Lokapriya Gopinath Bordoloi (06.06.1890-05.08.1950) was a pragmatic politician who played a very important role in ensuring the integration of Assam as a full-fledged state with the Union of India. The Congress won Assam with a whopping majority in the Indian Provincial Elections of 1946. Gopinath Bordoloi took charge of the Assembly as the Chief Minister.
The British Government had announced the Cabinet Mission Plan on May 16, 1946. It envisaged a ‘Union of India’ consisting of various provinces/units having full autonomy with all residuary powers being vested upon them, except in the areas of external affairs, defence, and communications. However, the principal deal-breaker in the Plan was the ‘Grouping’ Provision, which arbitrarily divided the British Indian provinces into three different groups or sections – A, B and C. The six Muslim-dominated provinces were constituted under Sections B and C; Section C including Bengal and Assam. It provided a fine blueprint for future East Pakistan in the making.
Gopinath Bordoloi immediately grasped the full implications of the Cabinet Mission Plan for the future of North-East India and thus intensified his popular struggle against it. He strongly advocated for retaining Assam as a province within the Indian Union and not to include it in Group C. It was on July 16, 1946, that the Assam Assembly adopted a resolution moved by Gopinath Bordoloi, which expressed strong words of disapproval against the ‘Grouping Plan’. It also directed the ten representatives from Assam in the Constituent Assembly to not sit with any other province for devising the Constitution of Assam or any group Constitution with such other province for the settlement of any question relating to Assam.
Led by revolutionary zeal, Gopinath Bordoloi and his team finally succeeded in convincing the national leaders, including Gandhi and Sardar Patel, about the genuine concerns of Assam regarding the Cabinet Mission Plan. Finally, the controversial parts of the Plan had to be scrapped by the British Government. In this unique battle for survival, Gopinath Bordoloi emerged as a towering personality in the entire country. Had he not opposed the Grouping Scheme and instead chose to side with Nehru, there would have been no Assam left today in the map of India.
After Independence, as the first Chief Minister of Assam, Bordoloi worked closely with Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. He fought for the protection of Assam’s sovereignty, including its continued separation from the borders with China and Bangladesh. He also played a very important role in the rehabilitation of millions of Hindu refugees who had fled East Pakistan due to widespread violence and intimidation in the immediate aftermath of the Partition.
Almost half a century after his demise in August 1950, the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre under Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1998 that its very first Bharat Ratna – the country’s highest civilian honour – was conferred posthumously upon Gopinath Bordoloi. With this recognition, Bordoloi also became the first person from the North-East to have been bestowed with this coveted honour. A life-size statue of him was unveiled in the Parliament House building on October 1, 2002, by the then President of India Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.
Today, Bharat pays a glowing tribute to this great leader on his 130th birth anniversary.
(The author holds a PhD in Political Science and regularly writes on topics of national and current interest).