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PATRICIA MUKHIM | 28 AUGUST, 2014

Violence in Assam: Politics Trumps Governance

Violence has increased tenfold in Assam


SHILLONG:The turn of events in Assam in recent times suggest a complete lack of coordination between different wings of the Government. First, the border skirmish turned completely ugly with people losing their lives. Mr GK Pillai former Union Home Secretary, one of our most pragmatic bureaucrats has stated that chief ministers of those states with disputed boundaries should meet and try and settle things amicably. Sadly that does not happen until a full blown clash takes place. Usually those clashes lead to loss of lives.

Four of the North-eastern states have been carved out of the state of Assam. Nagaland, Meghalaya, and Arunachal Pradesh have simmering border tensions with Assam. While Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh have been and are at the receiving end of the Assam Police in border skirmishes, the people of Nagaland residing along the borders of Merapani and Golaghat have defended their territory with a belligerence that is unprecedented. They are dismissive of the Assam Police’s attempts to cramp their style. It is interesting to note in fact that the Nagas have been able to inflict casualties on the neighbouring state on several occasions. The latest border flare-up between the two states has however taken a huge toll for Assam.

Taking into account the overall situation in Assam, Tarun Gogoi does not seem to be on top of things. Dissidence within the Congress Party and the government is gaining ground. A leading cabinet minister resigned in protest after the parliamentary elections when the Congress Party did poorly. The Congress High Command however, does not have the grit for any change of leadership in Assam at this juncture since Gogoi is an old faithful while his beta noire Himanta Biswa Sarma is a young Turk who the High Command has not learnt to trust. In any case the Congress at this juncture is too burdened by its own existential dilemma. It has neither the time nor the inclination to mess up with Congress chief ministers. And this is precisely the problem with Assam. Tarun Gogoi is no longer the most popular leader who has the confidence of the public. The election of 7 BJP MPs out of 14 was a verdict against the Congress and against the Tarun Gogoi government and its litany of failings. Barring the voters of Kaliabor who voted for Gogoi’s son, Gaurav Gogoi, the large majority of people have no more patience for a government that has evidently failed to govern.

In Bodoland, the Songbijot faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) has gone on a rampage. The recent gunning down of a young girl shows the ruthlessness with which the outfit is operating. And it would seem that they have a free run of Bodoland. The State Government seems to have abdicated its role as the guardian of Law and Order. Tarun Gogoi keeps pointing an accusing finger at the Centre, but this blame game no longer works.

In this entire imbroglio we have the media playing a very vicious role of spreading dissension by rolling out images of a previous communal clash in Assam. The fact that a leading electronic media news channel is owned by a leading dissident MLA and former minister of the Tarun Gogoi government has only added to the litany of woes that Gogoi has to deal with. To compound the problem a national news media also picked up the same images without checking facts. This just shows the levels to which the media has sunk in its quest for Television Rating Points (TRPs).

And while Assam is in a state of near anarchy with the government looking like a lame duck things are bound to get worse as the state elections approach. Politics will take priority over governance and anarchy in Bodoland will tend to get worse unless Mr Tarun Gogoi gets his act together, but how? At this point the Congress Party in the State is looking at growing dissidence. Just as the Congress High Command is in denial about most things and has refused to take steps to address the reasons for its recent rout, Mr Tarun Gogoi too lives in a state of denial about most things happening in Assam and the failure of his governance machinery. When Gogoi appears on the local television channels he is utterly dismissive about the rising tide of public anger against his government. He says that other states too have similar problems so Assam is not a special category state as far as such problems are concerned. What Mr Gogoi has failed to appreciate is that people elect a particular government because they expect it to deliver on a few key areas of their lives such as water and sanitation, safety and security, good communication networks to their villages, agricultural support etc., These have evaded Assam in the three tenures of the Congress-ruled government in the State. People want change if only to see whether other parties can deliver.

On the border clashes between Assam and the neighbouring states, the problem can no longer be allowed to fester. In fact, a proper research might throw up interesting evidence about the link between the claims for a greater Nagaland – the long standing demand of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (IM) and the belligerence of the Naga people settled along the Assam-Nagaland borders. Now that the Modi Government has taken over at the Centre most states want to draw his attention to their long standing grouses.

There is a tendency to push the border talks to chief secretary level officials of the states in conflict. This has not proved to be too effective going by the Assam-Meghalaya model. Both sides have remained intransigent. Other methods and strategies are needed at this point in time. There have been suggestions from experts in the Central Government that disputed areas should be turned into special economic zones, health hubs or educational centres which would benefit people from both sides of the border. This suggestion has not got traction. Perhaps it is time for the Union Ministry of Home Affairs to step in and come up with tangible action plans to avoid future inter-state boundary skirmishes that take a toll on human lives.

People living along the borders often suffer the most neglect since development evades them most of the time. If we look at the Assam-Meghalaya borders for instance, people on both sides tend to gravitate towards the state that offers them more options in terms of communication, security and recognition of their rights. Meghalaya has not been able to develop roads to take governance to the last mile. Assam government on the other hand has been quite active along the border. It’s a different matter that Assam has settled people of Nepali origin in the Langpih areas and these have taken up very aggressive posturing. A new format needs to be developed because the old methods have failed. There is need for a new line of thinking. I doubt however that the Tarun Gogoi government has the time and energy for that. It is fighting too many battles on several fronts. These will only be compounded with the onset of the next assembly elections.

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