The real story of why Congress lost Assam

Assam is in desperate need of reform and BJP should know that the voters won’t let it off the hook

The real story of why Congress lost Assam
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Sitting through a day of election results inside a television studio can be very stressful simply because we go on repeating a few thoughts that cross our mind and pass them off as ‘expert analysis’. It has been exactly 20 years since I have been covering live elections, but as a reporter on the ground, the experience is immediate and exciting. Inside a studio, you can say anything and virtually get away.

Election, my learned colleagues will tell you, is about number crunching. I, however, think otherwise. The numbers will come regardless of our analysis and the Election Commission puts them out available to everybody on the internet. So what is it that we can add? A deep dive into understanding the reasons for victory or defeat can be premature, but we still make attempts to sound intelligent. Often we go wrong, but nobody notices that.

There was a time when election analysis was more in-depth and election coverage was extensive. Elections provided us with an opportunity to travel across the states and prepare report cards of the government in power. With diminishing reportage, that ‘report card’ is no longer available.  The reporter is now a disposable entity and today, one could witness the absence of any sensible ground coverage. A few celebratory shots in front of the winning party’s office and sound bites of the leaders are all you get. Anchors who are constantly tom-tomming how they got it right and how they showed it first are busy competing with fancy technology like Playstation games.

None of these interests the viewer. They either want the numbers and some details or credible voices to share their thoughts. It is the reporter’s stories that make good television; not pompous anchors showing off some new tech acquisition.

For example, what is the story of Assam elections 2016? Till five years ago ‘insurgency’ dominated the discourse. This time ‘experts’ seem to have forgotten that word. What replaced violence was the old issue of immigration and identity and that played itself out like a throwback to the Seventies and Eighties. There is a slight difference though — the Asom Gana Parishad now playing second fiddle to the Bharatiya Janata Party that has finally become a national party by expanding its footprint to the east. The BJP after a double defeat in Delhi and Bihar seems to have got its plot right. They can now win without the ‘cow’ and they have learnt not to rely on Prime Minister Narendra Modi campaigns alone, but go local. The ‘North-Indian party’ (as perceived in the east) realized that regional is the future. Stitching together a crafty social coalition with a tribal chief ministerial candidate and not pushing their national agenda aggressively has delivered. But is that all?

Beneath the social engineering theory and dissidence in Congress and the lazy explanation of anti-incumbency lay serious factors that media routinely ignores.

As a case in point, Assam has the country’s worst maternal mortality and a very sad infant mortality rate. Most health indicators are abysmal. The entire population of the tea garden community is at critical state of mortality from starvation by World Health Organisation criteria. Lets not forget that 25% Assam’s population is in tea gardens and they were once the loyal Congress bases. This time round, they deserted the party.  It has one of the highest percentages of child labourers in the country. The census data from 2011 shows there are 351,416 children engaged in work. School enrolment is low. It is 94.3 for classes 1 to 5, against the national average of 116. More than 15,000 children are working in hazardous establishments.  Trafficking of children is alarmingly high and 4754 children have gone missing from Assam in the last three years. Of the 546 cases of crime against children, the conviction is 4.4 and the pendency percentage in such cases is 92 per cent. Allocation to child protection despite these statistics has been reduced.

Tarun Gogoi failed to deliver on his promises of 65,000 jobs. He came to power on the issue ‘secret killings’. The victims are still awaiting justice. Assam has lakhs of hectares to flood and erosion, but Gogoi’s epic solution was “we have to learn to to live with flood”! He is reported to have laid 3,000 foundation stones without any evidence of them translating into anything.

As you can see the numbers that tumbled out today are a result of specific factors that we often tend to avoid. And ‘they’ will tell you, it doesn’t make for ‘good television.’

This is only a part of the report card on Gogoi. But the BJP alliance while celebrating with the white cake with green icing should know that after five years they won’t be let off the hook either. The voters know it all!

The author can be contacted on Twitter @Kishalay

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