The author is a senior Guwahati-based journalist. He’s a Chevening scholar and has worked with the Times of India, Indian Express, The Telegraph and Times Now television. He is the author of two books on the Northeast dealing with insurgency
Bijoya Chakravarty, the BJP MP and former NDA minister, had won from the prestigious Guwahati Lok Sabha Seat for the third time in 2014. An interplay of many factors has ensured the repeated victory for Chakravarty from Guwahati, the biggest city of, and the gateway to, the Northeast.
Chakravarty jumped from the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) to the BJP in 1992. She realised correctly the dim chances of a comeback by the regional party after it had failed to fulfill its promise of detecting and deporting illegal Bangladeshi migrants. But like the other candidates during the elections, Chakravarty had also committed to put an end to many woes afflicting the constituency. Flash floods in the city and river bank erosion at some places like Palasbari figured prominently in her speeches ahead of the general elections in 2014. She said that a “holistic solution” to the twin menaces would be found at the earliest. She also promised that she would focus on resolving the crisis of water supply and the influx of illegal migrants.
Chakravarty contested against 18 candidates in the fray that included former Assam cabinet minister Akon Bora’s son Manash Bora as the Congress candidate, and AGP heavyweight and former union minister Birendra Prasad Baishya. She won with a handsome margin by polling 7,64,985 votes (50.59 per cent) out of total of 15,11,729 in the constituency that recorded a turnout of 74 per cent.
However, many functionaries from the other parties had little admiration for her when asked about the fulfillment of the promises she had made ahead of the polls. Manash Bora said, “In the last three years after coming to power, Chakravarty has done nothing to mitigate either flash floods or erosion. They continue to be the biggest problems of the constituency. This year itself, more than four lives were lost due to flash flood related incidents.”
In the same vein, the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) candidate Gopi Nath Das, who contested in the election, said, “Regular water supply still remains a far cry for the residents in her constituency. Several water projects that were supposed to be completed by now still remain pending. The groundwater quality in the outskirts of the city within her constituency also leaves much to be desired, as evidence of arsenic and flouride contamination have also now been found in some villages. Most surprisingly, the MP had not even once raised these issues in the Parliament.”
As per the Member of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS), all the MPs were given Rs 20 crore of fund for development schemes in their respective constituencies. Chakravarty had received 17.50 crore for the current term, and had demonstrated high utilisation of the corpus at 91.28 per cent. Explaining the allocation of funds, Chakravarty says, “I had recommended several MPLADS works with preference to certain sectors, including drinking water facility, education, health, sanitation, irrigation and roads. Following the recommendation, the district administration had very efficiently sanctioned the work and implementation. Most of the funds were released for payment under the MGNREGA scheme.”
These allegations and arguments notwithstanding, there is a mixed response on the MP’s performance from different sections of people in the constituency. Diverse views are found to be articulated with equal verve. Some people who have appreciated her efforts are, however, concerned over the problems in Guwahati that have lingered for the past several decades. A retired government employee, Bokul Chandra Das, underscored the incomplete projects in the city and made a case for intervention by Chakravarty.
A resident of Paltan Bazar, who identified himself as Banwarilal Sahu, is of the opinion that the BJP-led government in Assam has already begun to initiate steps for resolving the crisis in the city. “Our MP is proactive and has drawn the attention of the government to issues existing in the different localities of the city. But expectations must be realistic. It is irrational to hope for drastic changes in a brief span.”
The MP admitted that some projects were progressing at a slow pace. She explained that projects had to be conceived and implemented without hampering the fragile ecosystem of the city. “Flash flood and erosion are due to the unplanned growth and expansion of the city. We are keeping track of all developments with the schemes. The delay has been caused by genuine reasons, but we are hopeful of positive changes soon,” Chakravarty said, citing the example of the recently inaugurated bridge at Saraighat over the Brahmaputra river which had been hanging fire for many years during the previous regimes of the UPA.
Chakravarty, however, has had a low attendance in the Parliament sessions. She clocked 74 per cent attendance, which is lower than the national average of 86 per cent and the state average of 75 per cent. She is also lagging behind in terms of participating in debates and raising questions in the Parliament. While the national and state average of participating in debates is 54 and 40 respectively, Chakravarty’s records reveal only 27 per cent. In terms of raising questions in Parliament: she raised only 38, whereas the national average is 215 and the state average is 119. This year, so far, she has raised three questions on the enrolment of Aadhaar Card, development of Bird Sanctuary and air connectivity in the Northeast.
Under the Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojana (SAGY), Chakravarty had selected Palasbari in Kamrup district for the project. But some residents of the village, located about 28 kms west of Guwahati, said that the village has not witnessed changes even after being included in the scheme by the MP as an “ideal village”. They claimed that several developmental works were announced which were yet to be implemented.
“The civil hospital was supposed to be made a state of the art facility. New modal schools were supposed to be set up here. The roads were supposed to be made two lanes. None of these have started yet,” Dhiraj Saikia, a journalist in Palasbari said.
One of the most perennial problems in the village is that of erosion, which has been similar to the situation in Majuli and some villages in central Assam. Saikia informed that during the last rainy season, an anti-erosion infrastructure constructed in 1985-86, which was considered as the lifeline of thousands of families in Palasbari, was on the verge of being eroded away by the Brahmaputra.
Of course, the MP has a different version about the slow pace of work under the scheme. She said: “It takes some time to begin and implement the government projects. Work will definitely start in Palasbari once funds are released. Regarding erosion, I have raised the issue before all the concerned departments and I plan to raise this issue in Parliament in the coming session.” Chakravarty’s tryst with politics began with the Janata Party in the 1970s and subsequently with the regional Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) that was formed in the aftermath of the Assam Accord (1985). She was a member of the Rajya Sabha from 1986 to 1992 as an AGP candidate. After the stint in the upper house, she joined the BJP and was made a union minister of state in 1999 when the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) came to power. In the 2004 polls, the BJP chose to nominate legendary singer-composer Bhupen Hazarika for Guwahati but the party lost the seat and the Congress returned. The BJP was quick to realise the mistake and renominated Chakravarty in the 2009 general elections in which she won with a huge margin.
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