Polling for the 15th Assam assembly election began on March 27, 2021, in 47 constituencies, sealing the futures of 264 candidates.
The 15th Assam assembly election is divided into three phases, and the second and third phases are scheduled for April 1 and 6, respectively. The Election Commission of India (ECI) will declare the results on May 2.
The people would determine the tussle between the parties for gaining control of Dispur, and they would vote for that party whose “poll promises” they liked the most or whose election manifesto impressed them largely.
Most of us do not read the election manifestos apart from a select few, even though we are aware of their contents.
From several freebies to guaranteed jobs, the parties have addressed various issues and made “promises” galore.
However, at this juncture, I have a question: are these the only issues that need to be addressed during elections, or did the political parties miss out on a few other important issues?
The silence of all the parties on three burning issues has taken me by surprise, making me wonder if (at all) the parties and our future leaders are futuristic and visionaries.
The first issue, I strongly feel, that should have found a place in one of the manifestos is the issue of climate change and environmental pollution.
Why do I feel climate change should be a strong poll issue, as we are all affected by it, irrespective of caste, creed, religion, or political affinity?
It is important to know what these parties and our future leaders think about climate change and environmental pollution.
Our leaders speak at summits and conferences and tell us how to fight climate change and pollution. Then why is it not reflected in their election manifestos, or why is it not made a poll issue?
There are environmental laws and laws against pollution. But these are being flouted by the people in authority themselves, “said Mriganka Das of Fridays For Future, Guwahati.
“These laws, in their current form, do not save the environment. The laws are insufficient and don’t cover everything that is going on right now," he added.
Suppose any political party was serious about fighting environmental pollution? In that case, the first thing they would have done, in my opinion, is to do away with banners and posters, which mainly escalate the plastic pollution.
If we visit a playground right after a political rally gets over, we will find empty water bottles, polythene bags, banners, and posters, which are some of the major pollutants.
Can’t the political parties do something regarding this? Or am I expecting too much here?
The second most important issue, which I feel should have been a poll issue and made its way into the manifestos, is about the LGBTQ+ community.
None of the political parties has said anything about the LGBTQ+ community, and we don’t know their stand on the issue.
Even though the Supreme Court of India has decriminalised Section 377 of the IPC, according to which consensual sexual activity between two adults of the same gender isn’t a crime and that people belonging to the LGBTQ+ community have equal rights as others, as a society, we are yet to accept them.
Even though “The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019” was passed by the Parliament in 2019, people often mock the trans community.
What do our leaders and parties have in store for these people? Why don’t they speak about them in their election manifestos? If they can speak and lure other genders, why not them?
“Whoever comes to power, they should at least consider queer issues, if not make them an agenda,” said Guwahati-based LGBTQ+ activist Shivlal Gautam.
Some leaders and parties sometimes give a tokenistic statement; however, they don’t get implemented on the ground. And some governments are directly against the community,” he added.
“There should be a state-run shelter home for the community people who don’t have a place to live, as it is not at all in our or anyone’s capacity to run a shelter home all on their own. There are many issues which can be fixed and taken care of only by the government,” he added.
People from the community are voters, and their votes count as well. Hence, I feel the parties must address their issues, and by address, I do not mean the mere mention in the manifestos, but proper implementation.
The third issue that I strongly feel should find a space in the election manifestos is child rights.
“The political parties mostly ignore children and their rights as they don’t vote and, as they don’t vote, their voices are ignored, “said UTSAH executive director Miguel Das Queah.
“There are many issues surrounding children, from child sexual abuse to infant mortality rate, and the numbers are only increasing,” he further said.
“A different narrative can be created, and the political parties must march ahead, working and planning on these issues,” he added.
“However, only writing about them in the poll and election manifestos won’t work. These should be implemented on the ground,” Queah further said.
In November 2020, around 4,000 children from 40 organisations released a manifesto listing their problems so that political parties would include them in their manifestos for the 2021 assembly elections.
Children from 17 districts prepared the document, hoping that policymakers would hear their issues.
The charter of demands included protection from violence in all forms, access to affordable healthcare and nutritious food, no discrimination based on class, caste, gender, religion or other grounds, and quality and affordable education for all children.
Some of the other demands include adequate resources for improving educational institutions’ infrastructure and human resources; safe drinking water and proper sanitation for all families across Assam; and safe spaces for children to play, prosper, and grow.
The charter also demanded respect for the rights of the differently abled and active measures to ensure that they are provided with adequate rehabilitative and social support to live a dignified life.
One must remember that children are the future electors and decision-makers, their opinions and recommendations are also important, and political parties must heed their demands.
I know that writing these lines at this juncture won’t impact the outcome of the Assam election of 2021. However, I hope that these three issues will be looked at closely in future elections.
Partha Prawal (Goswami) is a Guwahati-based journalist who loves to write about entertainment, sports, and social and civic issues among others. He is also a published author.