Inclusion plus development

Updated - November 17, 2021 01:49 am IST

Published - May 23, 2016 02:33 am IST

The >Bharatiya Janata Party’s conquest of Assam is momentous not only for its scale but also for the hopes that accompany it. Its first electoral win in the State was comprehensive: >86 out of 126 seats in Assembly , and a combined vote share of 41.5 per cent for the BJP-led alliance, numbers that suggest the verdict was more than a mere expression of anti-incumbency against 15 uninterrupted years of Congress rule. The win has bred an air of expectation perhaps not seen since 1985, when the Asom Gana Parishad, the BJP’s junior ally this time, also reduced the Congress to the mid-20s in terms of seats, primarily on a plank of safeguarding the rights of the State’s indigenous communities against illegal immigration from Bangladesh. It is indicative of the slow pace of progress in the frontier State that the BJP’s successful campaign, three decades on, was also mounted on a promise to solve the foreigners’ issue, and usher in all-round development. Its two leading faces at the poll stump, chief ministerial candidate Sarbananda Sonowal and campaign committee convener Himanta Biswa Sarma, have the requisite credentials for this dual message. It was Mr. Sonowal’s dogged legal pursuit that resulted in the Supreme Court scrapping the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act in 2005, an Act specially legislated for Assam in 1983, and which was perceived to be a hindrance in the actual detection and deportation of illegal residents. Mr. Sarma, 23 years a Congressman before switching to the BJP in August 2015, was regarded as one of the more enterprising ministers in the Tarun Gogoi cabinet, with notable achievements in teacher recruitments and medical facilities in government hospitals.

The BJP insists that Assam has voted “for change, for prosperity, for peace, for good governance” and that the secular identity of the State would be preserved. Mr. >Sonowal has also promised to seal the border with Bangladesh . The fact is, Assam shares only 263 km — of which 44 km is riverine — of the 4,096-km boundary between India and Bangladesh, and the onus of fencing and barb-wiring the border and formulating processes for the return of proven illegal immigrants back to Bangladesh rests on the Centre. In any case, there are more pressing matters at hand in a State where roughly one-third of the population lives below the poverty line and whose human development indicators are among the worst in the country. Going forward, there are other political minefields to navigate if the new government seeks to implement some of its campaign promises, such as the one to grant Scheduled Tribe status to six indigenous communities that constitute 40 per cent of the State’s population. Assam is a mosaic of ethnic and religious groups of uncommon diversity, and the BJP-led alliance must temper its poll-winning rhetoric with ground reality. The anti-immigrant rhetoric during campaigning at times virtually conflated Muslims with illegal immigrants. The new government must expressly reassure the minorities. The State needs a development narrative in its social tapestry.

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