Swapnanil Barua

A politician, especially ministers without expertise in a professional field, may soon become a thing of the past. He has to be abreast of the latest developments in all spheres, look at things from a national and international perspective, constantly updating himself in his field of expertise.

It is election time and everyone is talking of politics, politicians and political parties. Political parties owe their origin to the Constitution, but there is no mention of political parties in the Constitution itself. Rather the matter of political parties is dealt with by the Election Commission of India which provides for the recognition as national, state and district-level parties, depending on fulfilment of certain criteria. Parties like the BJP or the Congress or the Communist parties are recognized national parties, while he AGP, BJD, Telugu Desam, etc., are recognized as State-level parties. As of date there are 2,598 registered parties, 8 national parties, 52 regional parties and 2,538 unrecognized parties. The Assam Jatiya Parishad or Raijor Dal will fall in the last category. To become a recognized national party, they have to win 2% of parliamentary seats from three different States, get 6% of the total votes polled in an Assembly or parliamentary election and win four parliamentary seats from four States. The Trinamool Congress and Conrad Sangma’s NPP and Bahujan Samaj Party of Mayawati fulfil these conditions and are national parties. To be recognized as a State party by the ECI, the party has to poll 6% of the votes polled in a State election and win two seats. Or it must get 6% of the votes polled in a Lok Sabha election and win one seat or in the State elections, it must win three seats. The rest of the political parties are unrecognized parties. As on January 15, 2020, Raijor Dal is the only unrecognized political party in Assam and hence the rest of political parties contesting the elections will be treated as independent candidates.

In the hustle and bustle of elections, it is forgotten that a political party is a voluntary organization, supposedly formed by like-minded people. People from different vocations are expected to come together under certain common ideals and objectives, form a party, register with the Election Commission of India, contest the elections and seek the people’s mandate to form government. Hypothetically, all independent candidates can contest and win elections and come together to form a government after choosing a leader amongst themselves. The deduction that follows from this is that a political party is not an organization like the civil services or the judiciary or the corporate or the agricultural and services sector that allows full-time living. It is not a profession in the income tax-paying sense of the term. It is more of community service than a career line with an assured laid out progression.

Independent India has been the land of the professional politician. Jawaharlal Nehru must never have settled down to serious legal practice, nor Lal Bahadur Shastri a teacher for long. Save Dr Manmohan Singh and Rajiv Gandhi, all our Prime Ministers have been full-time professional politicians. Similarly in Assam, most of our Chief Ministers have been professional politicians, beginning as student leaders till working up to the top post. However, Gopinath Bardoloi was an educationist for long, while Bishnu Ram Medhi was a top-notch lawyer of repute. Hiteswar Saikia was a teacher in a moffusil college for a short while, but mostly a politician. Similarly Tarun Gogoi being a brief-less lawyer switched over to politics, unlike Keshab Gogoi who was a successful district court lawyer. The benefit of having a professional politician at the helm of affairs is that they sense the pulse of the people well and can identify the problems, but don’t have the professional competence and approach to solve the problem. Most prefer to go by the wishes of the people, who in turn are quite happy to receive as many freebies as possible. The masses in a developing country are not quite aware of what they actually need to do to get out of the poverty trap. The poor are in practice self-dependent, government freebies only coming as relief. Yet they want the safety of a regular monthly income, because self-dependency means hard work and a life of great uncertainties. What most people overlook is that the bulk of India’s population, the farmers and the daily wage-earners are in the true sense Atmanirbhar as they have to earn their own bread. What the self-dependent people need to be taught is how to improve their lot. Professional politicians knowingly or unknowingly don’t want or strive for permanent solutions to problems. A problem once solved, the dependency on the politicians ends. No one bothers the MLA from the urban East Guwahati constituency as much as the other rural ones. Hence to avoid or delay irrelevancy, a professional politician loves to play the ‘Mai Baap’ role and keep issues and problems short of a permanent solution. But times are changing and the professional politician is also feeling the pressure to change.

India is structurally changing from a socialistic, public sector government-driven economy to one of free enterprise. The economic and social situation is no longer in the state it was in the early years of independence. The public sector has served its purpose and has now become bloated and inefficient to meet the demands of the day. Private banks, telecom providers and airlines are offering much more efficient service than the public sector. The Government is changing its role from service provider to facilitator. It is limiting its role to infrastructure developer than manager. The BPL population is being served by bank transfer grants rather than direct handover of goods and services. The public representatives are now being pushed from being fiefdom holders to solution seekers. It is not only that the job-seeker has to be skilled, but even the policymaker has to upgrade his skills to be able to listen to the problem and find a lasting solution. A politician, especially ministers without expertise in a professional field, may soon become a thing of the past. He has to be abreast of the latest developments in all spheres, look at things from a national and international perspective, constantly updating himself in his field of expertise.

In the context of Assam, our politicians have a much larger perspective to view things with, than the view that they have been limiting themselves to at present. The biggest problem of an increasing population of migrants of Bangladeshi origin has international ramifications. Assam is in the radar of the Great Game East of the Chinese. Political developments in Myanmar may not be to our benefit. With Myanmar now sealed to the Rohingyas, Assam may be their next destination. The rising sea and salinity in the dwindling mangroves of Bangladesh may push the people there to seek homelands in Assam and Bengal in the next decade. Preservation of Assam as an international biodiversity hotspot will be a big challenge. With the rise of China, the focus area of Indian diplomacy will now shift to the Northeast and its access to the Bay of Bengal. These will shape the activity of the Central Government in the Northeast, be it in the Dhubri-Phulbari bridge or the underwater bridge on the Brahmaputra. On security considerations, India can never afford to have a disgruntled Northeast.

Moreover, the aspirations of the young ones who form the bulk of Assam’s population will demand much beyond what is being offered now. In the coming days it’s definitely going to be the days when you can no longer fool all the people for all the times. Action has to be the new eloquence.