By Barun Das Gupta
KOLKATA: Assam politics has for quite some time been as dull as ditchwater. People have lost all interest in the ongoing talks between the ULFA leaders and the Centre. They have realized that the talks will continue for a long time without producing any tangible result, just as the talks with the two Naga outfits, NSCN(I-M) and NSCN(K), have been going on for the last one and a half decades and for all practical purposes been stalemated. The Government policy is to make all these outfits politically irrelevant in course of time.
Barring a few stray incidents of violence once in a while by the so-called ‘anti-talk faction’ led by ULFA’s self-styled ‘C-in-C’ Paresh Barua, the law and order situation in Assam is normal. Recently this faction whose leadership is believed to be hiding somewhere close to the Myanmar-China border in northern Myanmar, served an ‘ultimatum’ on chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa (who was released from jail by the State Government last year for starting talks), asking him to ‘rejoin active duty’ within three months, failing which his leadership will be ‘changed’. The ultimatum evoked derisive laughter from all quarters.
By contrast, the Government has taken more seriously the recent reports that various Maoist groups in the area have formed a ‘Revolutionary People’s Guerrilla Army` and that some senior members of the Maoist Party visited the State with a view to expanding the party organization and setting up new bases in the region.
The movement launched by the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti against the construction of the 2000 MW Lower Subansiri hydel project at Geruamukh in neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh seems to have lost some of the steam it had initially generated. The KMSS and some students’ bodies in Assam and Arunachal are opposing the dam on the plea that it will cause great environmental and ecological damage to both the States. The movement has been continuing since November last and succeeded in considerably slowing down the work by blocking the transportation of construction materials to the worksite. The Government announced last month that security forces were being deployed in ‘vital locations’ in the two contiguous districts of Dhemaji and Lakhimpur to ensure a smooth flow of materials.
Meanwhile, another development has added to the apprehensions of the environmentalists of the north-eastern region. It is the over the thrust given to the interlinking of India’s rivers for transferring surplus water from the north to the south of the country following the recent directive of the Supreme Court. More specifically, the interlinking will involve diversion of water from several rivers of Assam to other parts of the country which face seasonal water scarcity.
They claim that there has been no scientific study to corroborate the assumption that there are some rivers which are water surplus while some others are water deficit. They think that before any ‘grandiose’ scheme for interlinking is taken up, several aspects of such a project like ‘integrated river-basin planning and management, water harvesting, reduction in wastage of water and and equitable allocation of river waters to different sectors’ should be thoroughly studied.
The present thinking is to divert water from the Brahmaputra and tributaries like Manas, Sankosh and Teesta from Jogighopa in Western Assam to Farakka inWest Bengal. This will not reduce the annual flood problem in Assam, they believe. There are other imponderables also, like the possible climate change on the Himalayan rivers like reduced lean season flows and high flood flows in summer, etc.
In the midst of all these doubts and misgivings, the dull politics of Assam suddenly livened up with the rumour that Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi was being tipped as the next Vice President on retirement of the present incumbent, Hamid Ansari. Soon, the source of the rumour was traced to a heavyweight minister in the Gogoi cabinet who has vaulting ambitions.
What lent some credence to the rumour was that the minister concerned had an audience with Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi recently. Assam Congressmen saw through the game: it was a clever ploy to dispatch Tarun Gogoi to Delhi so that this minister could step into his shoes. There was strong resentment in the party and it was made clear that any attempt to relieve Gogoi from State responsibilities would be strongly opposed. Soon enough the rumour was officially scotched.
The North-East still remains one of the few bastions the Congress is left with. It holds eighteen of the twenty-four Lok Sabha seats from the region. Tarun Gogoi has provided a strong and stable leadership to Assam. The party High Command will do nothing to create uncertainties about his continuance in office at the present juncture when the Congress faces a crucial presidential election in June. (IPA Service)