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What are some misconceptions regarding Assam?

Assam in India’s North-east has been a vibrant arena of,myths and misconceptions as well as truths and realities.

Some sections of the regional and national media, as well as some intellectuals, politicians a from Assam have vehemently defended the political-alienation-of-Assam thesis for many decades since independence.

It is a shared opinion of some sections of media and intelligentsia that Assam has been backward for all these years.

Whenever and wherever there are elections,there are myths and manifestos. The case in Assam is no different. Assam in India’s North-east has been a vibrant arena of,myths and misconceptions as well as truths and realities.

Sense of communication with the rest of India is very prominent in case of Assam as compared to other Northeastern states because of its geographic,geostrategic and historical coordinates.

Still mythmaking refuses to fade away from Assam’s socio-political discourse. This article is an attempt to challenge certain myths prevalent in Assam for some decades now.

Myth of political isolation

Some sections of the regional and national media, as well as some intellectuals, politicians a from Assam have vehemently defended the political-alienation-of-Assam thesis for many decades since independence.

But Assam has always been part of pan-Indian politics since time immemorial. Assam finds mention in Shatapatha Brahmana as Kiraatbhumi. In the medieval era king of Kannauj Harshawardhana’s special friendship with Bhaskarvarman of Kaamrup was quite well-known as is the valour of the Ahom hero Lachit Borphukon who successfully resisted invasions from west and north.

In the British era during the 19th century, Maniram Dewan and Piyali Phukon represented the rising wave of resistance against British hegemony across regions of India. It is surprising but true that wearing Khadi by volunteers of Indian National Congress was first considered seriously at Pandu session in 1926. Indian freedom struggle gained momentum under the leadership of Tarun Ram Phukan, K.K.Sharma, Sri Sri Pitambar Deva Goswami among others. Young blood bled for the common national cause as with Kanaklata and Mulagabhoru.

As rational individuals, today we need to ask a few questions. .Who has created the myth of political isolation? Why has mainstream history-writing been silent about Maniram Dewan or Piyali Phukan? Did political-isolation myth become bread and butter for some cross-sections of the Assamese society?

Answers are easy-to-guess.For the last four decades some terror outfits,political parties, social organizations and even some media houses in Assam are run in the name of regionalism and political-isolation thesis. The challenge before historians of today is to break these stereotypes.

Myth of step-motherly treatment by the center and limited financial allocation

Step-motherly treatment means lack of adequate nourishment and care by a step-mother to step-children. It is not that subsequent governments at the Center have always been generous towards the Northeast. But, by repetitively discussing and re-invoking the idea of step-motherly treatment by successive governments at the Centre, Assamese people have put themselves in a position of passive acceptance, lower bargaining power and lack of agency.

But what are the real facts?India’s Northeast has a separate ministry DoNER for it at the Center. DoNER Ministry mentions-

Since 1998 – 1999 all Ministries/ Departments of GoI (except a few specifically exempted ones) are earmarking at least 10% of their annual budget, less allocation for externally aided schemes and local or event specific schemes /projects for expenditure in the North Eastern Region. At present, there are 52 non-exempted Ministries / Departments which earmark funds for the NER (including the Ministry of Railways and the newly created Department of Pharmaceuticals).

The unutilized portion of the funds earmarked by the non-exempted Ministries is surrendered at the close of each financial year in the Non-Lapsable Pool of resources which is being maintained on a proforma basis.

Only recently the 14th Finance Commission has abolished the Special Category status for certain states including the North-eastern states. For decades Assam and the Northeast had enjoyed allocation of additional resources from the Centre for government schemes and policies. More than one lakh crore including all ministerial allocations, central pool of divisible taxes, schemes, SC/ST sub plans and policies have been allocated for the Northeast including Assam in the Union Budget 2016-17.

Major portion of it goes to infrastructure development.Last year,Assam was awarded the best state in terms of road infrastructure development for constructing more than 4000 kms of roadways in a year. Tourism and agriculture are new priority areas. With its abundant water resources and fertile land Assam could have easily been the choice of policymakers for a Green revolution in the 1960s.

Although late,it is a welcome move from the Center to initiate a plan to ‘Bring Green Revolution to Eastern Parts of India’. For quite long low broadband connectivity to the North-east and its digital divide with the rest of India have been issues of concern for regionalists. India’s third Internet gateway is proposed through Tripura to remove this digital divide and it will immensely benefit this region integral to India’s Act East Policy through efficient data-dissemination, knowledge-sharing,security enhancement,distribution of subsidies and e-governance in general.

Last year, during Assam floods it was reported in the media that Assam floods did not attract much attention like floods in Srinagar. It is true to some extent,but it is not the whole truth. In response to an RTI query in 2012 Assam Water Resource Department stated that Rs. 11,000 crore had been allocated for flood relief in Assam during the period from 2005 to 2011. It is not a small amount.

It is also stated in the water resource department report that funds allocated for flood relief have been misappropriated and in 2012, the Assam Human Rights Commission ordered an inquiry into the alleged misuse of funds.

The question is,where has all the money gone? Where are the utilization receipts of funds? Why is the State Public Service Commission entangled in one scam after another? Political blame-game has negatively affected centre-state relations for the last many decades. It is time to look into this serious in a more analytical manner.

Myth of backwardness

It is a shared opinion of some sections of media and intelligentsia that Assam has been backward for all these years. It was sung by late Bhupen Hazarika,the bard of Brahmaputra , “Ami axomiya nohou dukhiya buli xantona lobhile nohobo” ( There is no need to console ourselves saying Assamese people are not poor). He was true in the sense there is always scope for growth and betterment.

But, can Assam be called backward? Let’s get to facts. Assam is somewhere in the middle of the list of Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) of all Indian states and UTs in 2014-15 with a size of US $ 24 billion. It is not the best for sure, but also not very backward as such. It has the highest GSDP among all erstwhile Special Category States.

Besides,backwardness is not merely an economic concept. It is also a social concept. Assam is doing well in terms of social indicators like sex ratio(958 female/ 1000 male in 2011 census) and average in terms of literacy(73% in 2011 Census). Gender equity is quite high as well .

Prevalence of dowry is very less as compared to states like Andhra Pradesh,Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. In terms of caste based atrocities,heinous crimes against women,abduction,murder and child rapes, Assam stands in a much better position than many other Indian counterparts like Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh (NCRB report published in 2015).

But there are issues that need to be addressed by the state. Although terrorism by ULFA is dying down as are secessionist voices,Bodoland has emerged as the new hotbed of political strife and human rights violations.

When India gets ready to act east, Assam stands on a fertile ground. Time is ripe for serious introspection. Myths are many,so are truths.Political parties,intelligentsia from the state,media both local and national and above all Assamese people need to challenge the predominant myths and look forward to a better tomorrow.