My analysis in DailyO ahead of the Assam assembly elections.
You can read a version of the article below:
Nearly 85 per cent of the population in Assam lives in rural areas where Satras (temples) and lands are an integral part of life and culture of the people. For a common Assamese his/her culture and identity is a defining factor.
At the national level, this land of red rivers and blue hills is crucial from strategic and trade aspects. A few days ahead of the second phase of polls here, the key question is: Why should Assamese people vote for change this time?
Today Assam is caught in a precarious situation because of the illegal migration from Bangladesh. In the last two to three decades, lakhs of illegal migrants from across the border have settled in different parts of the state.
The resultant pressure on resources and struggle for survival has lead to frequent clashes and unrest in the Assamese society.
The indigenous population no longer feels safe in its own homeland. The migrant population has either captured or bought lands of Satra (temple) and forest in last 20 years. With Satras and lands coming under this shadow, the Assamiya Asmita (pride) is also no longer safe.
The issue of illegal migrants from Bangladesh is not just endemic to the state of Assam. In fact these illegal migrants are now travelling to different parts of the country and settling down there, making it an issue of national security.
What was considered one of the most complicated border disputes in the world was resolved by the central government led by Narendra Modi through the exchange of hundreds of enclaves with Bangladesh. The border which had become extremely porous due to nationality and ownership issues was at last given a shape.
Now, as a second step the central government has promised adequate fencing and other security measures which will stop cross-border infiltration.
While BJP leaders have been categorically saying that the formation of the party’s government in Assam will mean reclaiming lands of Satra (temple) and forest, the Congress party has maintained a studied silence. Senior Congress leadership has never duly recognised the problem of illegal Bangladeshi migrants in Assam.
In the neighbouring West Bengal, chief minister Mamta Banerjee had said that no one could touch the Bangladeshi migrants and they are a part of her state now.
This is the core issue that has compelled the Assamese people to vote for change in these elections. With more than 40 seats being heavily dominated by illegal Bangladeshi migrants, this could be the last battle to save Assam. If even half of this slogan stands true, then people of Assam should vote for change this time.
Demography of Assam has changed beyond recognition in the last 15 years when Congress was in power. However, far from finding a solution to the problem, the party and its senior leaders do not even recognise it. Their policy so far has been to stay blind to the effects of migration. Even the Congress manifesto says little on the issue.
Now, illegal Bangladeshi migrants have their own political party in Assam. AIUDF, led by Badruddin Ajmal, stands for the interests of illegal Bangladeshis. The word on the street is that while the Congress does not have a formal alliance with the AIUDF but it has reached a tacit understanding with Badruddin Ajmal.
LK Advani was the first home minister of India who raised the issue of deportation of illegal Bangladeshi migrants from India. This move was vociferously criticised by the opposition parties. Apart from the BJP, no other party has raised the issue of Bangladeshi immigrants with grit and conviction.
The current chief minister Tarun Gogoi claims that there has been enormous "growth" in the last 15 years.
Recently, Sanjoy Hazarika, one of the leading intellectuals of Assam wrote that in several parts of the state, health and education parameters are poor and it has India’s worst MMR figures (Material Mortality Ratio - the number of women dying in pregnancy is 300 per 10000 deliveries).
The state also has the second worst Infant Mortality Ratio (IMR).
Peace and development in Assam will also help in the "Act East" policy of the central government. This will open new doors for trade and cultural exchange with Southeast Asian countries which have long cultural ties with India. This new route to Southeast Asia will also open new avenues of job and business for the people of Assam.
In this election, BJP has floated a mahagadhbandhan (grand alliance) in Assam which also reflects a grand social coalition of all indigenous communities. With such an alliance coming to power in the state, the present sense of fear and distrust will be mitigated.
This Assembly election will see a vote for change because for Assam it has come to signify peace, prosperity and security.