If the Assembly elections come, can enticements and tall promises be far behind? In the past Assam has had its share of such enticements and promises which, alas, remained unfulfilled once the voters had cast their votes. One of the most glaring of damp squibs has been, of course, the Look East policy rechristened as the Act East Policy. Both the UPA and the NDA governments at the Centre had woven rosy dreams about the ‘benefits’ that would accrue to the State once land connectivity with the ASEAN nations is established and this region regains its geopolitical centricity and becomes an industrial hub. Over a decade has passed and so have quite a few Assembly elections, yet Assam remains not only disconnected, but also industrially years behind the rest of the nation. We have had pre-election promises to tackle the foreign infiltration issue, but rather than illegal infiltrators departing bag and baggage, Assam has been saddled with the Citizenship Amendment Act and all the dangers it poses. The State is yet to witness any tangible results of grand events such as ‘Advantage Assam’ or ‘Namami Brahmaputra’, while sliding down in the development index. Rather than tackle the unemployment problem, one of the worst in the nation, through large-scale skill development and job creation, the State Government appears to be indulging in offering petty financial handouts in order to net votes in the coming elections.
Thus, as Election Day approaches, we have had a cavalcade of visitors from New Delhi bearing ‘gifts’. The latest to jump onto the allurement bandwagon is External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, who will be bringing a Japanese delegation, headed by their Ambassador to India, to Assam on February 14. The purported motive for this visit is to tom-tom the setting up of a Japanese industrial township for which the Assam Government has already acquired 2,000 bighas of land at Nagarbera in Kamrup district. Reportedly, this would be the 13th Japanese industrial township in the country and the MEA touts it as being designed to help boost the State’s manufacturing sector with Japanese help and bring in huge employment and technological knowhow. It may be noted that Japan has assisted several infrastructure development plans in Assam including the Guwahati sewerage and water supply projects. Considering that till date these two projects remain a mere pipe dream for the citizens of Guwahati, it is no wonder that informed opinion will take the MEA’s assertions with a pinch of salt. Another pre-poll gift by the Centre is the Rs 100 crore grant-in-aid to the Brahmaputra Valley Fertilizer Corporation Limited (BVFCL), Namrup, to sustain its urea manufacturing units. The very fact that the now distressed BVFCL had at one time been one of the few profit-making public ventures in the State is perhaps an apt commentary on the industrial scenario in Assam!