In 2016, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) rode to power in Assam promising, among other things, to address the key issue of illegal foreign migrants in the state. Five years later, it is seeking a re-election, launching a high-octane sales pitch of its welfare schemes as also its record on economic management.
If one were to plot Assam’s gross state domestic product (GSDP) growth rates against the national line, there is a distinct pattern that is noticeable (see chart).
The gradient or the slope or the national GDP growth rate is downward, while Assam’s curve moves upwards. This trend persists since 2016-17, a year after Sarbananda Sonowal assumed office as the Chief Minister in an audacious display of political accomplishment ending a 15-year reign of the Congress party.
Seen in isolation this data trend should be a matter of trophy showcasing by the state government. There’s an elephant in the room, however, that the state macro growth data seems to be masking: unemployment.
According to the Periodic Labour Force Survey 2017-18, Assam has an unemployment rate of 8.1 per cent, which is higher than the all-India unemployment rate of 6.1 per cent. The female unemployment rate in Assam is 13.9 per cent, which is much higher than the all-India female unemployment rate of 5.7 per cent.
Over the last three years Assam has hit headlines in the national mainstream media for two reasons: the national register for citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). The BJP’s reelection bid is based on the string of welfare schemes and also its claims about performance on infrastructure creation.
The government has also shown a degree of hurriedness in launching new schemes or expand existing ones months ahead of polls, demonstrative a welfare slog in the last few months of its current term.
Let’s examine a few of these.
`Orunodoi’ or `Arunodoi’: An income-support scheme launched in October 2020 that provides financial assistance of Rs. 830 per month through direct benefit transfer (DBT) to around 17 Lakh families in the state. Women being the primary caretakers of the family are kept as beneficiaries of the scheme.
The state government provides monthly financial assistance to the eligible beneficiaries for procuring medicines, pulses, and sugar. The medical and nutritional support has a consolidated inflow of Rs 830 per month to a family.
Entrepreneurship: Two lakh youth of the state has been targeted to be covered under the revised Swami Vivekananda Youth Empowerment Yojana to encourage youth to form entrepreneurial groups.
Under the scheme a seed capital of Rs 50,000 will be provided to each member of such groups to initiate entrepreneurial activities. Rs 1,000 crore has been allocated for this purpose. Entrepreneurship will be introduced as a curriculum subject from Class 11 onwards covering all students enrolled in three-year degree courses.
Free power: The state government has introduced the Jyotisman Asom scheme under Budget 2020-21 to provide free electricity to all households whose monthly electricity consumption is up to 30 units.
What has been the state’s record on infrastructure creation in the last four years? Let us examine a few statistics.
According to central government data, 929 kilometres of roads were built under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) in Assam in 2016-17. The pace of implementation nearly doubled in the following year with 1,618.63 kilometres of rural roads built under the scheme in 2017-18. Projects picked pace even more rapidly in the subsequent year, with 4295.49 kilometres of PMGSY roads built in the state in 2018-19, nearly triple the length achieved during the previous year. The speed dropped off in 2019-20 when 3646.73 kilometres of rural roads were built.
How has been the record of national highway construction in the last four years? The state added 302 kilometres, 323 kilometres and 203 kilometres of national highways in 2017-18, 2018-19 and 2019-20 respectively.
More than a third- or 1,011-kilometres of the 2,731 kilometres of highway constructed in the region between 2014 and 2019 were in Assam.
The BJP has faced the wrath of a wave of protests in Assam against the CAA as also a flawed NRC.
The BJP has so far steered clear of CAA in Assam (which does not find mention in its state election manifesto), but has promised to come out with a corrected NRC. The NRC was aimed at coming out with a credible list of bonafide citizens of India living in Assam.
The wounds of the anti-CAA protests that killed five people in 2019 and early last year are still fresh. The BJP, however, would be hoping that the welfare schemes, its development outreach towards ethnic communities as also its record on infrastructure projects will help assuage these feelings and keep its voter base intact.