BJP attempts to garner anti-dam votes in Assam

Manifesto promises fail to impress. Steps proposed by BJP to address concerns arising from large dams will not solve anything, say activists

By Amarjyoti Borah
Published: Tuesday 08 April 2014

Anti dam activists protesting against big dams in Guwahati (photos by Amarjyoti Borah)

In a move to garner the votes of people in Assam who are opposing mega dams in neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh, the Bharatiya Janata Party has promised to address their concerns if it comes to power.

The BJP, which released its election manifesto for the Lok Sabha election 2014  on the day of the first phase of voting when five constituencies in Assam went to polls, promises to solve the problems posed by big dams through political and expert-level discussions between the Centre, Arunachal Pradesh government and the Assam government.

According to activists and researchers working on dams, these large dams will damage the fragile ecology of the region and will impact millions of people who depend on farming and fishing. The dams pose a major threat for another reason—Arunachal and and its neighbouring areas are in a highly seismic zone. Besides, parts of the state are prone to floods and erosion. According to Assam government figures, the state has lost over 400,000 hectares of land to erosion till date.

Another major promise made in the BJP manifesto to the voters of Assam is that the party will take steps to declare Assam’s flood problem a national one.

Speaking to the media, Assam state BJP president Sarbananda Sonowal, who is contesting from the Lakhimpur constituency, an area which is severely affected by flood and erosion, said that if BJP comes to power it will take immediate steps to include the severe problem of flood in the state as a national problem.

On being asked about the problem of erosion, he said that steps will be taken for a permanent solution to the problem, and action will be taken in a time-bound manner.

Science, not politics, holds solution

Civil society groups and anti dam activists have, however, pointed out that the steps mentioned in the BJP’s manifesto that relate to solving the problems posed by dams will not serve any purpose and termed the promise unrealistic.

Construction site of Lower Subansiri dam

“To solve a critical issue like this once, discussion at the government level—whether at the level of state government, or between state governments and the Central government—will not serve any purpose. The need is for talks at the scientific level and the common people’s level,” said Keshab Krishna Chatradhara, an activist associated with the People’s Movement for Subansiri and Brahmaputra Valley (PMSBV), who has been spearheading the anti-dam movement for over 10 years.

He also dismissed the promise as something “very immature” on a major issue such as the big dams, considering the seriousness of the issue and also by looking at the number of people whose livelihood is at stake as a result of the big dams.

“The BJP has just made a last minute attempt to capture some of the votes of the anti-dam protestors and their families by making such promises just before the election, if they were serious on this issue, they should have met the people who are likely to be affected as a result of the dams and understand the situation at the grass root level,” said Chatradhara.

Over 2,000 people boycott polls in first phase

In the first phase of election, over 2,000 voters in the state from two Lok Sabha constituencies—Lakhimpur and Tezpur—boycotted the polls.

Voters of two polling stations at Salmara in Majuli, which is in Lakhimpur parliamentary constituency, boycotted the election as their demands for a permanent solution to the problems of flood and erosion has not been addressed till date.

Bharati Pegu, a 33 year old woman from Salmara said it is only during the election time, whether Assembly, Parliament or pachayat polls, that political parties remember to visit them.
“As many as 696 voters at booth number 102 in Salmara MV School and 447 voters at Bechamara LP School polling stations abstained from casting their votes. Only 21 voters, who included government officials and village heads cast their votes,” said Jamini Payeng, a social activist based at Majuli who is associated with the non-profit, Rural Economic Development Society (REDS). 

Over 1,000 voters from Tezpur Lok Sabha constituency in Behali, near the Assam-Arunachal border, also boycotted the polls, alleging that the government never took any steps for development in that area, irrespective of which party has been in power.

“Voters from Silamari LP School (booth number 1) in Tezpur’s Behali boycotted polling, alleging that they have just seen and heard promises till date, but have never witnessed any development in that area,” said Ranjit Hazarika, 35, a local youth.

Hazarika added that representatives from all the three main political parties—Congress, BJP and AGP—visited these people after hearing about their boycott call and  tried to placate them, but they refused to vote.

Assam chief minister, Tarun Gogoi, says when BJP-led NDA was in power at the Centre the party had ignored his appeals for help to solve state's problems Gogoi's take
Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi has termed the promises made by the BJP in its manifesto as hollow, and said that it is very easy to make promises but that implementing them is not easy.
“I was the chief minister in Assam when the BJP-led NDA was in power at the Centre. During that period also they had made a lot of promises for Assam but had never made any attempt to address those,” said Gogoi. He added that he has already raised the demand with the Centre to declare Assam’s flood problem as a national one.

“LK Advani was the Union home minister and also the deputy prime minister at the time, but the Central government had not done anything for the state, although I had written to him several times to take up several crucial issues in the state,” Gogoi said.


BJP Election Manifesto 2014 (Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas)

Green clearance to HEPs in NE India: Issues and concerns

Dam planning under the spotlight: a guide to dam sanctioning in India

National register of large dams 2013

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