Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar’s win in the assembly elections to bag a fourth consecutive term in office proves that geographical remoteness or communication bottlenecks can never be hindrances to good governance, if the political leadership is honest and committed towards fulfilling the aspirations of the masses.
Tripura and Barak Valley are not only geographically adjacent to each other, they are also absolutely similar in terms of language and culture. Most importantly, the problems they face are also the same. Both the regions are connected through the same road and rail links and therefore are equally handicapped when these links do not operate efficiently. The inordinate delay in the completion of the Silchar – Lumding broad gauge and the Mahasadak are hitting both Tripura and Barak Valley equally hard.However, the manner in which the Manik Sarkar and the Tarun Gogoi governments have dealt with these problems is remarkably different. While the Tripura government has explored all possible options, Tarun Gogoi and his colleagues representing Barak Valley have chosen to do absolutely nothing. Let us look at a few examples:
· The railway extension project from Kumarghat to Agartala took about 15 years to complete. It was a tremendous engineering challenge as the route traversed through many hills, rivers and plains and involved the construction of numerous bridges and a 1,856 metre long tunnel at the Atharamura hill range. Threats from insurgents also hampered the work adversely. However, the Manik Sarkar government went out of its way to provide security to the workers and also campaigned vigorously with Delhi to expedite the work. Unlike this section, which required the construction of new lines, the Lumding – Silchar route only needed the conversion of the metre gauge line in to broad gauge with the construction of some new tunnels, bridges and stations. However, after 17 long years, the project is yet to see the light of the day. Tarun Gogoi or his cronies who masquerade as custodians of the progress of Barak Valley never speak about this issue unless forced to. Quite inexplicably, the project gets delayed due to absolutely petty reasons such as forest clearances which show the disinterest that the government has for this project of immense importance.
· In 2009, the central government decided to hand over the responsibility of maintaining the all important National Highway 44 to the governments of the states of Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura as the units of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) were to be taken to the China border to boost the infrastructure there. Despite not having any infrastructure or knowhow to maintain such a major highway, the Assam government run Public Works Department (PWD) took up the responsibility as getting the charge of the highway also meant regular inflow of funds from the central government, which could be easily siphoned off by unscrupulous contractors and political leaders. Manik Sarkar, however, lobbied hard to keep the BRO in Tripura as he was aware that it would be very difficult for his government to maintain such an important road link.
· Manik Sarkar has worked really hard to ensure the commencement of railway links from Agartala to Kolkata via Bangladesh, as he realised that waiting for the Lumding – Silchar project to complete would be a futile exercise. Recently, an MoU to the same effect to connect Agartala with Akahura in Bangladesh has been signed by India’s Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid and his Bangladeshi counterpart. In Assam, the resumption of the Mahishasan – Kulaura link has not made any significant progress, though the Railway Board has recently ordered the preparation of a feasibility report for the same. Tripura has also suggested the establishment of some more transit points through Bangladesh to reach mainland India, however, Assam doesn’t seem bothered about exploring such possibilities.
Nowadays, people of Barak Valley prefer to fly to major locations of the country via Agartala, rather than Guwahati as reaching Agartala by rail is much easier than taking the hostile highway to Guwahati. Assam, being the big brother in the north eastern region should have provided such logistical or communication support to the people of the neighbouring states. It is a shame, that in case of Barak Valley, just the opposite is happening.
People who have travelled to Tripura claim that the roads there, even in the rural areas, are in excellent shape. Agartala is being gradually developed into a modern city with state of the art infrastructure. Conversely, we in Barak Valley, cannot even repair our major bridges which connect us with the rest of the world. Improvement of the other necessary infrastructure is completely out of question.Manik Sarkar, according to media reports, has only Rs. 10,800 in cash and he doesn’t own a car or a house. Whatever salary he draws as a chief minister is donated to his party funds and the party gives him Rs. 5,000 a month to manage his expenses. Can we even think of a similar example in Barak Valley? Our leaders donate cash to the poor at the drop of a hat. But nobody questions them as to how they manage to earn so much money?
Many political experts suggest that Manik Sarkar’s leftist ideology makes him an honest chief minister and the absence of an effective Communist movement in Barak Valley is the reason for the absence of such leaders here. However, no party ideology asks its leaders to amass illegal money. If the leader has the right intention, his ideology will certainly be not an obstacle.
The intention behind this article is not to praise Manik Sarkar or his government, but to show what difference good governance can make to a region, which is not at all different from our valley either climatically or demographically. But will our leaders take any lessons? Probably never....