Monday, April 4, 2011

Assam going to polling station

Guwahati Airpot - Yet to receive international carriers
Today, when many parts of the nation celebrating the new year, Assamese are going to polling booth to select their next government. Like many other polls in this insurgent hit state, this one too is not free from the threats. Threats from ULFA and Kurbi militants are still hanging in the atmosphere like Democlasis sword. We have to appreciate the will of the people, who are casting their votes against these odds.

According to the schedule, Upper Assam, Barak Valley, hill districts of Dima Hasao, Karbi Anglong etc (62 constituencies) are going to the polling booth on today; remaining 64 constituencies - lower, central Assam, Bodo areas etc will go to the polling station on April 11.

As compared to many previous occasion this times there are a lot of improvements. Talks with ULFA chairman is on progress, campaign managers of various parties are more focused towards the developmental aspects and projecting themselves as the agents of development. It looks like, party leaders are learning one or two lessons from Bihar's Nitesh Kumar - who overcome the anti-incumbency factors by riding on developmental aspects and good governance. As people are more and more hearing and seeing what globalization can do and what opportunities its creating, they will be more inclined towards a progressive government and votes on the issues like development.

But how far Assam will be able to move in this path? This resource rich (oil and gas) state has the ability to set a development model for other north eastern states. The stakes are high; oil and gas didn't bring a thriving manufacturing sector, insurgency negated whatever advantage she had in tourism sector, inability to develop good navigational facilities in the mighty Brahmaputra river made it difficult to use the full potential of the river, land locked situation and poor connectivity with other Indian states as well as oceans didn't helped much.

Now situations are showing signs of improvement, talks for connecting North-East India to Bay of Bengal using the ports of Bangladesh and Myanmar are on the table. Hope that east Indian borders will finally open for trade with ASEAN, this will effectively give a bigger market for the products of North East and other parts of the nation and also connect Indian mainland to the eastern seas. Once implemented there is no doubt that Assam have the possibility to become trade hub. For more information on this read my earlier blog "North-East India and India-ASEAN trade"

Brahmaputra River
But the question is how far they will be able to cash-in from such a scenario? Mighty Brahmaputra will help in trade, but the required facilities have to be constructed for that. Insurgency will effectively stop Assam from developing as a tourism hot spot, foreigners will be scared to visit the insurgent hit areas. Without an effective manufacturing and service sector Assam will not be able to cash-in from India- ASEAN trade or India - Bangladesh trade. Opening the eastern borders to ASEAN, may open the gates for cheap products from ASEAN and China but what about export sector - apart from tea and some handicrafts there are not much things to export. Simply becoming a transit point without an effective industrial and service infrastructure will not help much.

Whoever be the next CM, a lot of challenges laying in front of him - establishing manufacturing and services sector, developing infrastructure, promoting tourism, attracting investment etc. Assam have no problem in finding good professionals, as there already a lot of Assamese success stories in cities like Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Delhi etc.

Lets hope that the remaining anti-India section of ULFA and other insurgency groups operating in Assam will realise that a peaceful environment is not only good for economic development and but also good for them too.

Sajeev.

PS: According to the reports in Indian Express, "for the first time in 15 years insurgents of ethnic KLNLF participated in the democratic process by casting their votes in Karbi Anglong district".

Photo Courtesy : Wikipedia

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