GUWAHATI, Aug 18 - The East West Corridor, which is now becoming a major communication lifeline of the entire country, was extended to the northeastern region because of the initiative taken by Atal Bihari Vajpayee as the Prime Minister. He also accepted the proposal of the Assam Governor and the State government to award the Bharat Ratna posthumously to Lokapriya Gopinath Bardoloi.
Former Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, who had close relation with Vajpayee right from his days as the president of the All Assam Students� Union (AASU), recalled the contributions of the former Prime Minister towards Assam and other States of the region and said that Vajpayee always had a soft corner in his heart for the region.
Talking to The Assam Tribune, Mahanta said, �When I was the Chief Minister, we felt that we received all required help from Vajpayee whether he was the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition in the Parliament.� He said that as per the original plan, the East West Corridor was to end in Kolkata and so, he along with Chief Ministers of other States of the region met Vajpayee, who was the Prime Minister at that time, and requested him to extend it to the Northeast to improve road communication that was vital for the development of this part of the country. �Vajpayee immediately agreed to the proposal and issued necessary instructions to extend the East West Corridor to the Northeast,� he added.
Mahanta said as Lokapriya Gopinath Bardoloi was instrumental in preventing merger of Assam with Pakistan, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) government in Assam sent a proposal to the Centre to confer the Bharat Ratna posthumously on Bardoloi. Vajpayee immediately accepted the proposal and Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian honour of the country, was conferred posthumously on the Lokapriya. Similarly, during the tenure of Vajpayee as the Prime Minister, the Borjhar airport was renamed as Lokapriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport.
Mahanta said that as the North Eastern Council almost became defunct, Vajpayee started the process of setting up the Department for Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER). But the process could not be completed during his tenure as the Prime Minister and the department was formed later. He said the progress of the bridge over the Brahmaputra river at Pancharatna (Goalpara) was very slow and the Vajpayee-led government gave the necessary thrust to expedite the process, and he also came to the State to inaugurate the bridge. Similarly, Vajpayee laid the foundation stone of the Bogibeel bridge. Though different persons are claiming credit for the Dhola-Sadiya bridge, it was during the time of Vajpayee as the Prime Minister that the Defence Ministry clearance was received for the project, Mahanta said.
The former Chief Minister pointed out that a statue of Lachit Barphukan was set up in the National Defence Academy during the time of Vajpayee as the Prime Minister, while the accord with the Bodo Liberation Tiger (BLT) was also signed during that time to pave the way for creation of the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC).
Mahanta admitted that during the tenure of Vajpayee as the Prime Minister, the State always received due importance from the Centre. He said that whenever floods occurred in the State, he immediately sent Central teams to assess the situation and he himself visited Assam a few times to assess the situation on the ground.
Leading an AASU delegation, Mahanta also met Vajpayee when the latter was the External Affairs Minister to demand construction of the Kaliabhomora bridge.
He said during the Assam movement, Vajpayee along with Dr Bhupen Hazarika and several other prominent personalities attended a meeting in the office of the AASU in Cotton College and offered valuable suggestions. During the movement, Vajpayee visited the State several times and extended his support to the movement.
Mahanta met a number of Prime Ministers both as a student leader and a politician, and when asked to assess them, he said, �VP Singh was also sympathetic towards Assam. But I still feel that Vajpayee was most considerate and had a soft corner for the State.�
Meanwhile, former State minister Biraj Kumar Sarma recalled how once Vajpayee, who was then the Prime Minister, enjoyed a Bihu function in the Latasil Bihutoli. �At that time, Dhiren Baruah was the president of the Bihu committee. Vajpayee addressed the function and then spent hours at the Bihutoli and enjoyed the function. Vajpayee also interacted with the Bihu committee members and local people. Vajpayee enjoyed the cultural programmes and stressed the need for keeping Bihu alive, said Sarma, who was then the Urban Development Minister of Assam and accompanied Vajpayee to the function.