Nobody’s Agenda     

Car on bad road

By bappaditya paul

BARAK Valley, the hub of Bengalis in Assam, was very tense this September.

Recovery of a buffalo horn in a temple near Silchar had caused communal tension in the three districts Valley that has near equal share of Hindu and Muslim populations.

BJP, still riding on the fast diminishing Modi Wave in that part of the world, was quick to act and en cash on the crisis by whipping up the Hindu sentiments.

It organised a bandh in Barak Valley on 29 September over administration’s alleged failure to act against the “desecration of the temple by Muslim mischief makers”. That was preceded by torching of vehicles and sporadic clashes in Silchar streets on 25-26 September in the immediate aftermath of the “desecration.”

Understandably, the offspring of Barak Valley, living away from home for bread or education etc, were all very worried. Because, when compared to the glitz and glamour of mainland India, they know, peace is the only treasure Barak Valley has.

You talk to people back home in Silchar, Karimganj or Hailakandi and most are apprehensive that in the run up to the Assam Assembly elections next year, such communal tension will rise.

BJP, in particular, is ever active to “awaken the dormant Hindu masses” over even a petty crime or road accident involving a Muslim. This could well be a strategy of the saffron party to galvanise support against the Congress. After all, going by the pervert adage ~ all is fair in love and war!

Yet, the question that bothers is, does the BJP really need to bank on Hindu “sentiments and pride” to throw out the Tarun Gogoi government in Assam? The answer simply lies in the roads most travelled, quite literally.

The roads in entire Barak Valley nowadays are such a hell that it will make people in Bihar feel proud over the potholed roads that they had to endure till 2008-09. This is true not only to the state roads; the condition of at least two National Highways passing through Barak Valley is nothing but a shame on India.

Bad Road

Take for example the Silchar – Imphal National Highway that runs from Badarpurghat to Jirighat in Assam’s territory. In literal terms, no road is left of this 74 km stretch; it is rather the amalgamation of hundreds of potholes.

The scene is same, or may be even worse, as regards the Silchar – Agartala highway via Karimganj. Assam portion of this highway runs from Malidhar on the Meghalaya border to Churaibari on Tripura border.

In contrast to the hellish state of the these two arterial roads, the condition of the Silchar – Aizwal, Doboka – Silchar (via Halflong) and Dhaleswar – Bhairabi  (via Hailakandi) National Highways are way better, albeit barring some select stretch.

The mystery behind this can be unraveled by some really easy statistics!

Of the 40 km stretch of Silchar – Aizwal highway that falls in Assam, 37 km is maintained by the Border Roads Organisation of the Centre and only 03 odd km rests with the Assam Public Works Department (National Highway division).

Thus it’s no wonder that the initial few km from Silchar to Aizwal is hell. The remaining major portion of the road is smooth, albeit it might not be at par with the metaphor Lalu Prasad once used involving Hema Malini.

As regards the 277 km Doboka – Silchar (via Halflong) highway: 246 km is with the National Highway Authority of India and only 31 km is with the Assam PWD (NH division). Most of the 31 km stretch that lies with the Assam PWD is in shambles.

The 89 km Dhaleswar – Bhairabi (via Hailakandi) National Highway is entirely under the Assam PWD. But it is in better shape and people give credit for this to the foul-mouthed Assam Congress minister Gautam Roy.

When it comes to the Assam portion of Silchar – Imphal National Highway, the entire 74 km stretch was brought under the Assam PWD (NH division) since 2007. The case is same as regards the 111 km Assam portion of the Silchar – Agartala highway via Karimganj. To say the least, these two roads are hell!

Yet, one would be shocked to find that this is a non issue for the Opposition political parties back there ~ be it the BJP or the All India United Democratic Front (AIDUF) led by perfume baron and Lok Sabha MP Badruddin Ajmal. Ironically, for the AIUDF, Barak Valley is a strong base and it even has a MP from Karimganj and a MLA from Katigora.

This is perhaps because, to make the hellish road condition an issue against Assam’s Congress government, the BJP and AIUDF would be required to do some homework and spend more energy than they are used to. And even after this, the dividend in elections will be uncertain as compared to the time-tested Hindu-Muslim narrative.

POST SCRIPT: A caveat is imperative here for the sons and daughters of Barak Valley living outside: please avoid visiting your homeland until the 2016 Assam poll nears and Tarun Gogoi government had carried out some patchwork on whatever is left of the roads in Barak Valley. Else, you run the risk of losing the longing for going back to your roots ever again!

Instead sit back in Delhi, Bangalore or Kolkata and watch Congress Silchar Lok Sabha MP Sushmita Dev discuss national issues on NDTV and Times Now, and take pride in the fact that someone from your backward land has got this opportunity. But please, don’t expect her to talk about bad roads back home: after all the bar of a LLM from King’s College London is much above the mundane roads!

Also, do give a like to the photograph on Facebook of Badruddin Ajmal feeding bananas to stray cows in Mumbai at a time when the intolerance debate is very hot in the country.

And if you don’t hear much about the BJP Silchar MLA Dilip Pal, rest assured, he is busy holding Hindu Jagaran Rallies to deter the desecration of any more temples in Barak Valley.

(Bappaditya Paul is editor, NEWSMEN. This report first appeared in NEWSMEN on 29 November 2015.)

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