Millennium Post

Modi looks North by North-east

Prime Minister Narendra Modi undertook a four-day whirlwind tour of the Northeastern States of Assam, Tripura, Manipur, Meghalaya and Nagaland, beginning 29 November. His message to the people of the region was: ‘You have been neglected so long. Now the Centre is with you to speed up your development. I shall come frequently to interact with you and keep an eye on the implementation of the projects.’

In almost every meeting, he stressed the fact that this was the first time in many years that a prime minister had come to the Northeast. He also left no room for doubt that one of the Centre’s prime concerns is to rapidly build up adequate infrastructure necessary for the defence of the region vis-à-vis China. Improving road and rail connectivity in the border areas was his government’s priority in this perspective.

The reaction of the people has been mixed. For example in Nagaland, where insurgency has been contained and the two major insurgent groups, the NSCN(I-M) and NSCN(K) entered a ceasefire agreement with the Centre long ago, negotiations for a ‘political solution of the Naga problem’ have been dragging on for years with no solution visible in the foreseeable future. Nagaland Chief Minister TR Zeliang appealed to the Prime Minister to come to an early solution of the Naga problem, but he chose to remain silent on the question.

Similarly, in neighbouring Manipur where insurgency is at a low ebb now, several militant groups have been active. Here again the question of a solution of the problem was urged but the prime minister refrained from touching on the subject. He announced a sum of Rs. 100 crore, as the first installment for setting up a sports university in the state and expressed his concern at the spread of AIDS.

In Tripura, he inaugurated the second unit of the Palatana thermal power project. The first unit of 363.3 MW was commissioned in January, 2013. This time Modi commissioned the second unit of the same capacity. He also announced that the Centre would spend Rs 28,000 crore for laying new railway tracks in the Northeast. He inaugurated the first railway line to Meghalaya. It connects Dudhnoi in Goalpara district of Assam to Mendipathar in the West Garo Hills district of Meghalaya.

Chief Minister Manik Sarkar gave a red carpet welcome to Modi and was all praise for him. This is
natural. Having lost West Bengal and Kerala, the CPI-M is desperate to retain power in Tripura and cannot afford to antagonise the Centre in any way.

But it was in Assam that the reaction was different. While the pro-BJP section of the media hyped up his visit, the educated urban elite in the State was critical of Modi for several reasons. One was the land deal with Bangladesh, under which enclaves in each other’s territory would be exchanged. The urban middle class is sore that the very same Modi who had promised during the poll campaign that once in power he would send back ‘every Bangladeshi illegally living in Assam’ is totally silent now on this highly sensitive issue.

Secondly, during his poll campaign, Modi had vowed to oppose any handing over of Assam’s land to Bangladesh. But now his government is going to amend the Constitution to provide the legal framework for the swapping of land with Bangladesh. The public perception is that in the deal, West Bengal, Tripura and Meghalaya will be a net ‘gainer’ while Assam will be the ‘loser’. The Asom Gana Parishad and the All Assam Students Union have already threatened to launch a movement against handing over of Assam land. The AGP has accused Modi of ‘betraying of the people of Assam’.

Informed circles in Guwahati, however do not agree with this view. They think the opposition is due to ignorance of the real situation. They also point out that without the exchange of enclaves, Assam’s border with Bangladesh can never be sealed. But this is essential if illegal immigration has to be stopped once for all. Modi stated the same at a meeting of BJP workers in Guwahati that the land deal would benefit Assam.

Akhil Gogoi of the left-wing Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti and other left-wing intellectuals say that Modi is completely under the thumb of the United States lobby and the Indian corporate giants. They are also critical of Modi’s decision to spend Rs 5000 crore to set up 8000 mobile towers to provide 2G spectrum connectivity to Assam. “When we are moving fast into the age of 4G spectrum, it is ridiculous to spend so much money for the outdated 2G connectivity”, they say. They are also against the NDA government’s decision to allow 100 per cent FDI in railway projects.

Such criticism notwithstanding, political observers believe that a corruption-ridden and faction-riven Assam Congress will be in no position to resist the BJP onslaught in the next State Assembly elections. Two former ministers in the Gogoi cabinet have already been summoned by the CBI in connexion with the Saradha chit fund scam.  There are many other big and small corruption cases against the Gogoi-led government, and the party  will find it difficult to live it down. IPA
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