Thursday, 16 December 2010

The BMDC Saga by Ramlal Sinha

Courtesy: The Sentinel 

The Bishnupriya Manipuri community in Assam is in deed on its way to achieve a milestone with the issuance of the notification on the formation of the Bishnupriya Manipuri Development Council (BMDC). Despite some hiccups from within the community in the run-up to the formation of the Council, all seems to be heading in the right direction so far, thanks to the Nikhil Bishnupriya Manipuri Mahasabha (NBMM), considered to be the brain behind the demand for such a council raised way back in 2003, and the lone MLA in the community whose push at the right moment worked like the click of a cursor that activates a computer set.

However, when we look from the pragmatic point of view at the development that has taken place in so far as the formation of the BMDC is concerned, it becomes crystal clear that we have still miles to go to get our demand fulfilled. Elated though at the fast-track course that the demand for the BMDC had to follow so as to keep pace with that of some other ethnic groups in the State that were assured of development councils much before by the State Government, my reaction to the notification issued on the formation of the BMDC is to an extent mixed. However, it can be said with certainty that half the battle for the development council has been won by the community.

Two questions that continue to haunt me on this issue are: Is the BMDC worth the name? If not, will it be ever? The picture behind the scene is such that the Assam Government has no funds for the newly notified development councils, barring that of the Sarania Kacharis and the Gorkas. The development councils of these two communities have funds allocated in the 2010-11 annual Budget of the Government of Assam. Let's think positive. The State Government has the responsibility on its shoulder to make allocation of funds for the just-notified development councils, if not in the Vote-on-Account to be tabled by the outgoing government in March next, then surely in the full-fledged Budget to be announced by the State Government after the 2011 Assembly elections.

The Welfare of Plain Tribes and Backward Classes (WPT & BC) department under which the development councils have been formed itself has no clear-cut guidelines on the jurisdiction and areas of operations of the councils. One can be optimistic here again. Since the councils have already been notified, the government is duty-bound to spell out clear-cut jurisdictions and guidelines for the councils to follow.

Only funds and clear-cut guidelines cannot make a development council worth the name unless the very purpose for which it has been formed is served the best. Here comes some precedents of sorts that have been set by the State Government in collusion with those at the helm of affairs in a number of autonomous councils. In some of the autonomous councils, election has not been conducted by the State Government since their inception, and the reason behind this is not far to seek. The State Government may make tall claim on decentralization of power but the ground reality is such that it does not want to give any free play to development councils and gaon panchayats on power and funds. On one pretext or the other, Dispur wants to defer elections to such councils or gaon panchayats even long after the expiry of their stipulated terms only to ensure that the funds meant for the councils remain at its disposal. If the term of any such council expires, the government will go for formation of an ad hoc council in collusion with some corrupt lot among the council members in order to drain out the funds. This is not a difficult task for any government in Assam where the rot is in the very system of governance. There are some communities in the State that have been demanding elections to their autonomous councils whose terms expired long back. The communities had first started their agitation to get their demand for an autonomous council fulfilled, and even after getting the demand met they have to continue their agitation as Dispur bothers the least to hold election to the councils on time.

Even if everything is met, Dispur will turn a troublemaker by punching holes in the community set-up that always has one or the other grey areas. This is a common phenomenon in Assam that when an executive committee of such a council is from the opposition party or parties, Dispur will be on the lookout for one pretext or the other to dissolve the council. This practice serves at least two purposes of Dispur - to get the House in its favour and to be at the helm of affairs of the funds.

Now, if I come to the conclusion that the BMDC is awaited by such a fate, the audience (readers) will have every reason to brand me as a pessimist which I, for obvious reason, do not want to be. What I have portrayed so far in this essay is just one side of the ground reality. On the other side, the major players are the selected few who lead a community from the front. Since ten or more members in a 15-member council like the BMDC are from the community itself, they can enjoy the leverage to turn everything in their disposal in favour of the welfare of the community. This is possible only if the executive members and the Chief Executive Member (CEM) are honest and committed to the development of the community that they represent. However, if any of them or majority of them happen to be unscrupulous, the council may harm the community for years and on since it has been a proven fact that Assam is a fertile ground where most of the political ailments can thrive and become chronic ones with well organized networks to squeeze the State exchequer.

However, it is not impossible to prevent such wrongdoings from happening. Here comes the crucial role to be played by various social organizations like the NBMM, the Nikhil Bishnupriya Manipuri Students' Union (NBMSU), the Bishnupriya Manipuri Yuba Parishad (BMYP), the Samaj Sanstha and the like, besides an ever vigilant media. Such organizations, for the wellbeing of a community, should strictly maintain their apolitical character. In the event of any leaders of such organizations like to enter active politics the persons concerned should be at the liberty of doing so but only after tendering their resignation as members or leaders of the organizations they belong to.

Does the NBMM, considered to the apex body of the community and the launch-pad of the BMDC, have any vision documents containing goals and targets for the BMDC to achieve? If there is any, it's well and good. If there isn't any, it's too late. The NBMM should race against time to have a well-thought vision so as to make the BMDC propulsion a target-oriented one.

If the Bishnupriya Manipuri is to pay tribute to Gokulananda Gitiswami, it should first set its house in order so as to make it possible to utilize the aid that will keep coming to the BMDC to their fullest extent for the welfare of the community. What else can be more befitting a tribute to the alternative media mogul than translating his dream into a reality, belatedly though?

(On the occasion of the birth anniversary of Gokulananda Gitiswami)
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