“What have you done in last 10 years when a person representing Assam was the PM”

Co-authored with Jaya Kumar N.K.

The Congress might have stood the test of time in Assam, but for some reason, is finding it very difficult to survive the North-Eastern State poll this time around. Assam crossed the halfway mark on the 4th of April 2016 and has faced the second and final phase of elections today.

The ‘National-Derby’ match being played in the State has the Bharatiya Janata Party with quite a few allies that the Congress has distanced itself from. The BJP may have got a head-start with the tie-ups, but is faced with opposition from grass-root workers and supporters over the alliance with the AGP. While the Congress is faced with roadblocks, starting with anti-incumbency, the BJP, in turn is faced with mountain blocks, of failed alliances and that boomerang of an immigrant issue.

          A hoarding but up by Congress workers of Assam for the Assam Assembly election 2016 in Guwahati on March 21, 2016.

The Pivot

The BJP has an elaborate set of promises laid out in its manifesto. However, the top echelons have stuck to the political issue of ‘infiltration’ i.e. “complete sealing of the Indo-Bangladesh border in the state” and laws to sternly deal with entities that employ ‘infiltrators’.

The latest projections are positive for BJP and its alliances on the ‘seats’ front. However, the Congress may have the upper hand in the percentage of votes. That is not all. The AIUDF is expected to get 12% of the votes. There are a few predictions that foresee a hung legislature too.

Development In Assam

“There is a long list of problems. There has been no development... What have you done in last 15 years in Assam and 10 years in the Centre when a person representing Assam was the Prime Minister…”

- Narendra Modi

Modi's assertion might not be fully true. To Gogoi's credit, per capita income of the state has increased 3.8 times. Agriculture growth that was negative in 2000-01 has reached 5% in 2014-15. Growth rate has picked up momentum from 4.07% of the GSDP in 2000-2001 to 15.26 % of the GSDP in 2014-15 at current prices. A report by Central Ministry of Statistics and Programme Iplementation has ranked Assam as 6th in GSDP.

The Tale of ‘Illegal Bangladeshi Immigrants’

“Congress allowed Bangladeshi intruders to come into the country easily. Today, these intruders are taking jobs away from Assam’s youth.”

- Amit Shah

The elephant in the room needs some attention. To begin with, the migration of Bengali Muslim peasants from hitherto East Bengal began in the 1800s after the British bagged Assam in 1826, with the Treaty of Yandaboo after defeating the Burmese in the First Anglo Burmese War. The British policies subjected Bengal’s economy to a thousand cuts and slashes.

The geographically adjacent province of Assam was the go-to place for the indigents owing to the availability of land and lesser oppression, be it by the government or the Zamindars. A few claim this influx to have been orchestrated by the British to improve their revenues for, cultivable lands and revenue are a couple!

More importantly, the concentration of Muslims in the areas of traditional settlements, underlines the reality that they are most likely to be the descendants of those immigrants, and hence legitimate Indian citizens. This assertion would get reinvigorated once we look at the census data for the percentage of Assamese language speakers in these areas.

Statistically, high population growth rate in Assam has declined since 1971 and has remained lower than that of India, thus defying superficial assertions of ongoing illegal immigration from Bangladesh. Moreover, the Assam Accord of 1985 clearly states that only those who have entered Assam later than 25 March 1971 are considered illegal immigrants.

These arguments do not necessarily fully justify that there wasn’t any influx at all.  However, the harsher truth might be that most of the people we’re branding illegal for political gains might just be actual Indian citizens.

Promoting Development In The State

“I have only three agendas — ‘vikas’ (development), ‘tej gati se vikas’ (speedy development) and ‘charon aur vikas’ (all-round development). I believe in solving all problems through development.”

- Narendra Modi

Is this really in sync with what the Centre has done in the past? At this juncture, let us take the The North East Industrial and Investment Promotion Policy to make a case. The provisions of the NEIIPP, 2007 provided a conducive environment to accelerate the industrialisation process in the North Eastern region. This upheld the competitiveness of the Industries in the indigenous as well as the global market.

However, despite having three years to expiration, the Government issued a circular, wherein fresh registration of industrial units for claiming benefits of the schemes under NEIIPP, 2007 has been suspended from 1st December 2014. The core idea of the 'Make in India' campaign will not be achieved, if we don't promote industries in the North Eastern States. This decision has a cold impact on the tourism industry too.

Going by the figures of the Economic Survey of Assam 2014-2015, the Gross State Domestic Product growth in the Industry sector during the year 2013-2014 is 34.7%, with 2004-2005 as the base year. This per se is self-explanatory of the potential of the scheme in question.

It is important to understand that development economics is a rewarding means to achieve political ambitions for two reasons viz., the victory would be sustainable and more importantly, the quality of democracy would only see further revitalisation. Of late, we see development being replaced or supplemented by ethno-religious promises as the pivot for elections. The rhetoric is now around ‘Sons of Soil’ Vs ‘Outsiders’. Though it might heed electorally in the beginning, such gimmicks could potentially wreck the very foundation of a State.

People living in pluralistic societies should have a temper for multitude and it is the responsibility of all parties to induce this temper. A successful democracy is where the electoral discourse is around the needs of the people, not ire.

Connect with Jaya Kumar N.K. at jaya.k2379@gmail.com

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