In February, the Assam government, led by Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, organised the Advantage Assam event that was purported to draw investors to the state. In the run up to that, festivals such as Namami Brahmaputra were organised in Guwahati in March-April 2017, and Namami Barak in Silchar in November 2017. This is in addition to a host of investor meets held across India and ministers travelling to major countries in an effort to market the state. For many in Assam, it felt as if economics had finally taken centrestage. The support from the Centre with the revamped Act East policy only helped Assam to pitch its case further.
Possibly, these efforts were made knowing full well that many political issues still remained unaddressed — issues which would be quite significant in the run up to the economic pursuits. Many of these come with deep faultlines that can be traced to the Partition. But there was hope of economic pursuits helping to ameliorate their impact. But many of the announcements of Advantage Assam are yet to take off. Instead, the faultlines have widened. Economic pursuits have taken a backseat and passions are running high. Social media has become the major carrier of such passions, that are often stoked with provoking fake posts. All of this even as the Centre is talking to the United Liberation front of Assam (ULFA) for a permanent solution, which will have its own share of political and economic packages.
The updation of the final draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) has hit a raw nerve in the state. While it was long necessary to settle the issue of illegal migrants, the final draft list — and its many exclusions — is raising concerns. The central and Assam government have always pointed out that the whole process was executed under the Supreme Court’s supervision, but it was the 68,000 state government employees who actually did the groundwork. Clearly, the motive was not to harass any genuine Indian. But as a whole host of people have not found their names on the list, it is creating consternation in the minds of many. Hopefully, the claims settlement process will address this issue and the apex court’s monitoring will give confidence to all the people.
Many doubtful voters or D-voters, and those who have been declared foreigners often by ex parte orders of Foreigners Tribunals are languishing in detention camps. Such people live in poor conditions, worse even than jail inmates. The central and state governments have failed to demolish these detention camps, as Narendra Modi had promised to during his election campaign. The recent case of the 102-year- old man being dragged to a detention camp based on an ex parte order and finally getting a bail has created concern at the intent of such camps.
While these faultlines have existed for long, the complexity of the situation remains the same. A golden opportunity for a permanent solution was lost post the signing of the Assam Accord in 1985, as the same leaders who led the foreigners agitation fell into the traps of power. Even after 38 years of the Accord, the problem is quite potent and the current leadership cannot ignore it any more.
However, the D voters and detention camps issues also need to be addressed simultaneously. An end to identity-based politics and the harmonious coexistence that has been witnessed in many parts of Assam has to be fostered. Economics over emotions will have to continue to be the guiding factor. At the same time, more community engagements are needed for the economic goals to be achieved. Meanwhile, everyone would want to see the gains of Advantage Assam.