Over six decades of the Congress and regional outfit Asom Gana Parishad’s failure with increasing corruption, greater roles for middlemen, adhocism in administration and many more are the stepping stones to ‘Troubled Assam’
The test of governance in Congress-ruled Assam and more so the absence of it could be found in the sheer and perhaps candid admission by the Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi. When violence erupted in 2012 in Bodo stronghold pockets spread over 400 villages, a beleaguered Gogoi had said almost in a tongue-in-cheek fashion: “Assam is sitting on a volcano. Assam is just like a volcano. You don’t know what happens where”.
He had further said, “Clashes keep occurring in the state, whether in Kokrajhar, Karbi Anglong or Dima Hasao” – reflecting indifference and administrative inability. Ironically these golden words came from Gogoi in 2012 – the 12th year of his rule in the State. So looking back from 2001 to 2015-16 (long 15 years stint), what has Gogoi offered to his State?
On the same platitude will it be relevant to ponder, what did he offer to the Congress leadership all these years? Today he is the undisputed Congress ruler—so much so that even Himanta Biswa Sarma, reportedly the chief architect of Congress 2011 victory—has been now pushed out of the Congress party. In New Delhi, a confidant Gogoi on January 22, 2016 asserted, “Everyone’s face will be there. But I will be the captain. I am the General of the party…” and virtually anointed himself as the chief ministerial candidate for the fourth straight term.
This certainly displays a neo-confidence of a Congress leader—something of a rarity! But Gogoi during his days in power seldom displayed confidence in people about his governance. In fact, the biggest folly of Gogoi the posterity will judge is his inability to work in tandem with Dr Manmohan Singh when the latter was the Prime Minister for a decade and also an elected MP from Assam. The northeastern region never had this opportunity nor people hope to get an elected member as Prime Minister in the next decade or so! Ironically both Gogoi and Dr Singh belonged to Congress!
The Assam Government under Gogoi was more than once caught napping in terms of preparedness to deal with the violence situations and ethnic tensions. It also proved ineffective in terms of carrying out developmental works. The Gogoi administration also was proved ineffective each time after the violence broke in the state.
While infiltration from Bangladesh and number of Muslim population has increased manifold in border as well as interiors of the state, there are allegations that many infiltrators are occupying the vast land especially of tribals in connivance of the State government officials. Visit to hubs like Dhubri or other pockets like Chirang and Baksa suggest often immigrants come from Bangladesh as labourers and rickshaw pullers but can manage to get hold of land ‘pattas (titles)’ quite easily.
“The situation is worsening by the day. Problems plaguing the Bodo stronghold region are land grabbing spree of migrants, negligence of administration and developmental works by the Assam government, joblessness and lack of opportunities are suffocating the natives,” says Pramod Bodo, president of influential All Bodo Students Union leader.
What has hampered
Corruption, lack of plans, greater roles for middlemen, adhocism in administration, land disputes, delay in payment for NREGA workers, lack of agro market industry, absence of cold storage, lack of fish market and costly fertilisers.
Such situations also create grounds for lawlessness and other criminal and anti-national activities. In August-September 2012 the Army launched a major search operation in six districts of lower Assam and could seize illegal arms and explosives that have repeatedly been used to spread terror. Muslim United Liberation Tigers of Assam is a hyper active Islamist extremist organisation. There have been breakthroughs in nabbing of individuals and groups involved in ferrying arms and ammunitions to the state through Dhubri and other vulnerable points. In fact not long ago, a key ULFA leader Mrinal Hazarika also feared that Bangladeshis were active in Dhubri belt with the possible help of Bangladeshi and Pakistani intelligence agencies. But administration wise there was hardly any improvement on the ground.
“The continuing tragedy of Kokrajhar also reflects the deficiencies in the government’s go-to response to ethnic demands—setting up autonomous territorial councils. Unless the developmental needs of the region that largely motivated such demands are addressed, its story may remain trapped in the old cycles of violence and mistrust,” commented Indian Express editorially.
Not many disagree. “The land of the Bodos and other tribals in Assam is much more than an economic resource. It represents their origins, their history…But migration has hurt the tribals and indigenous people most. The area of land that Bodos and other tribes now occupy in Assam is only a faction of what their forefathers had. The rest has gone to migrants,” laments BJP leader and Guwahati MP Bijoya Chakraborty.
Neglect of Adivasis
But the agony of Assam and over six decades of the Congress and regional outfit AGP’s failure does not end with the hardships in Bodo areas or the issue of illegal migration from Bangladesh. The neglect of ‘Adivasis’ or tea-planters has been another gross failure both at the State and the Central level.
To make it worse, a few Congress leaders in the past added insult to the injuries on Adivasis. Not long ago, P R Kyndiah, a controversial Congress leader in Meghalaya, as the Union Tribal Affairs Minister under Manmohan Singh had said, “Considering ST status for Adivasis would involve examining the case using the criteria of tribal characteristics including a primitive background and distinctive cultures and traditions”. The then Home Minister Shivraj Patil, also had said that these Adivasis “had lost their tribal characteristics”.
Shivraj Patil had pointed out that the then Assam Government in 1999 (led by PK Mahanta) had asked the Centre not to include these communities in the ST list as other tribes living in the area would suffer. As a result of these statements, gradually the Adivasis turned more assertive and even endorsed the path of noisy demonstration and violence. On November 24, 2007 in Beltola, there was ‘clash’ between Adivasis demanding ST status and the ‘locals (that is Assamese)’. Not quite surprisingly, the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) through its mouthpiece ‘Swadhinta’ had alleged that some politicians were trying to ‘separate’ the Adivasis and tea tribes of Assam from the other Assamese.
Vulnerable tea-planting social groups along with few other groups like Kharia and Oraon were mapped in Assam as ‘tea tribes’. Over the decades subsequently they formed a category of their own especially within the plantation areas and began to be called ‘Adivasis’. But even after Independence, they had remained neglected if not ignored. Now the Modi’s Government is working to give ST status to at least 6 tribal groups. The issue of ST status for Koch-Rajbongshis, Tai Ahoms, Morans, Motoks and Chutiyas has been a priority for ULFA also.
But it goes without saying, things— as ever with multiple communities in Assam—have also turned further complex over the years. On December 23, 2014, the NDFB militants of Bodos struck as they gunned down 76 Adivasis, 21 of them children, at five places in Sonitpur and Kokrajhar.
Often the confrontation and violence reported from these areas affected various communities like Bodos, Adivasis and Santhal and victims too have been Christians, Hindus and Muslims. Notably in 2012 violence in Bodo-tribal pockets in Assam there was blood bath between native Bodos and mostly Bengali-speaking Muslims.
Thus amid the poll atmosphere even as skepticism haunts people vis-à-vis the role of Gogoi administration, for its part the Govt of Bharat will do well to keep in mind that all kinds-sectarian, communal, intertribal, tribal versus non-tribal conflicts are very much inherent part of the existence of Assam. Nirendra Dev