The debilitating floods in Assam have so far crippled the lives of 4.8 million people in the state, with 34 out of 35 districts severely flooded. As of 25th June 2022, casualties have been reported to be at 118, with 100 people losing their lives to the floods and 18 to landslides. The towns of Silchar and Cachar districts have been submerged under water since the beginning of the deluge. While the situation calls for effective responses, timely rescue and well-planned rehabilitation of the affected, the heads of the elected representatives from the state were busy handling a political impasse in Maharashtra that has caught the ruling party and the others on fire alike.
The zest to retain and reclaim power had spiralled all the way from Mumbai to Guwahati with 38 MLAs and Eknath Shinde, the minister of Urban Development and Public Works, camping at the Radisson Blu hotel in the state capital of Assam. Through the national media, people saw the Chief Minister of Assam, Himanta Biswa Sharma, visiting the MLAs at their camps while turning a blind eye to his drowning state. It was only after a row of criticism from the opposition and clarity of issues of the rebel MLAs later that there was direct political intervention from the cabinet in the flood matter.
The incessant interest of people with power in matters concerning their parties for political gain is a very common phenomenon that is rarely discussed. The politics of prioritisation can go to such an extent that they tend to sideline the responsibilities bestowed on the elected representatives by the constitution. This is what happened in Assam as well.
The events in Maharashtra can be traced back to the formation of the ill-cobbled alliance between Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress in 2019, which entered a zone of uncertainty beginning with the BJP’s victory over 5 out of 10 seats in the Maharashtra legislative council polls with an alleged cross-voting by 12 Shiv Sena MLAs in favour of BJP led by Fadnavis. Since then, the country saw the flocking of 38 MLAs under Eknath Shinde to the state capital of Assam. It had now led to the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Uddhav Thackerey resigning from his post before the floor test that was scheduled for 30th June 2022.
The political agenda behind camping the rebel MLAs under the safe haven of Himanta Biswa was to retain their support in the assembly, ensuring no MLA falls off their cluster. Adhering to their expectations, the Shiv Sena — BJP faction was able to show their majority as well.
The mastermind behind the saffronisation of most of the northeast, Himanta Biswa Sharma is known for his political sagacity. He has played a significant role in fashioning the elections in the northeast, including Tripura. This astute politician did not fail in delivering Maharashtra to the saffron hands either. Himanta Biswa, along with Ashoka Singhla, has been visiting the Radisson Blu Hotel in Guwahati a few times now, meeting the MLAs supporting Eknath Shinde.
While all these are part of the larger political games that are inevitable in a democracy like India, it is important to look at the emerging discourse of power that dangerously prioritise personal political gains over social responsibility. In India, the source of all political power emerges from the general public and their vote. There is thus a responsibility that each elected representative exercising power on behalf of the citizens needs to uphold and deliver, which is often not the case.
While there are age-old disputes on the nature of power, the fact that holding on to power has the ability to affect change remains. When it comes to the political scenario in India, this power, in a larger context, comes from the ability to make or break a government. If such a power is weaved into a single person’s hand, the priorities shift from public to personal.
The utmost attention to detail for the events in Maharashtra while one’s own state is literally drowning points out the unending quest for power and fortune. The attempts to portray the entire course of the event as politically innocuous have been rampant. However, the CM’s statement that the Shiv Sena revolt helped highlight the Assam floods in the national media made the intentions and priorities clear.
In view of the Biswas’s evident concern over the matters of Shiv Sena, he had received a lot of criticism. The CM has chided away these arguments by stating that he went to see them due to personal relations and that he sees them as tourists. He had also said that the government is giving relief to the flood-affected people in every way possible. However, the budget allocation for the years 2021-2022 tells a different story, with the fund allocated for irrigation and flood control dipping from 3,748 Crores in 2019 to 2778 Crores in 2022 with no special allocation for relief measures.
In addition to that, as the chairperson of the State Disaster Management Authority, the Chief Minister did not visit the places affected by flood in person for a long time while being extensively involved in the hospitality of the MLAs from Maharashtra. It has received heavy criticism from the residents of the affected areas. When politics of power out crowds the needs of the society, a rift between the citizens and the elected representatives develops. The people have expressed their dismay over the negligence shown by the concerned authorities.
It is the prioritisation of the exercise of power that is in question here. The motivation behind the attitude that leads a person to be the Chanakya of a political party has a lot of futuristic personal undertones. There is absolutely no doubt in the political fortunes that this mentoring and mapping out will give him.
The Chief Minister has shown his knack for breaking and making political deadlocks earlier in Tripura, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh as well. While it is a case of excellent political craftsmanship, the way in which elected representatives were focused on guarding the MLAs while people were drowning in their own state was an act of irresponsibility and selfishness. At a time when the head of the government should have exercised his real executive authority, we saw petty political interventions being prioritised for maintaining power and control.
The way political action unfurled in Mumbai and Guwahati are not isolated events. Now, a new government has been formed in Maharashtra under the leadership of Eknath Shinde, and Himanta Biswa Sharma has visited some of the flood-affected regions. However, it is important to note, be aware and respond to the power dynamics that were at play during the course of events. At a time when the power of the government and an elected representative is used synonymously with the member of a party, the autonomy of democracy is shaken.
Featured image source: The Quint