True face of development

Assam Highway

Assam is the dark side of the planet that is India.Rest of India neither knows nor cares what happens there.That has happened time and again.That is to say India does not seem to really know what is happening to it or it is impossible to retrieve the truth from the messy accumulation of lies and distortions.For example the truth about the bloody and bitter ULFA episode and the hair-raising incidents of gruesome secret killings will perhaps never be known,i.e.the extent of secret involvement of state agencies in such violence.

Into this blurry scene has stepped in an entity that can feed upon and acquire ever increasing strength from this confusion.It has hit upon two unfailing methods that have served it well.First, showering freebies and hard cash on various sections of the population without actually solving their problems,or even covering the majority of people of each section. 35000 schoolgirls have been given scooters at a cost of about 300 crores of rupees.It may be noted that many millions of school girls had not been covered and presumably will not be covered during the present term or later.

Then under various opaque schemes artists and writers are being given literary awards and pensions galore in an unprecedented manner.Farmers have been regularly given 20kg of rice per head every day so that they not only have much more than enough per family to buy other necessaries to live comfortably without having to soil their hands.First the nightmare of soaring cost of raising rice-crop making farming unviable,and then the unexpected boon of living without care and need to labour.The combination makes it imperative to join the BJP bandwagon and cast votes in return for fear of losing the boon.

And so on. BJP and RSS cannot be expected to continue the free gifts indefinitely. There is an urgent warning note against such freebies from the Finance Ministry. The Supreme Court has also voiced its disapproval of such sine cures.The future of such schemes of charity is grim.Anyday the lazy dream may collapse and its addicts might find themselves out in the cold. But the lavish and incessant showers of such benefits in return for votes are not financed by budgeted and successful development,but by reckless bank-loans from various sources. Assam’s public stood at, Rs 1 lakh 25 lakh till end of November 2022.The state government went ahead to borrow Rs.800 crores more to meet the cost of such wasteful hand-outs.

In the latest development the reckless CM has announced to thunderous applause of beneficiaries and increasing tribe of toadies,that poor people(including families even possessing fridges and elderly people in old age homes) will be covered by the Arunoday Scheme that hands out dollops of cash in haphazard manner.There is no rigorous checks on the criteria for selecting beneficiaries,the amount needed for significant relief,and actual delivery.Nor is it known how it will affect the government’s finances,not to speak of the extent of anticipated benefit.

Under this blaring propaganda what is happening is actually quite alarming. Assam is the fifth state in poor performance in failure to relieve hunger,first in incidence of violent rape,and among leaders in incidence of crime and suicide for economic hardship and frustration for loss of hope.The answer to these accusing figures is just announcing grand-sounding schemes that amount to little.For example land is acquired or sieged from so-called foreigners to relieve landlessness(there are now three million people without land,mostly poor farmers).,and then quietly handed over to private business.Public education is on a steep slide downhill with millions of students facing a dark future and a record-breaking drop-out rate among poor families.

There is continuous din day and night from furious construction work at sites of new six-lane roads,bridges,flyover, toll gates,leveling of hills,diverting or desiccating rivers,decimating forests. The destruction of or damage to forests is followed invariably by scavengers looting timber,coal,wild species to the tune of hundreds of crores of rupees also spawning horrid crimes. For example land is seized from so-called foreigners. Little of it seems to hold out any prospect of development or empowerment to natives.What appears to be taking place is break-neck preparation for setting the stage for Big Capital’s ACT EAST adventure with Southeast Asia.But the din of loud praise and celebration drowns unease and questions. One frightening cost of such development is the stampede of large herds of wild elephants into adjoining settlements and villages from destroyed forests running amuck,destroying standing crops,razing homes beyond repair and killing men women and children almost every day.Elephants have also died of accidents on unfamiliar terrain,train hits and poisoning and cruel contraptions.The CM’s frontal photos beaming from ear to ear appear almost every day full page in newspapers,but the horrifying news on elephants are pushed down to small print in inside pages.

Then the incredible surge of establishing medical colleges and universities in every town and sub-division to the drum-beat of ending forever the medical bottlenecks and health issues of an underdeveloped state.Scores of crores of rupees change hands as commission from builders of imposing buildings,suppliers of costly machines.But there are pitifully few trained doctors and teachers in various departments. Some of these medical colleges have no departments of Cardiology and Neurology or very rudimentary ones. It is alleged that the same set of people are shifted around as showpieces of staff and teachers before visiting teams of ICMR.

With much fanfare corruption rackets from Congress days(from a time when present CM was number 2 in a Congress cabinet) in APSC examinations was investigated and accused persons convicted.But in the upshot some beneficiaries got kicked out from civil service but many convicted stayed on and were promoted! So much for the hype for months on end to corruption.Several tests for entry to posts in the police reeked of rank corruption but investigation stopped halfway and petered out. Blatant financial profligacy is joined by other practices to muffle doubt and douse anger.Not a week passes without some festivity and celebration led in person by the hyper-active CM.

The entire period so far of Himanta Biswa Sharma’s term as Chief Minster has been marked by aggressive,bellicose and incessant howling by him about the threat posed by ‘ Moghuls’ to Assam’s culture and civilization’.He actually included in the term not only Moghul invading forces in the past but the lakhs of immigrant Muslims settled on the land since the early twentieth century.There is also a consistent campaign to lump together all past armed attacks by different Muslim regimes from the Western regions as Moghul raids to give the very presence of Muslims on Assam soil an ominous colour.

Parallel to this campaign there is a race to junk all secular credentials of the state to embrace a Hindu religious identity.Every foundation stone laying ceremony turns into a Hindu rite with the CM sometimes acting like a chief priest.Even an office room is consecrated with chants and incense.Thus with the spell of religion a false image of the state and the CM is conjured.

Thus this term of the present CM practically turns into a secretive but determined election campaign for the coming general election.The raucous claims of development are nothing but a cover-up of the scandal of ‘Vikash'(develolment) turning into ‘Vinash'(Destruction).

Hiren Gohain is a political commentator

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