Now that we know the election results, we can cite so many reasons why Tarun Gogoi lost and the BJP alliance won. But one aspect that most of us seem to be overlooking is the key factor of ‘insurgency’ that determined how people voted till 2011. This year, it was not even accounted for given the new environment thus bringing back ‘immigration’ centrestage like a throwback to the eighties.
Since 1985, the ULFA has played an active role in Assam elections but this year was different. The pro-talk group claimed they would stay away from it and I hope they did. In Paresh Baruah’s hometown Chabua, the voting percentage was a record 85.43%. One Congress minister who used the group for his campaigns in 2006 actually lost to one of them (a surrendered militant)!
The alliance as political observers in Delhi see it is a ‘well stitched social coalition’ but what they miss is the combination of personalities in this alliance; Sarbananda Sonowal is a former student leader who became a legislator with the AGP and challenged the discriminatory IMDT Act , Himanta Biswa Sarma who flirted with the same student politics, was charged with murder, built his career in the Congress and now assumes authority in the BJP, Prafulla Kumar Mahanta , two times Chief Minister, first student leader to wrest political power who fell from grace and Hagrama Mohilary who led one of the most violent militant groups in the region, the BLT and after coming overground quickly took over political power. They have blood on their hands and though they may have washed it for now, the ghosts of the dark times will return to haunt them soon. Tarun Gogoi who rode to power promising justice to the victims of the ‘secret killings’ failed to do anything about it. The return of the ‘prodigal sons’ in various avatars doesn’t mean that the victims would forgive them.
Sonowal will have the un-envious task to balance the clash of these personalities as well as steer his government towards a development based agenda. That may not be easy given Assam’s abysmal development indices particularly the health indicators. To smokescreen the tall order of delivering governance and justice, my suspicion is that they may push the immigration issue to drive a wedge between communities at their own peril.
The expectations are high coupled with a certain cynicism and to confront that, Sonowal has his job cut out. His tenure as a minister in the Modi government has been less than impressive. He has the credentials of fighting the IMDT Act but can he stem illegal migration without harassing genuine citizens? The politician-bureaucrat-policemen-contractor –surrendered militant nexus has taken deep roots that have eroded the body polity of the State. Does he have it in him to stand up against it? He is the first tribal Chief Minister of the State but does that mean the 6th Schedule will be implemented in letter and spirit? Can he impress upon his Bodo alliance partners to abjure violence against the other ethnic groups residing in Bodoland? Will he look at Assam beyond the Brahmaputra Valley and reach out to the Barak Valley as well? How will he manage his restless neighbours along Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya? The BJP alliance led by Sonowal has a historic opportunity to change the course of history but do they have it in them to give Assam what it deserves?
Kishalay Bhattacharjee-Senior journalist and author based in Delhi. His most recent book is Blood On My Hands: Confessions of Staged Encounters