Barkotoky were defeated because voters judged them as poor performers with very little to deliver to the people despite a fairly long innings that Tarun Gogoi had given them. The fact that Ajanta Neog, the PWD Minister won, is a clear indication that the electorate did give due credit to a minister who was able to achieve some success with what she undertook to do. All said and done, it is perhaps no exaggeration to state that this time the people of the State won the elections rather than any political party or alliance. Obviously, in order to win they had to choose a political party that was not only against the Congress, but one that was out to decimate a dystic political party that had no business to be in governce in the world’s largest democracy. What is also significant is that this time 1.89 lakh voters chose not to vote for any of the listed candidates by pushing the NOTA button. This is one more clear indication that people were voting with a sense of purpose and responsibility. They desperately wanted change from a highly corrupt incompetent administration and they went about their business with determition and planning. The change they wanted had to be wrought not only through the choice of a political party that has never had much to do with either the politics or the administration of the State in the past but also with a very clear demonstration of rejecting those ministers who had betrayed their trust very badly in the past. In doing this, the people of Assam have also demonstrated their ability to make and break governments through the ballot. The BJP-led alliance that will take charge on Tuesday has a comfortable tally of 86 seats in a House of 126. In fact, the BJP by itself has 60 seats, which is just four short of the bare majority mark.
Despite the fact that the Congress has appeared to take its stunning defeat with some show of grace, the Assam Pradesh Congress Committee (APCC) vice-president Ripun Bora has accused the BJP of winning the Assembly elections with false propaganda. At a press conference held in Guwahati on Friday, he accused the BJP and its alliance partners of having created an atmosphere that the identity of Assamese people and Hindus were at stake. Even if this atmosphere had really been created, there was nothing false about the stated apprehension. And this situation had arisen in a Hindu-majority State largely due to the encouragement that illegal migrants from Bangladesh had received from successive Congress governments to migrate to Assam and get their mes included in the voters list. But Ripun Bora seems to have completely overlooked the false propaganda about non-existent development of the State that the Congress had persistently carried out through its full-colour advertisements in newspapers costing hundreds of crores of rupees. Ripun Bora’s other grouse was related to the promises the BJP had made in respect of employment and other benefits to Assam that the BJP would ensure. This is something that concerns everyone in the State, and I shall come to this a little later.
Now that the people of Assam have brought in the change in government that they wanted, it is time for the BJP-led alliance to take a closer look at what the needs and aspirations of the people are and how real development can take place in a State that has lagged behind the front-ranking States of India by quite a few decades. We cannot have anyone making empty promises to the people of this State merely to win votes. I, for one, am convinced that the parivartan or change that the people are looking forward to can come about only through total dedication to performance and the willingness to take responsibility for the promises made to the people in order to win votes. There is no denying that some of the promises made before the recent elections or before the Lok Sabha elections of 2014 are going to be extremely difficult to honour. For instance, there is this promise of employment to 25 lakh youths. Twenty-five lakh youths constitute roughly a twelfth of the total population of Assam. Given the fact that there is hardly any new industry in the State, providing employment to 25 lakh youths will require major industrial developments in order to create job opportunities to such a large number. Given the industrial culture of Assam and the terrible shortage of electricity, it is difficult to visualize any major and expeditious change in the industrial scerio that can create job opportunities for 2.5 million people. But since the promise has been made, BJP must not take the blame for making promises that it is uble to keep. As such, some way of creating opportunities in the service sector and the food processing sector will have to be found for at least 1 million people to start with. The BJP would then have to take time from the people of Assam to be able to honour its promises on the employment front. Likewise, the promise of 24 x 7 power supply in a State that generates only about 200 MW of electricity is going to be a very difficult promise to keep. Then we have the promise of 100 per cent irrigation coverage in agricultural fields in a State where the Irrigation Department has long been a sort of white elephant. The other promises—of having a 100 per cent foreigner-free NRC, dispensing with oral interviews for third and fourth category jobs, fencing the Indo-Bangladesh border and clearing encroachment on xattras and forest land—must be made top-of-the-agenda items by the new government and pursued assiduously and expeditiously.
The most important objectives for the BJP-led alliance must be to take full responsibility to ensure performance that counts in the eyes of the people and performance that is seen as respect for promises made to the people. This respect can come only if there is genuine respect for people as the masters of a democratic country. The typical Indian penchant for making comparisons with the style of functioning of an earlier government rejected by the people and of citing bad precedents for either doing something objectioble or not doing something that ought to have been done, should find no place in the BJP-led alliance’s mode of functioning. The people will look for governce that is responsive to their aspirations and honestly committed to the development of a State that has fallen far behind in the development race.