I recently handled the campaign efforts for Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and prior to that, those of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's in 2013-2014. The decision as to why I chose to switch camps warrants another article. I have officially joined the BJP and have decided to work closely with the party in whichever way it finds my intellectual services useful. My decision to join the BJP is a very conscious and ideological one. I am working on my first assignment in Assam.
If we talk of Assam, there are plenty of reasons that one would want to boycott the Tarun Gogoi-led Congress government that has been ruling the state for the last 15 years. For the record, the Congress has ruled for over 55 years in the state in totality. Now, let us look at some crude facts:
1. During the British rule, Assam was one of the highest revenue-paying states in India. It was the fifth most prosperous state during independence. Today, Assam is the fourth poorest state of India. More than one crore people in the state are reeling below the poverty line.
2. More than 96 per cent agricultural land in Brahmaputra region faces water shortage. There is an acute lack of irrigation facilities - the situation is, by far, the worst in the country.
3. More than one crore, or 42 per cent, of Assam's population have no access to clean and safe drinking water. In a land surrounded by rivers and blessed with rains, such apathy is appalling.
4. More than 23 lakh youth are unemployed in Assam. The government has not just failed to nurture the innate artistic finesse of Assam, a land of singers Papon and Zubin, it failed to provide dignified employment to one of the most talented pools of the country, failed to generate job opportunities in the state and failed to give the aspirations and hope of the youth a definite shape.
5. Assam has the worst maternal mortality rate of 353 per lakh. More than 19,000 cases of violence against women have been observed in less than a year.
6. Assam ranks a lowly 23rd in the country in terms of literacy rate.
7. It ranks 16th in terms of overall human development index, which is one of the lowest in the country.
8. Plantation Labour Act, 1951, was legislated to provide basic welfare rights like proper housing, child crèches, schools, subsidised foodgrains and basic sanitation. However, even after 65 years of Congress rule, this Act hasn't been implemented in its entirety.
As a conscious and academically sound Indian citizen, I would like to believe that my education needs a certain direction to see that the actual needy, disadvantaged, poor and marginalised get the facilities and the equal rights for their welfare and development. An overall look at Assam defeats the very purpose of any debate on Gogoi's abject neglect of the people of the state who kept voting him back to power every term. 94 per cent poll promises of Gogoi's government have not been fulfilled till date.
Let us look at some other facts in this respect:
1. There are more than one crore tea plantation workers in Assam. Ever since 1952, the Congress has treated tea garden labourers as a vote bank. In return, the Congress has done nothing for the welfare of these labourers. This is the third generation of tea garden workers now that does not have a single piece of land. These workers live in abject poverty with no access to basic amenities.
2. As many as 90 per cent of Assam's tea garden workers lack access to middle school, and 50 per cent lack access to primary school.
3. Out of all maternal deaths, 80 per cent of deaths of new mothers occur in tea plantations owing to the lack of immediate access to health centres.
4. In Assam, 70-90 per cent of tea garden workers suffer from severe anaemia.
5. 17 per cent tea garden workers in Assam are suffering from acute tuberculosis.
6. Tea plantation workers are becoming prone to child trafficking. More than 9,500 children went missing from different estates between 2007 and June 2014.
7. 95 per cent of tea estate workers have no access to proper toilets in their houses.
8. Tea is a symbol of pride for the Assamese people. However, the conditions of tea estate workers are deplorable. According to a recent BBC report, a tea garden worker gets paid less than one per cent of the market tea price.
9. More than 1,25,000 small tea growers are operating without land pattas.
If it were only the issue of governance and an argument made that well, philosophically, the ruling party - the Congress in this respect - is working on an ideological plank, it could have been a different debate on principles and ethics. But when one goes through the CAG reports submitted when the UPA was at the Centre (so as to take away the blame that Modi government is going on a witch hunt), here is what you find:
1. 19,671 utilisation certificates (UCs) with respect of grants amounting to Rs 11,834.24 crore, made to 58 departments of the state government during the period from 2001-'02 to 2013-'14, have been in arrears.
2. The CAG did not get replies of 822 inspection reports for more than ten years. As a result, serious financial irregularities involving Rs 1,79,755.12 crore lay pending.
On the other side, in a move of alacrity and swift governance, the BJP at Centre has proven to stick to its commitment on the Act East policy. Right from the organisation of the South Asian Games (SAG) in Assam to 100 per cent completion of its annual targets of electrification in the hamlets, to connecting Assam within and to the national capital through train services after 69 years of Independence, to expediting the process of constructing a bridge called Bogibeel, to empowering young entrepreneurs with funds of more than Rs 64968.51 crore, the BJP has not just emerged as a credible face to salvage Assam but has indeed led by example.
There is no reason why the lotus should not bloom in the Brahmaputra and Barak.