Monday, December 22, 2008

Assam's Demand for Equality

It is a welcome sign. Finally our State Government is asking for something which we truly deserve. I normally don’t have good words for the Assam Government. But this time I must say that finally the Assam Government has asked for something which may go a long way in changing the Centre’s attitude towards Assam.

Like militancy-infested Jammu & Kashmir, the Assam Government has also sought “insurgency damages neutralization grant” to the tune of Rs 25,000 crores from the 13th Finance Commission. According to official sources, in the memorandum submitted to the 13th Finance Commission in Guwahati on December 18, the State Government has demanded of the commission to treat insurgency-affected Assam at par with Jammu & Kashmir. The memorandum stated that in the last 30 years, Assam’s economy has been badly affected due to insurgency leading to fall in investment and damage to infrastructure. Under similar insurgency and terrorism-related circumstances, Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir got special financial dispensation from the 10th and 11th Finance Commissions. Assam has suffered no less. So the commission should be judicious enough to extend similar grants to Assam also.

This demand highlights the fact that Assam no longer deserves any step-motherly treatment. We have full credibility to receive equal rights and provisions when compared to the other states in the country. We cannot, and neither can the rest of India, ignore the fact that insurgency has created havoc with the economical as well as the socio-political aspects of the state. We have lost so much money in this time period that our state’s economy was left badly crippled sometimes back. Entrepreneurs and investors shirked from making any sort of ventures here. Terrorist activities had left public property in shambles. Blowing up of railway tracks and oil and gas pipelines always have financial repercussions with them. But of course, the number of lives lost cannot be counted in terms of money. The state of Jammu & Kashmir has a special status in the Indian Union and enjoys various privileges as per the Constitution. We are not asking for any big concessions. All we want is some assistance from the Centre in reshaping our economy. And the insurgency damages grant can go a long way in solving that. This concession will also enhance Assam’s stature and the Centre will not ignore Assam like it has always tended to do so. Hopefully, now the tag of a buffer state against China will be removed from us.

Every year, natural resources like oil, gas, tea and timber flow out of Assam to the mainland but very little is given back in return to Assam for her valuable resources. This is a question which has been asked by many Assamese intellectuals over and over again. And the state has always responded by taking actions against them. To combat insurgency and cross-border terrorism, the State Government has to rely more on the Central Paramilitary Force. And for that, it has to bear 10% deployment charge, which is discriminatory as neither Jammu & Kashmir nor any of the other North-Eastern States have to pay any such deployment charge. Unlike the Kashmiris who love to wave the Pakistani flag from their rooftops, we Assamese have time and again shown that we consider ourselves as Indians. The ULFA has lost support throughout the state because the common people do not want to leave India. Each year, many brave Assamese in the defence sector lose their lives while fighting for India. Whenever India wins a cricket match, Assam also celebrates with the rest of the country by bursting a lot of crackers out of jubilation. We are Indians from the core of our hearts. But, unfortunately, the Central Government still gives a secondary status to Assam and her problems. It has always overlooked the possibility that Assam could become the next Kashmir someday.

Today what Assam demands from the Indian Government is equal treatment. All we want is that the Centre should acknowledge our problems and help us out of them. And the seeking of insurgency damages grant is a step in that direction. Apart from helping to shape our shambled economy, it will also ensure Assam’s importance in the Indian pantheon in comparison to states like Jammu & Kashmir. So I sincerely hope that the Centre accepts the memorandum and Assam gets her dues in full.
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