|External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj during her recent visit to Silchar|
With the state assembly elections a few months away, political leaders of all hues and colours are making a beeline for Barak Valley. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj recently held rallies and Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi came over to inaugurate the state games. State level BJP leaders Sarbananda Sonowal and Himanta Biswa Sarma are seen in the valley almost every week.
Obviously, the 15 seats in Barak Valley carry huge political significance for all the parties. The results in the region can massively impact the overall outcome of the polls. Therefore, it is not surprising that the political establishments in both Delhi and Dispur are keeping a close eye on the developments in the area.
However, the political activism in the region does not somehow match with the pace of development. The valley hasn’t seen any big ticket project in the last one decade and the state government hasn’t even bothered to keep the basic infrastructure of roads, electricity and health going. The completion of the broad gauge corridor is the only silver lining in an otherwise bleak picture.
None of the projects announced by Gogoi during his last pre poll visit – the thousand crore package, the Silchar bypass, the engineering college in Karimganj have come through. In fact, the projects are in complete doldrums and nowhere near completion. Similarly, the BJP run Silchar Municipality also has been a massive disappointment with its chairman allegedly spending more time as an advocate then the head of the town’s civic body. But despite the abject backwardness gripping the valley, the elections here regularly register very high polling percentages.
So, on one hand the participation of the masses in the electoral process is high, on the other, the accountability of the people who get elected remains abysmally low. There is no connection between the performance of our public representatives and their electoral prospects. People get elected despite not doing any work and many of our top leaders and their dynasties have thrived because of this trend. High voltage campaigns, communal polarization, exchange of cash and liquor, personal favours by cash or kind are the main tickets to political success here.
As another election beckons the valley now, how can we ensure that the outcome this time is different? How do we ensure that this time we ask the relevant questions to the leaders before casting our vote? How do we ensure that we make the elections count? We must remember that the political class would want us to remain ignorant and blinded by communal prejudices, but the intelligentsia of the valley has to ensure that this time the voting is issue based. The youth must become aware of the real problems facing the valley and cast their vote only for the candidate who is honest towards delivering the solutions. Here are a few ways to make the elections count this time:
Vote on the basis of issues not caste or religion: Despite all the backwardness facing the valley, the people continue to vote on religious lines. The poll mathematics is often not difficult to decipher since some areas are almost bound to vote for certain parties irrespective of the performance of their leaders. This makes the job of the candidates much easier and they intelligently play the communal card to reap dividends. This time, all voters must resolve to abstain from such tendencies and vote on the basis of issues. The community leaders must play a bipartisan role in this regard and help shape public opinion on the basis of merit and not religion. Various NGOs, pressure groups must raise awareness on this issue and influence the voters.
· Abstain from seeking personal favours from the political leaders: Another unfortunate trend in Barak Valley is that people tend to flock to the netas seeking personal favours. Since the government machinery is grossly corrupt and ineffective, the solution to many issues such as medical aid, a government job, a favourable transfer lie in approaching the leaders, which breeds more corruption. Unless people stop approaching the leaders for their selfish interests, the leaders will not be able to exploit the people without delivering on the poll promises made by them.
· Open sessions on electoral issues: Open debate or discussion sessions must take place at all public places where eminent apolitical intellectuals of the area can deliberate on the main issues facing the valley. Such programmes would help the common man on the street understand the real issues and take a decision accordingly. The rural voters must be especially covered and the villages must be visited so that they can also take the correct decision.
· Public debates for all candidates: All the candidates contesting the elections must be invited to participate in debates where they can elaborate on the poll promises made by them. Unlike the election rallies, in such debates, the moderator should ask them scathing questions about the problems of the region. Such programmes should be telecast live on television so that more people can watch them.
I am aware that the above mentioned solutions are idealistic and difficult to implement on the ground but at least let’s make a beginning. The intelligentsia of the valley, the prominent non-governmental organisations which do not feed on political funds and the college and university students who love their valley must come out to educate the voters and make a difference. The results may not be immediate but with sustained efforts may be the subsequent elections will witness different voting patterns. Come on everyone, let us at least try to make the elections count!!!