The significance and timing of PM’s start of the campaign journey from Silchar is a clear message that Barak valley of Assam is a priority area in his scheme of things
Prime Minister Narendra Modi started his 2019 campaign with the first political rally in Silchar in Assam drawing massive crowds from Barak Valley of Assam. Typical in his reach out, he started his address in Bengali wishing the people for the New Year and the Makar Sankranti in a couple of weeks’ time. The people of the Valley were aware of the special role that he took to get the Lumding - Silchar broad gauge conversion project completed after 20 years of delay by previous governments. As usual, the expectations of the people from the 3 districts of the valley were high from the PM in terms of addressing existing issues and also some more announcements for a future course. In the last few months, the political issue of identity and citizenship in Assam and the economic issue of the revival of the Hindustan Paper Corporation Mills in Panchgram not far away from the PM’s rally venue, have been in the limelight for many in the valley. The significance and timing of PM’s start of the campaign journey from Silchar is a clear message that Barak Valley of Assam is a priority area in his scheme of things.
PM Modi addressing a public gathering in Silchar, Assam
The updation of the National Registration Citizenship (NRC) being implemented in Assam under the orders and monitoring of the Supreme Court of India, the introduction of the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016 (CAB) by the Narendra Modi Government in Lok Sabha in July 2016 and the issue of detention camps where many individuals are lodged often based on ex parte orders are the major political issues that impact the whole state of Assam and also the relations between the Brahmaputra Valley and Barak Valley. The process of NRC updation in Assam has been happening for the past 3 years in full swing with almost the whole administration of the state government involved in the process. A total of 3.29 crore people had applied for inclusion in the NRC and in the first published list on 31st December 2017, 1.9 crore names had been included. The process of claims and objections continued till 31 December 2018 and now the corrections process is on to existing names.
The CAB was introduced in the Parliament in July 2016 that seeks to give Citizenship by naturalisation to immigrants from the neighbouring countries of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan belonging to the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities facing religious persecution who have come to India before 31st December 2014 and living illegally in the context of the provisions of the Passport (Entry into India) Act 1920 and the Foreigners Act 1946. The Bill was referred to a joint select committee of parliament in August 2016 which has just finished its work in December 2018 after meeting many stakeholders including visiting Assam and Meghalaya and has recommended the passage of the Bill.
Likewise the completion of the East West corridor of the Mahasadak in the Silchar Guwahati sector is crucial and all the bottlenecks at many of the quarters in the Cachar and Dima Hasao corridors have to be done at a fast pace and the roads fully operational and this will lead to a wider economic activities in the region.PM Modi assured the gathering in Silchar that no genuine Indians would be left out of the NRC list and also work towards passing the CAB in parliament as that would be penance for many of the anomalies and mistakes of partition. Obviously the premise for granting citizenship under CAB was very well thought out and would be a once and for all solution to the issues around partition on the eastern front. As the land boundary agreement has sorted out the issues around land and territory with Bangladesh, this CAB will also settle this issue of illegal migration and also make a correct understanding between migration and illegal immigration in the right quarters. The PM also mentioned about the Cabinet decision to implement more closely the provisions of clause 6 of the Assam Accord of 1985 which seeks to provide protection to indigenous communities of the state through the setting up of a high level committee. That way the fears that have come from many in the Brahmaputra valley is also being genuinely addressed.
Ever since the BJP-led Governments have assumed office in the Centre and State, an approach of building better relationship and engagement between the Brahmaputra and Barak Valleys have been strived. Economic progress of both the regions as well as connectivity has been a focal point and this has resulted in better understanding of each other’s issues at various levels although vested interests nurtured over the years often raise their heads to derail the efforts. The focus to project Assam as an investor friendly State and a major player in Act East policy of the Union Government is being supported with action on the ground. The Advantage Assam summit in February 2018 and the supportive events of Namami Brahmaputra and Namami Barak held in the run up to that summit in 2017 have shown the direction of the governments.
However an economic focus of the development of the Barak Valley has to be strengthened further and skill development and entrepreneurship, involving agriculture and its ancillaries and improving the infrastructure has to be supported more vigorously which will in turn help in job development and growth in the local economy. Just as the central ministers are made to spend more time in north east on a routine manner by the PM, ministers from Guwahati have to be sent more to Barak valley and monitor programmes of their respective ministries. The Chief Minister has led the way by visiting Barak Valley 16 times in the 30 months that he has been in the seat compared to his predecessor who came only 5 times in 15 years of his rule. Clearly the focus on economic development of the Barak Valley should be a mission mode project for the next 5 years.
Solving the issue of the HPC mill in Panchgram and making it work is crucial and the Central Government is working on a model and a due diligence process is already on to look at its revival and also pay the employees without salary for more than 2 years. Clearly the PM couldn’t have made any announcement while the process was on as also theNational Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) ordered corporate insolvency resolution process against HPC. However his push will be crucial to move the process fast so that the only heavy industry in the region is saved from closure and the employees get succour. At the same time, people who have led the mill to such a situation with corrupt practices should be punished the soonest.
Likewise the completion of the East West corridor of the Mahasadak in the Silchar Guwahati sector is crucial and all the bottlenecks at many of the quarters in the Cachar and Dima Hasao corridors have to be done at a fast pace and the roads fully operational and this will lead to a wider economic activities in the region.
While the PM has sounded the poll bugle from Silchar this time and right at the beginning of the year, the whole of Barak Valley would support him in his endeavour to provide a clean government to the country focussing on development with the motto of “Sab ka Saath Sab ka Vikas”. The massive presence at his rally speaks of the popularity that the PM still commands across the country.
(The writer is Country Head, General Dynamics International Corporation)