'The significance and timing of the PM's start of the campaign journey from Silchar is a clear message that the Barak valley is a priority in his scheme of things,' notes Subimal Bhattacharjee.
Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi began his 2019 election campaign with the first political rally in Silchar drawing massive crowds in Assam's Barak valley.
Typical in his reach out, he started his address in Bengali wishing the people for the New Year and Makar Sankranti in a couple of weeks's time.
The people of the valley were aware of the special role that the PM took to get the Lumding-Silchar broad gauge conversion project completed after 20 years of delay by previous governments.
As usual, expectations of people from the three districts in the Barak valley from the PM were high in terms of addressing existing issues and some more announcements for a future course of action.
In the last few months, the political issues of identity and citizenship in Assam and the economic issue of the revival of the Hindustan Paper Corporation Mills in Panchgram not far away from the PM's rally venue have been in the limelight for many in the Barak valley.
The significance and timing of the PM's start of the campaign journey from Silchar is a clear message that the Barak valley is a priority in his scheme of things.
The updation of the National Registration Citizenship currently being implemented in Assam under the orders and monitoring of the Supreme Court of India, the introduction of the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016 by the Modi government in the Lok Sabha in July 2016 and the issue of detention camps where many individuals are lodged often based on ex parte orders are the major political issues that impact the state of Assam and also relations between the Brahmaputra valley and Barak valley in the state.
The process of NRC updation in Assam has been happening for the past three years with almost the entire administration of the state government involved in the process.
A total of 32.9 million people applied for inclusion in the NRC and in the first published list on December 31, 2017, 19 million names were included.
The process of claims and objections continued till December 31, 2018; the corrections process is on now for existing names.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill was introduced in Parliament in July 2016 that seeks to give citizenship by naturalisation to immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan belonging to the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities facing religious persecution who came to India before December 31, 2014 and were living illegally in the context of the provisions of the Passport (Entry into India) Act 1920 and the Foreigners Act 1946.
The Bill was referred to a joint select committee of Parliament in August 2016 which concluded its work in December 2018 after meeting many stakeholders including visiting Assam and Meghalaya. The committee recommended passage of the Bill.
Modi assured the gathering in Silchar that no genuine Indians would be left out of the NRC list and also that he would work towards passing the Citizenship Amendment Bill in Parliament as that would be penance for many of the anomalies and mistakes of Partition.
Obviously, the premise for granting citizenship under the Citizenship Amendment Bill was very well thought out and would be a once and for all solution to the issues around Partition on the nation's eastern front.
As the land boundary agreement sorted out the issues around land and territory with Bangladesh, the Citizenship Amendment Bill will settle this issue of illegal migration and also make a correct understanding between migration and illegal immigration in the right quarters.
The PM also mentioned the Cabinet decision to implement more closely the provisions of clause 6 of the Assam Accord of 1985 which seeks to provide protection to indigenous communities of the state through the setting up of a high level committee.
Ever since BJP-led governments assumed office at the Centre and in Assam, an approach of building a better relationship and engagement between the Brahmaputra and Barak valleys have been strived for.
Economic progress of both regions as well as connectivity has been a focal point and this has resulted in better understanding of each other's issues at various levels although vested interests nurtured over the years often raise their heads to derail the efforts.
The focus to project Assam as an investor friendly state and a major player in the Union government's Act East policy is being supported with actions on the ground.
The Advantage Assam summit in February 2018 and the supportive events of Namami Brahmaputra and Namami Barak held in the run-up to that summit in 2017 have shown the direction of the governments.
However, an economic focus of the development of the Barak valley has to be strengthened further and skill development and entrepreneurship, involving agriculture and its ancillaries and improving the infrastructure has to be supported more vigorously, which will in turn help in job development and growth in the local economy.
Just as central ministers are made to spend more time in the north east by the PM, ministers from Guwahati have to be sent to the Barak valley to monitor programmes of their respective ministries.
The chief minister has led the way by visiting the Barak valley 16 times in the 30 months that he has been in office compared to his predecessor who came only 5 times in 15 years of his rule.
Clearly, the focus on economic development of the Barak valley should be a mission mode project for the next 5 years.
Solving the issue of the Hindustan Paper Corporation mills in Panchgram and making it work is crucial. A due diligence process is already on to examine its revival and also pay the employees who have been without a salary for more than two years.
The PM could not have made any announcement while such a process was on as also when the National Company Law Tribunal ordered a corporate insolvency resolution process against the HPC.
However, his push will be crucial to move the process quickly so that the only heavy industry in the region is saved from closure and its employees get succour.
At the same time, those who have led the mill to such a situation with corrupt practices should be punished soonest.
Likewise, the completion of the East West corridor of the Mahasadak in the Silchar-Guwahati sector is crucial and all the bottlenecks in the Cachar and Dima Hasao corridors have to be cleared at a fast pace. This will lead to wider economic activities in the region.
While the PM has sounded the poll bugle from Silchar and right at the beginning of the year, citizens of the Barak valley will support him in his endeavour to provide a clean government to the country focussing on development.
The massive presence at his rally speaks of the popularity that the PM still commands across the country.