With the stage set for the Assembly polls, campaigning has gone high decibel with political parties of all hues leaving no stone unturned to get ‘closer’ to the people they profess to represent. Ironically it is during electioneering that the supposed servers of the people exhibit an undue haste in reaching out to the common man, flooding him in an avalanche of promises that are rarely honoured. Regrettably, in the maze of electioneering, real issues affecting the masses are getting sidelined during this election. It is disturbing to see that the Opposition has failed to bring to the fore pressing concerns such as rising prices of essentials, burgeoning unemployment, the adamant stand of the ruling dispensation on the CAA in spite of the perils looming over the locals, grave ecological and socio-economic concerns stemming from the proposed many big dams in Arunachal Pradesh, etc. The saffron brigade has gone full steam in its bid to shamelessly polarize the voters on religious lines by harping on what they view as a clash of civilizations and coming up with wild and unsubstantiated allegations on AIUDF chief Badruddin Ajmal. The Opposition, especially the Congress, has been left to fend these allegations rather than focusing on the misdeeds of the ruling party. Indeed, it has played into the BJP’s game-plan of diverting people’s attention from core issues whereas focusing single-mindedly on the real issues and the failures of the Government would have sidelined the polarization tactics. While Ajmal largely represents the immigrant Muslim populace (most of who had settled in Assam before the Assam Accord-mandated cut-off date of March 24, 1971, as borne out by the recent NRC update exercise), constant branding of the entire populace as illegal Bangladeshis will serve to further alienate them from the mainstream Assamese society and wedge a permanent and undesirable rift.

A matter which had the potential to be a major poll issue but has not quite materialized happens to be the scheduling of the six agitating tribes demanding ST status. With successive Central governments continuing to dither on the issue for years, the stalemate remains. In the latest development, the Centre has disclosing that the special committee report on the matter has been marked ‘secret’ and declined to give a timeline. Dilly-dallying with the issue will not serve much purpose and the Centre needs to settle once and for all whether the communities fulfil the mandate for inclusion as STs. The issue of scheduling a particular tribe involves complexities centring on whether or not the tribe meets the relevant norms such as indication of primitive traits, distinctive culture, geographical isolation, shyness of contact, backwardness, etc. With enhanced access to modern education, healthcare, etc., lifestyles of once-isolated tribes are undergoing irreversible changes. Preservation of tribal identity and insulating them from mainstream influences while encouraging them to enjoy the benefits of modern development has some contradictions as well, and is easier said than done. Indeed, this has been a huge challenge and a dilemma for the policymakers as to how to strike the right balance between the two.