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Chasing A Dream


The newly elected Chief Minister dreams for a corruption-free Assam. But without proper strategy and planning, this dream will remain a far cry. Monalisa Gogoi reports from Guwahati
MONALISA GOGOI | Issue Dated: July 5, 2016, New Delhi
Tags : Sarbananda Sonowal | Nekibur Zaman |

The first BJP Chief Minister of Assam, as well as the first from the North East region, Sarbananda Sonowal had declared during his first speech after taking office that his government would try to create a "foreigner-free" and "corruption- free" Assam. Since the 90s, these two issues have worried the conscious citizen of the state. While the foreigner issue has had a major impact on the demography of the state population, corruption is considered so rampant in the state now that the common man perceives giving (or taking) bribes to be the norm. Economically, socially, politically, these two problems are said to have usurped the society's well being to a significant extent.

Experts mention that the previous Congress government of Assam was dethroned by the voters of Assam because of some major causes like anti-incumbency, the arrogant nature of the ministers as well as of the party leaders, selection of wrong candidates etc. But prime amongst all these reasons, and most political commentators agree, is that the Congress government was not able to root out the large scale corruption prevalent throughout the state departments, bureaucracy and even the dispensation. From the most prestigious APSC (Assam Public Service Commission) exams to the distribution of ration cards, corruption cases had come out in almost every corner of the administration.

Senior advocate and the President of Waqf Board, Nekibur Zaman, says, “Corruption is a never ending process. It cannot be diluted from the society but it can be minimized. To decrease corruption from the society, firstly, we should change our moral character. From the common man to bureaucrats to politicians all are addicted to corruption. The present Chief Minister Sonowal might also be a victim of the so-called “brokers". The bureaucrats who had surrounded former Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi are now trying to take initiative in most of the activities of the newly elected state government. There are some bureaucrats who are really efficient and honest, but they always remain away from the dirty politics of corrupted officials. The present Chief Minister should form an active team of bureaucrats and officials so that the government can endeavour to do its best for the common people."

The former Advisor of Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuva Chatra Parishad (AJYCP) Dilip Patgiri says, “We must wait and see because it is too early to criticize [the Sonowal government]. Let us hope for the best. But... it is not possible to create a 100% corruption free state. The government alone cannot remove corruption from the state. It should be a participatory journey of both common people and government. Each and every citizen should protest corruption and then only can we minimize the number of corruption cases.”

To their credit, the former Congress-led government had started some welfare schemes for the below-poverty-line people, which aimed to create a better life for the poor people of the state. The Gyanjyoti, Dharmajyoti, Majoni, Nabou and Baideo schemes were meant to help the poor class of the society. Similarly, the Anando Ram Barooah computer distribution scheme to the meritorious student and the bicycle scheme for school going girls were some of the examples of welfare schemes of the former Congress government which held extreme promise.

But most of these welfare schemes which were meant for the common and poor people of the society, experts mention, became a major source of earning for certain corrupt bureaucrats. This became one of the most talked about and major causes of defeat of the Congress party in the last assembly election. Most interestingly, analysts point out that whenever three time (former) Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi was asked about corruption, his reaction was the standard “Corruption is not a big deal. It happens everywhere in the world. If we find any allegation, then we will take action.” Unfortunately for Gogoi, the so-called "action" was taken by voters, who rooted the party out of power. At the time of campaigning, Gogoi strangely gave step-motherly treatment to discussing the issue of corruption in public. Truly, if he had held the bull by the horns and had come out openly about the issue of corrupt officials in his government and how he would weed them out if he came to power, the results may have been less hitting for the Congress.

On the other hand, BJP took the initiative and realizing the major scale of prevalent corruption, BJP leaders used the issue as one of their main election planks. Clearly, the strategy worked and like how.

After the repeal of IMDT (Illegal Migrants [Determination by Tribunal] Act) by the honorable Supreme Court, then AASU (All Assam Students' Union) leader Sarbananda Sonowal was given the title of ‘Jatiya Nayak’ ('hero of the nation’) for his stance and corruption-free orientation. Fortunately for him,  he has been able to maintain a clean image till date, and this was the another main reason that the majority of people of Assam – irrespective of caste, creed and community – came out in the BJP's support, expecting a drastic change from Sonowal, mainly on the issues related to corruption and immigrants. As a result, the newly formed government took oath on 19 May 2016.

Within a month of the BJP's governance, some positives have already started getting noticed. Bureaucrats mention that Sonowal has been visibly trying to create and promote a transparent atmosphere among the various departments. “He is urging his ministers and officers to serve the people in a transparent way so that people can realize that officials are not out of their reach,” says Hiranya Sarmah, a retired official of the state.

“People voted against the Congress party only to get relief from the large scale corruption. It seems a good sign that the CM himself has taken the matter of APSC seriously and is trying to create a transparent atmosphere. Sonowal did order the Chairman of APSC Rakesh Paul to declare all pending result within three days and to conduct all viva examinations under the surveillance of cameras. I had appeared APSC thrice but could not qualify at the viva stage. I believe this was only because I belong to a poor family. But this time, I am happy that from my entry into the interview room to my exit, everything has been recorded; and if I fail this time too, at the very least I will not have any doubts about the same,” says an APSC candidate who did not want his name to be disclosed.

Assam Public Works Chairman Abhijit Sarma minces no words and says, “In the last fifteen years, the scale of corruption has become unimaginably large. In the former government, agriculture was one of the main corrupted sectors. While the agriculture minister was Nilomoni Sen Deka, the state agriculture director was KabindaBarkakati, who it seems had donated finances to the BJP party before election. So I doubt whether the present government would be able to take action against such past officers. Nevertheless, a major reshuffle at the bureaucrats' level is a must. Otherwise, this government's tenure could well be a repetition of the AGP government of 1985. As a spiritual person, our Chief Minister is efficient; but till today, the CM has not ordered any official enquiry against any scam in the state. Then how can we expect a corruption free state from his governance?”

At the same time, the spokesperson of the Assam Pradesh Congress Committee, Apurba Bhattacharya, says, “We welcome his views on removing corruption. We will be happy if, under the leadership of Sarbananda Sonowal, our state becomes corruption free. As a responsible opposition party, we will extend our whole hearted support to his positive attitude. But interestingly, he himself has formed his ministry with people tainted with corruption charges. So I do not think it is possible for him to create a corruption-free Assam. But I must say a patriotic person like him can never engage in corruption himself.” Reacting to the present government’s slogan of a corruption-free Assam, former Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta says, “It will be a great challenge for the new government, because the Congress-led government had legalized the process of corruption; and this resulted in corruption entering the grass-roots level. If the new government starts with a positive mind and a positive attitude, only then can corruption be kept away from the society.”

Clearly, Sonowal has quite some task at hand, given that his personal clean image might not be enough to stop the questions being raised against some of his team members, and that too so early in his tenure. If Sonowal has to win the people's trust, he should take transparent action against officials accused of corruption and create a standard.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017