“When people think of the North-East, they have so far tended to think only of its problems. We should now change this perspective. We should start thinking more and more of the North-East’s unique strengths and opportunities.”
—Atal Behari Vajpayee in inaugural speech at the 2nd North-East Business Summit, January 20, 2004, New Delhi
Elections and cricket provide ample scope for analysis not only for experts sitting in news rooms and studios but all common Bharatiyas. Results of recently held Assembly elections for the four states and a union territory are no exception to it. Not a single analysis went without mentioning morale booster for the BJP after Bihar and Delhi losses and further deferment of dynastic anointment of Rahul Gandhi as the Supreme Leader of Congress. This will go on. Some more numbers will be analysed, caste and religious angles will be discussed with microscopic interpretation of data. But if we really want to assess these results then victory of Assam is the biggest story which needs analysis beyond the conventional electoral explanations. This is not historical just because first time BJP is set to form the majority government in this region but it is going to change the narrative about this hitherto neglected region
Firstly, Assam is a gateway to the most important but ignored region of Bharat that is North-East. The colonial narrative of calling it ‘seven sisters with racially different composition’ created psychological distance along with the physical one. It was during the NDA I, the then Prime Minister Vajpayee first time created a separate ministry for the region to address the diverse but integral issues of the constituent states. Prime Minister Modi while campaigning for 2014 Lok Sabha elections established the identity of Ashta Lakshmi (eight goddesses instead of British narrative of ‘seven sisters’). This was not a coincident. Both Vajpayee and Modi represent a school of thought that believes in cultural and racial integrity of Bharat amidst diverse identities. The understanding of Bharat as a civilisational state by this thinking negates the idea of racial differentiation and therefore, calls for special attention. Many sister concerns are toiling their sweat and blood in this region to negate the secessionist and militant ideas promoted by the colonial narrative. For sheer ideological reasons, this victory is different than any other electoral win.
Secondly, this region has the immense potential both in terms of economic growth and human capital. After taking over the reign, Modi led NDA government continued with the efforts creating infrastructure and giving representation to the diverse identities. Economic investment, engaging militant groups in the peace process and creating condition to nurture the natural talent of the communities in this hilly region is the three pronged approach of this government. Besides, strengthening the integrationist tendencies of Bharat not merely at physical but also psychological level is another important dimension of this government’s policy. First time there is a acceptance of this integrationist policy in the north-eastern region and therefore, this triumph is different.
Thirdly, the issues of illegal immigration and strong ties with the Southeast Asian neighbours have international dimensions. Unless there is a agreement between the Centre and the State on this strategically important issues, the diplomatic efforts cannot be made in the right direction. The crusader against illegal migration was projected as the Chief Ministerial candidate and still, people of Assam overwhelmingly supported him is the victory of nationalist forces against the vote-bank politics in Assam. It is also a ratification of policy to treat North-East as Bharat’s corridor to the Southeast Asia.
The challenge of changing the narrative on the ground is not an easy task. Ensuring accountable and transparent government in Assam itself is the biggest systemic challenge. Then utilisation of resources for the right beneficiaries without getting tempted to the vote-bank politics is another test for the new government. Illegal migration is tricky and sensitive issue and new government cannot turn a blind eye towards it. The young and credible leadership of Sarbananda Sonowal, with a track record of fighting for peoples issues on the ground is the last hope for the people of Assam. People have ratified his leadership for fulfilling the legitimate aspirations of the people and utilising allocated resource to the optimum level. The more new ruling party of Assam strengthens this process the more there is possibility of bringing these states out of the ‘Seven Sisters’ Syndrome and conferring due status to the Ashta Lakshmi.