Friday, January 16, 2009

။ Chidambaram's Assam Formula Will Not Work

By Subir Bhaumik
Indian Home minister P Chidambaram is trying a new but a very controversial approach to handle insurgency and terrorist activities in Assam. During his New Year visit to Assam, Chidambaram made it clear that "state government should handle development" and "security forces will handle law and order." It is true you cannot handle law and order issues without security forces. The question is who leads the security forces - the centre or the state government.
Now Chidambaram is a lawyer , though I will seek to correct perceptions that he is a constitutional expert. He is not. He is a corporate lawyer and knows patents and other corporate issues much better than he knows the Indian constitution. If he knew the Indian constitution well enough, he would not suggest security forces can handle law and order on their own . Any federal security force or , for that matter, the army, operates in aid of civil authority, essentially under the command of the state government in law and order situation.
It is true the situation in Assam is serious - same is the case with some other areas in India where the Maoists are holding the state government to ransom. But if Chidambaram plans to hold the meetings of the special operations group of Assam's Unified Command in Delhi , just calling the state police chief to the meeting and allowing the state Home Commissioner there on special request of the Chief Minister, that, I am afraid, is not the way to go about it. Chidambaram has made clear his severe displeasure at the way Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has handled insurgency. That is fair enough. A Union Home Minister can do that. If the federal government headed by the Congress thinks they have a better leader in Assam to handle the crisis, they change go for a leadership change because the state government is also run by Congress. That's what they did in Maharastra after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. But they cannot ignore Tarun Gogoi and keep him out of the decision making process so long as he is Chief Minister. And the reason they have not gone for a leadership change in Assam is because they dont have a better option - there's no obvious Congress leader senior and capable enough to lead the party and replace Gogoi in a year when parliament elections are going to be held.
Chidambaram may find new DGP G M Srivastava the only competent person to deal with in tackling insurgency and terrorism - and he is entitled to his choice. But he can not take Assam Unified Command meetings in Delhi - that has to happen in Guwahati and the state government must be spearheading those meetings. To back an efficient DGP is fine - but
that must be done by not violating established constitutional norms and procedures. Having said that, this is also a wake up call for Tarun Gogoi. He should not think the High Command will go ahead with him even after the elections. If Assam's law and order situation does not improve , they may well be forced to think of a leadership change , specially if the party does not do well in the parliament elections and specially if the Congress does not do well in Assam. Gogoi should take charge himself and not leave the administration to his lieutenants after evening hours. He should build up a second line of leadership - as a leader, he should do that for the party. But not abdicate all his responsibility to them. He should also take lessons from his party's great victory in Mizoram. The Mizoram Congress won a sweeping victory at the polls under the leadership of a tested and veteran leader Lalthanhawla - the man who gave up his Chief Ministership to bring peace back to Mizoram. But Lalthanhawla and the High Command fielded a huge number of young candidates with good public image and that was seen as the main factor behind such a sweeping Congress victory. Across the border in Bangladesh also, the Awami League fielded large number of new candidates with good public image and scored a sweeping victory. Look at Sheikh Hasina's cabinet. No old face except the great Motia Choudhury as full minister . Three relatively young women heading crucial ministries like Home, Foreign Affairs and Labour.
Gogoi should see the writing on the wall. If he goes into the elections with corruption ministers as his main campaigners, the Congress will do miserably, specially when the Opposition is achieving a relatively higher level of unity this time. AGP's new president Chandramohan Patowary is a very capable politician when it comes to working out consensus with coalition partners - so with him in charge, Tarun Gogoi will face a tougher election this time. He has to bring in new faces with good public image. He should get some good women candidates, some good young politicians from different communities. Hangrama Mohilary's party is less than trustworthy ally. They stand discredited for the phenomenal corruption in the Bodoland Territorial Council - a corruption that has become clearly visible in the way the former BLTF rebel leaders are buying property or lavishly holding their private ceremonies. One can also expect the NDFB to back the opposition coalition because they are hugely upset with the Congress government in Delhi and Dispur. That will make things difficult for Hangrama Mohilary - and Tarun Gogoi. Corruption and law and order will be the new major issues in the parliament elections. Gogoi will be on the defensive on both counts. Perhaps that's one reason why Chidambaram is trying to show to the people of Assam that the Congress is keen to get things right in the state. But the way he is trying to do that is only undermining the credibility of the local Congress leadership. The crucial question that voters of Assam may turn round and ask Chidambaram - and Manmohan Singh who gets elected to Rajya Sabha from Assam - is that if you dont trust your party leaders in Assam, how can you ask us to vote for them.

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