Sunday, May 22, 2016

A bag full of expectations and some concerns!!



CM designate Sarbananda Sonowal and Himanta Biswa Sarma, the man credited for engineering the win. Photo Courtesy: PTI

Assam has voted for change and so has Barak Valley. In a historic verdict, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has won eight out of the 15 seats in the valley with Cachar alone sending six candidates from the saffron party to Dispur.

The verdict this year is very interesting because, on one hand, the voters voted massively for change and yet, they remained as communally polarized as ever. Therefore, Hindu majority Cachar picked six BJP candidates and Muslim majority Hailakandi picked AIUDF candidates while completely rejecting the ruling Congress. The voters of Karimganj also rejected the Congress and voted either BJP or AIUDF depending on the demographic composition of the constituencies.

Lakhipur’s Rajdeep Goala escaped the wrath of the voters probably because, he had been elected mid-term after the demise of his father, Dinesh Prasad Goala and the anti-incumbency wave against him was not as profound as in the other constituencies. Karimganj North’s Congress candidate Kamalakhya Dey Purkayastha also scraped through by a few hundred votes. Badarpur's Jamal Uddin Ahmed also won by a small margin. Sonai’s BJP candidate Aminul Haque Laskar’s win was also significant and a result of intelligent demographic engineering where he got the votes of the entire Hindu population of Sonai and also significantly polled Muslim votes.

Probably, for the first time in recent political history of the valley, all Congress stalwarts like Gautam Roy, Ajit Singh and Siddeque Ahmed lost the polls. Despite, all problems, Indian elections do finally reflect the mood of the people, and no leader, no matter, how big he is, can fool the voters for long. Indeed, finally there cannot be any alternative for performance and the defeat of all the ministers from Barak Valley is testimony to this very fact. For 15 long years, they did precious little to solve the problems of the region and the valley kept descending into an irreparable morass of backwardness. These polls have given them a befitting reply.

However, the loss of the Congress bigwigs should also be a lesson for the BJP, that there will be no alternative to good work, when they take over the reins. Five years ago in 2011, the Congress had returned to power with a massive verdict. In Silchar, the municipality was with the Congress, the state and central governments were with the Congress and Susmita Dev had won with a good margin in the assembly polls. Only, the MP from the constituency, Kabindra Purkayastha was from BJP.

Yet the Congress did not take any advantage of such favourable political environment and squandered away the position to BJP five years later, which now finds itself in exactly the same state. The central and state governments and the municipality are with the BJP. The party’s candidate has won the assembly polls with massive margin and only the area’s MP is from the opposing party. They will now have absolutely no excuse for non-performance and the results will be damaging next time if they do not perform.  

In its election manifesto, the BJP declared that it will construct multiple bridges over the river Barak, build a mini secretariat at Silchar and reserve all third and fourth grade jobs of the valley for the locals. These tall promises will be fulfilled only if Sarbananda Sonowal adopts a bipartisan attitude towards the valley and treats it at par with the Brahmaputra valley.

An Assamese friend from Rangia recently told me that this year for the first time, they heard so much about Barak Valley in regional media because both Sonowal and Himanta Biswa Sarma kept visiting the region for campaigning. In all his press conferences in Guwahati, Sonowal has repeatedly spoken of the development of both Barak and Brahmaputra valleys.

Yet, many in Barak Valley do look at him with great deal of cynicism given his involvement with the All Assam Students Union (AASU) and his active role in the Assam agitation of the 80s. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Joi Aai Axom’ sloganeering in Silchar prior to the 2014 national polls was also seen as a handiwork by Sonowal. While, that gaffe by Modi was rectified this year with a generous ‘Bengali Nababarsha’ wish, Sonowal will have to do much more to win the trust of the people of this region.

He will have to ensure that any fight against illegal immigration does not convert into witch hunt against the Bengalis of the state. With the downfall of the Axom Gana Parishad (AGP), BJP has tried to occupy the Assamese nationalistic space vacated by that party in the Brahmaputra region. The AGP, a poll ally is also already flexing muscles regarding the illegal immigration issue with its limited seats. Sonowal will have to tread a middle path and keep all communities happy.

Infrastructural development has been a prime focus area for the NDA government at the centre and almost all state governments under the BJP have done well in improving the road and power infrastructure. Sonowal will have to ensure that the same happens in Assam. In Barak Valley, the highways have been completely destroyed under the Congress regime. For financial gains, these arterial roads were brought under PWD’s purview from the Border Roads Organisation. These highways will have to be re-laid again and handed over back to BRO so that they are maintained properly.

Other pending projects such as the Mahasadak, the Silchar bypass, the bridge at Sadarghat, the engineering college in Karimganj will have to be completed at the earliest and the road infrastructure of the entire valley will have to over-hauled. The BJP, in its manifesto before the Silchar municipal polls had announced that it will construct a flyover in the town to mitigate traffic problems. Well, if they have the intention, this is the time to execute the project since all the governments are being ruled by the same party.

During the Congress rule, it could be observed that all the leaders of the valley had a cabal of contractors and middlemen around them who would bag all the projects and repeatedly get away without performing. It will be interesting to see whether similar cabals are created around the BJP leaders or not. In conclusion, the message from the aam janta is loud and clear – perform or perish, the next poll is not very far away!!   

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Silchar through the Lense