Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Regionalism is about being conscious, responsible and taking ownership.

If I exclaim, "I love Assam", it may sound jingoistic, but it is actually about being conscious, responsible and taking ownership of Assam in my personal and social capacity.

In one of my FB post which said, "Oil India Limited is a Navratna PSU with its operational headquarters in Duliajan, Assam. It pumps out crude oil of Assam. In 2013-14, it paid Rs. 1786 crs to Assam state exchequer whereas it paid more than double, Rs 4154 crs to the Central Govt. Is that acceptable?", I had received two comments which prompted me to write this blog piece.

One comment read, "Yes it is. Did the state govt. provide any logistical or administrative support to the organization when required? apart from staging protests and halting the functionality of the organization for week thereby contributing to the loss of the company and nation at large, what is the role of the state? the company is only sought when the state requires money for any event or institution. what about all other CSR activities? Resources are always a property of the nation, not state. This regional approach is never justified. I have a single question, what is the state contribution for upliftment of the company till date?"

The other comment read, "Lets put it in a different region. Mumbai pays more income tax than any other region in India. Does it make sense that it has dirtiest streets, narrowest roads?"

Let me take this discussion in points to create a context for the debate and for easy understanding of what I would like to convey. 

1st Point

History is written; and policies are made or influenced by the powerful and the rich. To be powerful and rich, there are external and internal factors. Let me define external factors as location, resources, climate etc and luck. Let internal factors be the people, its culture, its traditions and traits. 

It is pure luck that Gujarat, West Bengal, Maharashtra etc had external factors like ports (sea face) which led to intense social and business interactions that normally leads to development. It is pure luck for Bengal that British decided to make Calcutta the Capital of India for 150 years and developed a small fishing village into a bustling city. In a letter to the Earl of Crewe, Secretary of State for India, Hardinge pointed out that it has "long been recognized to be a serious anomaly that the British governed India from Calcutta, located on the eastern extremity of its Indian possessions." Similarly, it was fate that they shifted the capital to Delhi and which made North India the political power centre after the Independence of India. 

In contrast, it was bad luck that Burmese army plundered, looted, killed and raped Assamese women at a time when the 600 year old Ahom Kingdom was at its weakest point. According to Hindu mythology, 12 years is a 'Yug'. Assam had the most tragic and destructive yug between 1814-1826. It was a period of complete mayhem and destruction of not only properties but the confidence of the Assamese people. Assam had become a land of corpse - a massive funeral ground. The population in 1826 was less than one-third of the population in 1766. The confidence was further shattered by the Britishers bringing in large population of Bengali officers. The official language of Assam became Bengali for around 4 to 5 decades. To make matters worse, Assam and the NE became part of Indian Union after independence, and it effectively made Assam a remote part of India in one far corner next to China. Geographically it became challenged in terms of the power centre being in Delhi. The confidence that broke during the dark 'yug' was further trampled during the British rule. It never got the chance to rebuild in the Independent India.

Lot of us blame the internal factors like lack of leaders, lazy character, 'kekura mentality' etc. for the current state of Assam, and we don't bother to look at the external factors and history. 

To cut it short, Assam has gone through tremendous tough times, and it will take at least a few more decades to come back to track. Effectively and obviously therefore, history and policies are not written in favour of the people of Assam. There are umpteen instances of exploitative decisions and non-decisions that have continuously pushed Assam backwards. Be it the tea industry which had the auction centre in Calcutta, the Oil industry which supplied sweet crude to Barauni refinery, the non-existing petrochemical industry inspite of being the first region to discover crude oil, the education sector which could establish only 25 institutes when Andhra Pradesh could establish over 800 institutes, the fisheries industry which imports fish when we are ourselves rich in water bodies and the agriculture sector which has failed to leverage the tropical climate of Assam that produces joha rice, different citrus fruits and many other export friendly crops.

2nd Point

Depression is a vicious cycle, as we have seen in the Great Depression of 1930s. Lack of growth leads to lack of opportunities which leads to lack of growth. Lack of opportunities lead to a lot of socio-political and economic evils. Extremism and 'chanda' culture are two of those evils. If Assam had a petro-chemical economy, or an industry in every small town, we wont have had those two evils. 

Even popular media acts as a stimulant to depression. It thrives on negative news. Instead of analyzing the reason behind the closure of the BigBazaar store in Tinsukia, it will declare that the reason is excessive ransom and 'chanda'. I wonder if Assam knows that Big Bazaar stores were shut at Bangalore, Kharghar, Sangli, Ujjain, Pune, Kolkata, Gwalior, Jabalpur, Indore and Ludhiana, along with the Tinsukia store in the same year. Kolkata is a small high volume trading hub and everything under the sun is already available in near whole-sale prices in walkable distances. It is like one mega Big Bazaar. Big Bazaar therefore couldn't offer any solid reason - USP for its existence.

Corruption is another bi-product of depression. Any region with signs of depression has debilitating corruption. There are lot of factors in a depressed economy which leads to corrupt ways to benefit for livelihood. 

So, it is crucial that we understand that Assam is going through depressionary forces and we all have lot of responsibility while loving Assam.

3rd Point

The development and livelihood of a village or a set of villages with common traits (or Assam) depends on the natural resources in the region, the skills required to utilize the same natural resources. Trading of those goods and services with other regions and villages comes later. Secondly, the environmental and social impact of utilizing natural resources directly falls on the community around the natural resource. Therefore, it has been debated and agreed in various forums that the ownership of natural resources is with the community and the people living in the region where the natural resource is present, and not with the state. 

Although there is no comprehensive legislation in the Indian constitution defining natural resources and its protection, the Supreme Court on its 2G spectrum case said, "Natural resources belong to the people but the state legally owns them on behalf of its people".

Legality is nothing but some rules made by the people with decision making powers and hence can be changed. Across the globe, a similar stand is maintained that natural resources belong to the community, and decision making should be decentralized. So the first right of use and of benefit of natural resources should lie with the community. The taxes and revenues should primarily go to the state government. We may in fact think about community level administrative units and budgeting conditions where the primary benefit goes back to the bank accounts of the communities which have natural resources.

Let me give an exploitative instance to prove how important it is to have ownership and knowledge about our own natural resources. In 1948, the centre sold a metric tonne of Assam's crude oil at Rs. 1382/-, of which Assam received Rs. 61/- only as royalty. As taxes, the central government received Rs. 532 and gave Assam Rs. 131 out of it !!

4th Point

Oil India Ltd. is a Navratna PSU and the Government of India owns 68% of the shared capital. Owning it constitutionally is the only contribution of the central Government. It is a Navratna because of its employees and the location of its operations. Nano plant could not survive in West Bengal, but Oil India has flourished in Duliajan, Assam. The state Government has no role to play, or to contribute apart from giving land and have a favored policy environment. Both these functions are being done by the state without hassle. OIL is not a charity organization for whom Assam state government should have a budget allocation. Also, there is no logic in saying that the state stages protests! The protests, if any are staged by various labour unions and other socio-political organizations which the state machinery helps control and mitigate. It is not a unique phenomenon in Assam, as is evident from the Nano example.

In terms of community work, every company has a budget for community work. Even private companies like TATA and Mahindra have a budget for CSR work. So OIL providing for its community is a mandated budgetary provision applicable to all companies. It is irrespective of where the company is located. So the standard of living in and around Duliajan, Bongaigaon, Numaligarh etc. are better than the other parts in Assam. Imagine if Assam had more such industries... if Assam had at least, enough refineries to refine its own crude oil production?

5th Point

I am too tiny to really worry about Mumbai whether it has development spends commensurate with its tax contributions to the central government. The small fact is that the Bombay Municipality budget is around 28000 crores and perhaps the highest in the country for any municipality.

My major worry is the polarized development centered around Mumbai and the metros creating a devastating brain drain from the other states of the country. The present day brain drain from Assam to these metros is perhaps more devastating the Burmese plunder and British rule. The Brits created industries, jobs and an economy in Assam that brought in migrant labours to Assam, primarily the Bengali and the Maruwari population. For sure, the qualified local Assamese also got benefitted then. Today, the trend is reversed. There is no job creation that is happening in Assam anymore. Many public sector undertakings have closed down, and private enterprises are too few and far between.

6th Point

If British rulers could see opportunities in Assam, why can't we? They created a cash crop (tea) and two mineral industries (coal and oil). It is been almost 7 decades that we have not created another cash crop, another industry, another trade opportunity. For instance, Assam is considered the home of citrus fruits and especially robab tenga (pomello) and can easily become an export hub. Assam can be a bamboo hub, a rice hub, a food processing hub, a tourism hub and many more such hubs. But we are a far away state in one remote corner invisible to the central government for development. So it is obvious that we are being exploited of whatever industries British had shown the potential for. Over two-thirds of the Assam's oil production was refined outside of the state, depriving the state of crores of rupees as revenues and taxes. Natural gas is one of the bi-product of oil exploration and Britishers had not developed any industry to use this natural gas. Quite obviously the central government has also not cared to develop any use of the same. As per 1992-93 data, 56% of the natural gas was flared off. We wasted over Rs. 30 lakhs worth of natural gas everyday.


Enough has been written about exploitation of inconsequential states like Assam by the Central Govt. and there is no guarantee that exploitation wont continue in the Modi regime. There is a huge task for every Assamese and for everyone who love Assam. The first responsibility is to read Assam's history and Assam's wealth to understand the current state of affairs without really referring to popular media. The second responsibility is to share the knowledge and help Assam know the real problems. The third responsibility is to try to find solutions in our individual capacities.

Regionalism is not about secessionist agenda. Regionalism is about being aware of our region, its people, its natural resources, its skills, its culture and is about a passion and dedication to help develop the region.

Let us all love Assam and bring back its glory days in the world map. One day, Assam will be a developed state known in the world politics and economy.


  1. This was by far one of the best blogs I have read. I could relate to it heart and soul. Ever since I left Assam to find jobs elsewhere I have always felt the need to know more about the history and the geopolitical situation that drives our economy and most importantly to come back home. Thank you so much.

  2. Thank you Dimpy. Sorry for my late response.


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