Translate the Mandate - BJP’s massive win in Assam provides it a doorway for ushering a sea change in the North East

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An electoral narrative that had been dominating Assam’s firmament ever since the closing days of 2015 has finally ended with BJP decisively racing past the finishing line. Although the arithmetic of the accomplishment surprised poll punditry, the victory itself has not. The crave for change has been palpable for quite some time, and the manner in which the saffron party’s managers were able to transform the yearning into ballot actualisation ensured that no stone was left unturned to transform the foreseeable into reality.

New Delhi—by all indications—seems to be seized of the imperative of time and the opportunity that BJP’s victory has provided it in the North East. The author has acquired sufficient hints about its seriousness. But recapitulation of some of the salience is in order and an enumerative appraisal is put forward.

  • With the demise of ethnic insurgency in Assam, the time is both ripe and favourable for radical Islamism—which all along has been waiting in the wings—to resolutely enter the lower reaches of Assam and take up the trenches that outfits such NDFB and ULFA have left behind. This aspect is particularly important as there are clear signs of an alien easterly blowing from the Middle East, which—in concert with the developments in Bangladesh has the ability to compromise the security situation in Assam. It is important to note what celebrated Bangladeshi author, Taslima Nasreen said in a recent interview. She said, “Even Syria and Iraq are not as accommodating of Islamic fanatics as Bangladesh”. The radicalisation efforts of Daesh and its affiliate JMB has been witnessed in Assam and with the arrest of 42 JMB cadres from the state the Islamist endeavour in the region cannot be discounted any longer as mere showcasing. However, a racial profiling agenda (despite the fact that even the pre-1971 entrants from the erstwhile East Pakistan voted for either the Congress or the AIUDF!) would be detrimental and by all indications is not a course of action that BJP would undertake. Indeed, the party should make it clear that even as it aggressively charts the path for “fast-laning” the Foreigners Tribunals and ensures that an agreement for deportation of illegal migrants (especially as many continue to languish in detention centres) with Dhaka is expeditiously inked, the indigenous Muslims have nothing to fear from both Delhi and Dispur. The new government has to comprehend that it is now no longer just a political party. With the chapter of rhetoric having closed, BJP is now squarely the dispensation of all Asom Basi (people of Assam) as opposed to only Assamese people (there is considerable difference of opinion even about the definition of who constitutes an Assamese!). Indeed, BJP has to not only guarantee security to the Muslims of Assam, but incorporate it in its fight against the designs of Daesh. It must also ensure that the NRC process and implementation of the Assam Accord provisions that have been simmering for long are completed and realised without any delay. There must be no ambiguity about the urgency about such matters.

 

  • Assam’s geography is so chequered that it criss-crosses and overlaps across communities. Grant of a special provision to a community, therefore, militates with that of another. There has to be a way to circuit this aspect. For instance, the Amri Karbis have asked for a halt to the developmental works in Dimoria (a hamlet near Guwahati which is populated by both Amri Karbis and Tiwas, but falls under the Tiwa Autonomous Council) in the name of the Tiwa Autonomous Council, ban on the election of the Tiwa Autonomous Council in Dimoria region and declaration of Dimoria as an autonomous region of the Amri Karbi tribal community. Such dissonances are going to increase and although the “rationale” behind the creation of such councils was to ensure that indigenous communities get a rightful place under the sun, the fact of the matter is such grants (especially as neither development nor protection of identity have been achieved) would only further the faultlines of conflict. The reality that characterises Assam, and indeed the entire North East (in the words of the legendary Nirmal Nibedon) is that of an “ethnic explosion”, with “all (ethnic groups) zealously guarding their ethnic identity”. A calibrated policy that has long eluded both the governed and the governments has to be arrived at, one which informs “every flower” of the region that she is as vital as the other, and more importantly that they belong to an enviable expanse that makes up the flower garden that is the North East. The accent must, therefore, be on careful perception management: to remind the people of the enchanted frontiers that they are spawn of the same history and must not only accept that reality, but embrace it with a sense of pride. The fact that such togetherness encompasses an able nation-building enterprise with the greater Indian ideal must also be emphasised.

 

  • If development, employment, illegal migrants and end to corruption were some of the mantras with which BJP romped home to power, then the aspects that must go beyond thought on paper is immediate implementation that is perceivable on the ground. Fiscal disciplining is perhaps the most important: Lower and lower middle class Assam has suffered considerably as a result of the corruption that has been raging the hinterland. An independent assessment informs that the Syndicate Raj that had been overseeing the collection process in the notorious Srirampur Gate is only about 20 % of the actual revenue that should have entered the state’s coffer. A transparent and complete revamping of the procedures that mark such process should be taken up in right earnest.

 

  • Security is an important factor of development and to that end the dialogue processes with ULFA (Pro-Talk), NDFB (Progressive) and such other factions should be completed immediately. However, a word of caution needs to be sounded when it comes to what the author terms as continual construction of “back-to-back designated camps”. Sound policy must prohibit quarter to wayward groups, insurgent outfits that find exit after the commission of crime. Such insouciance has only led on-looking groups to adopt copy-cat modes. The lack of a clear strategy to deal with such groups has been a bane and the accent of the present must be to deal with insurgents as firmly as possible. But, with groups that are already in talk-mode, the approach must be “no delay”, and dialogue only on the Indian state’s terms.

 

  • Assam-Nagaland-Arunachal Pradesh are states that not only share common boundaries, but a sameness of security concerns. Therefore, even as insurgent groups such as ULFA (Anti-Talk) utilises Mon district of Nagaland and Tirap and Changlang districts of Arunachal Pradesh to periodically enter the tea, oil and coal belt of Upper Assam for extortion (the only raison d’être that keeps it alive in the wastelands of Myanmar’s Sagaing Division), the common denomination that has come into play with the coming to power of BJP in Assam (both Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh have allies in the BJP) should aid the formation of a joint security architecture to thwart the entry of insurgents. Indeed, the commonality of history and now political colour should be exploited to sort out the border issue between the three states for good.

A mandate such as the one that BJP has been able to muster is comparable to great power. And, with great power comes great responsibility, a firm observance of accountability with which the new dispensation would have to approach a much needed refurbishing exercise in not only Assam, but the entire region. Indeed, the scenario could not have been more conducive for such a course correction, especially as there is an enabling partner in New Delhi. The construction of a doorway into the North East via Assam will permit New Delhi not only a robust policy implementation by way of the ambitious “Act East Policy”, but also a comprehensive resolution of dialogue processes with insurgent groups, as aforesaid. Therefore even as memories of Delhi and Bihar drown in the ecstasy of Assam, BJP must ascertain that it gets down to business immediately. Euphoria, after all, is a transitory animal, and BJP would do well to capitalise on the “merits of the moment”, to design and implement the undertakings that it had set for itself, and well before the new-found vigour dissipates or changes contours for the preparation of yet another election. After all only two years separate the present from the country wide mandate that will be upon it in 2019!

Jaideep Saikia is a leading security expert of the North East and author of several books on India’s national security
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Author: Jaideep Saikia