Citizenship, connectivity, poor infrastructure, unemployment, key issues in Barak Valley

Silchar/Karimganj (Assam), Apr 23 (PTI) Citizenship, unemployment, poor infrastructure and lack of proper connectivity with the rest of the country are the major issues being highlighted by candidates contesting in the two Lok Sabha constituencies – Silchar (SC) and Karimganj – in Assam’s Barak Valley, bordering Bangladesh.

Thirty-two candidates are in the fray in the two Lok Sabha constituencies in Barak Valley which will go to the polls on April 26.

In these two constituencies in the valley, which gets its name from River Barak, the ruling BJP first made inroads winning both seats in 1991 and 1996 when the party had practically no organisational base in the state.

In Silchar, the contest is likely to be among BJP’s candidate and Assam minister Parimal Suklabaidya, Congress’s Surya Kanta Sarkar and AITC’s Radheyshyam Biswas, a former AIUDF MP from neighbouring Karimganj. In Karimganj, a close contest is expected between BJP’s sitting MP Kripanath Malla, Congress candidate Hafiz Ahmed Rashid Choudhury and AIUDF’s Sahabul Islam Choudhury.

The delimitation exercise in the state last year will play a crucial role in the polls in the Barak Valley with the Scheduled Caste (SC) status of Karimganj, having a predominantly minority electorate, being removed and added to Silchar.

The number of assembly segments in Karimganj has been reduced from eight to five with some constituencies merged together but Silchar, with a mixed but majority Hindu voters, has its earlier seven segments.

In both the constituencies, with a 129 km long border with Bangladesh, citizenship is a major issue, as there is a sizeable population of Hindu Bengalis, displaced from the neighbouring country who entered the valley over a period of time.

BJP’s Silchar candidate Parimal Suklabaidya told PTI that the citizenship problem was created due to the partition of the country and no political party took any step to solve it for 70 years but it was the BJP that took steps to bring a law which will help people who have come to Barak Valley from then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).

”It is true that some people are finding it difficult to apply online and there are issues related to submission of documents but Union Home Minister Amit Shah has been apprised of the matter. He has assured that the process will be simplified after the Model Code of Conduct is lifted”, the BJP leader said.

His Congress rival Surya Kanta Sarkar told PTI that most of the people of Barak Valley were initially in favour of CAA because the displaced people believed that it will help them as with citizenship they will not need any other document.

”The rules in the CAA are now like a trap as whoever applies for citizenship directly is established as a Bangladeshi and so far only one person in Barak Valley has applied and if the law is so good as BJP claims, then why are people not applying under it. People have realised that they have been betrayed”, Sarkar alleged.

Connectivity with the rest of Assam and the country has also been a major issue in the valley and the BJP candidates of both constituencies claim it has been almost resolved with the East-West Corridor nearing completion.

The opposition parties alleged that though Prime Minister Narendra Modi had promised in 2014 that it will be completed soon but even after 10 years, the progress has been more than “unsatisfactory” and with the present status, it will take another five to six years to be completed.

”We have to go through Meghalaya to reach the state capital and the condition of the road is in a pathetic condition. This creates a lot of problems for the people of Barak Valley and many developmental and other related works get delayed”, Trinamool Congress Silchar candidate Radheyshyam Biswas said.

BJP’s Karimganj candidate Kripanath Malla claimed that during the last 10 years of BJP rule at the Centre, a lot of development, particularly related to infrastructure, has taken place but ”this is a continuous process and more projects will be implemented in Barak Valley when Narendra Modi becomes the Prime Minister for the third consecutive term”.

His rival Sahabul Islam Choudhury of the AIUDF, however, alleged that infrastructural development in the Barak Valley has been almost negligible as compared to the other parts of Assam and the mini-secretariat promised by the state government is also yet to become functional.

The roads are in a pathetic condition and there is only one airport at Silchar whose infrastructure also needs to be upgraded.

Unemployment issue is also a major concern that is being highlighted by the candidates as many youth have to migrate to other cities for jobs with the opposition highlighting the closure of the only industry, the Cachar Paper Mills, leading to large-scale unemployment of the workers.

Suklabaidya, however, pointed out that the government is also planning to set up a large industry or a group of small industries on its land either on its own or in PPP mode which will provide employment to the youth of the Barak Valley who usually have to go outside for employment.