For several months now, the ruling Congress in Assam has been at loggerheads with Governor P B Acharya. It has a reason: in its push for a fourth consecutive win in the state assembly elections next year, it would prefer not to have Acharya around. The Congress knows that Acharya knows Assam inside out, and this brings it no comfort.
Governor Acharya has focussed on issues that connect with the people of Assam. These include rhino poaching, alleged irregularities in the Assam Public Service Commission, and the latest — an alleged attempt by the Congress to include Bangladeshi migrants in the National Register of Citizens (NRC).
Old Assam hand
Nagaland Governor Acharya, who headed the ABVP for long, was given additional charge of Assam in December 2014. Despite having had his early education at a Christian school in Udupi, the 1931-born diehard Sangh man knows the politics of Assam and the Northeast extremely well. He was the BJP’s in-charge for the Northeast from 1991 to 2002, and is credited with designing, back in 1967, the ABVP’s Students’ Experience in Inter-State Living (SEIL) — the project that led to an exchange of thousands of students from the Northeast with other states and vice versa.
From his ABVP days, Acharya has travelled and worked in every district of the state, and has a wonderful grassroots network that now provides him with quick, reliable feedback. The network has allowed people to approach the Governor directly with problems or complaints against the government, and Acharya has said he cannot afford to not act.
The rhino chord
The direct connection with the people helps him strike the right chords. Thus, in January, Acharya spoke on the increased poaching of rhinos in Kaziranga — clearly, he knew that the entire state reacts strongly every time a rhino is shot.
He said that increased poaching had put a “question mark on the integrity and efficiency of the protectors of our forests and wildlife”, and asked the Forest Minister to do his duty “carefully, sincerely and judiciously”. The people warmed to him immediately, especially because the Gogoi government has had a poor record in stopping rhino poaching.
Two months later, the Governor said, “If they cannot stop rhino poaching then we should get another agency. I am very much concerned about rhinos. It is a very important symbolic thing. A small group of criminals are challenging the government. How can you tolerate this?” He also summoned Forest Minister Etuwa Munda to Raj Bhawan and demanded an explanation.
Acharya next picked up the issue of corruption. He reacted to complaints of alleged misappropriation of funds in Assam Agricultural University, summoned Vice-Chancellor K M Buzarbarua to Raj Bhawan, and ordered an inquiry. More recently, in the midst of allegations of corruption in the Assam Public Service Commission in the selection of officers, the Governor summoned Commission chairman Rakesh Paul to Raj Bhawan.
This month, Governor Acharya virtually joined hands with the All Assam Students’ Union, BJP and AGP to condemn Tarun Gogoi’s move to include in the NRC names of all those who figured in the current electoral rolls. The electoral rolls of 2014 cannot be the basis of updating the NRC, Acharya said.
“If the Governor considers Bangladeshi infiltration to be such a serious issue, why didn’t PM Narendra Modi bring it up during his recent Dhaka visit?” Gogoi shot back.
No holds barred
Last week, the Congress protested outside Raj Bhawan, accusing Acharya of acting like “an agent of a particular political party”, and asked President Pranab Mukherjee to either restrain or relieve him. Acharya retorted he could not help if “some people” felt his moves amounted to politics. “Earlier, when I expressed concern over king-size corruption allegedly taking place in the APSC, some felt it is politics. I cannot help it,” the Governor told The Indian Express.
On Friday, Gogoi expressed displeasure over Acharya’s choice of appointees to the Dibrugarh University Court. “The Governor has the right to appoint people. But the rules demand that he should consult the state government, which he did not. And look who he has appointed. Some are just high school passed… Several are from outside Assam. Aren’t there persons of eminence in Assam that he had to bring one from Tripura and one from Nagaland? I am not questioning his rights. But if he considers such people as men of eminence, I have nothing to say. If people feel the Governor has done the right thing, then I have nothing to say,” Gogoi said.