Gopinath Bordoloi

Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi was the first, and only, man from the entire northeastern region of the country to be awarded the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award. The recognition, however, came half a century after his demise in August 1950. The delay in recognition was due to many obvious reasons like Assam being a far away place from the national capital with very weak information and communication facilities and also due to the indifferent perceptions and a general lack of understanding of the people of the region.

As a matter of fact it was only when the present Atal Bihari Vajpayee government came to power in New Delhi, and Lt. Gen (retd) S.K. Sinha took over as governor of Assam, that New Delhi began to think of giving national recognition to great leaders of the region like Gopinath Bordoloi, Lachit Borphukon and Mahapurush Sankaradeva. People of Assam, particularly the younger generation are more angry than pleased at such belated recognition. In the case of Bordoloi, the delay rankled even more, given that he was an architect of the Indian National Congress in Assam. If the central government is sincere in its efforts to tackle the root cause of insurgency in the North East, these matters should be sympathetically understood. Gopinath Bordoloi understood all this. An understanding which earned him the respect of Mahatma Gandhi - his political and spiritual mentor. Which is perhaps why Gandhi always stood by him, and supported his stand.

Bordoloi was the first Congress chief minister of the undivided state of Assam and was one of the key leaders who had taken an important role in opening up the North East for the Congress. However with the start of the Non-Cooperation Movement, jointly organised by the Indian National Congress and the All India Jamiat-ul-Ulema Hind against British rule in India, preparations were made by the public leaders of Assam including Lokpriya Bordoloi to wind up the Assam association in 1921. They requested its members to individually join the Indian National Congress and the Assam Provincial Congress Committtee was formally established in 1921 with Bordoloi elected as the secretary

Even when there was no formal Congress organisation in Assam, Assamese leaders including Tarun Ram Phookun, Nabin Chandra Bordoloi and Gopinath Bordoloi, took the opportunity of participating in several annual Congress conferences as delegates of Assam while taking advantage of their presence in Calcutta either as students, businessmen or professionals. Delegates from Assam had been participating from the 1886 Congress session.

Until then, the Assam association was the only political organisation in the Assam valley with a liberal policy vis-a-vi the British government. It should be mentioned at this stag that though the Congress organisation as such did not exist til then in the Assam valley, there was a militant unit of the Congress known as the Surma Valley Committee of the Congress, This committee functioned as a district committee of the Ber gal Provincial Committee of the Indian National Congress an Gopinath Bordoloi was in close touch with this body.

A brief life sketch helps to understand Bordoloi's political philosophy and line of action. Bordoloi was born on June 6,1890. His father was a medical practitioner. He took advantage of his father's profession to understand the social needs of his many patients. He tried to share with them the feelings of their travails and suffering with sympathy He was admitted to the Cotton Collegiate in Guwahati and passed the entrance examination at the University of Calcutta in 1907. As a young boy, Bordoloi saw the British Empire celebrate the golden jubilee of Empress Victoria with much pomp and splendour. While the Russo-Japanese war was on, Bordoloi was studying at the Scottish Church College in Calcutta. The Russo-Japanese war and its outcome which resulted in the humiliating defeat of the great Russian empire of the powerful Czar at the hands of an Asiatic power - Japan - inspired the leaders of a "nation in the making" a term coined and applied to Bengal and India by Surendranath Banerjee.

At that time, Sir Surendranath Banerjee, Sir Jadunath Sarkar, Rabindranath Tagore, J.C. Bose and a few others were towering personalities in Bengal. Bordoloi was deeply influenced by them and learnt much from being in close proximity to them. He was a brilliant student of history. And the course of events around him as a student in Calcutta seemed similar to the drama and action of his textbooks.

He also saw how, right through the ages, the imperialist rulers have always applied different forms of the age-old policy of divide and rule. In the comprehensive sense, Mahapurush Sankardev is the father of the socio-cultural entity of greater Assam. Gopinath Bordoloi's place is next only to the Mahapurush as the prime architect of the modern polity of Assam based on a solid structure as enunciated in the preamble to the Constitution of India.

It was under Bordoloi's courageous and competent leadership that the entire people of Assam were able to save themselves, in a completely non-violent movement, from the Cabinet Mission's plan - which was a concept created by the British in collaboration with the Muslim League and an initial assent by the Congress high command. Despite insistent efforts by Bordoloi, the Congress high command failed to see that the Cabinet Mission plan carried with it a subsidiary plan drawn up by Professor Coupland, senior professor of History at Oxford University who was political adviser to the Cabinet Mission. Briefly Coupland's plan envisaged that the tribal areas of northeastern India including the Garo Hills, Khasi Jaintia Hills, Lushai Hills, Nagaland, North Cachar Hills and the

North Eastern Frontier Agency was to be made into a selfgoverning Crown colony under the protection of the Crown with autonomous status to each of the regions.

Bordoloi appraised Gandhi of the underlying causes and consequences of Coupland's sinister plan. Gandhi immediately grasped the full implication of the plan and advised Bordoloi to intensify the popular struggle against the British Cabinet Mission plan. He openly declared that if necessary Assam should break away from the Congress and intensify the non-violent struggle against the Cabinet plan. He also invited Nehru and Sardar Patel for a discussion with him. They immediately responded. Thus, Bon doloi not only saved Assam for India, but saved the entire northeastern region from the sinister designs of "Crown colony".

After Independence when Assam became a constituent state of Part A category it had none of the required infrastructure like medical, veterinary, engineering, agricultural colleges and other institutions. Within a span of Bordoloi's chief ministership, he fulfilled all these needs. Not only did he succeed in uniting all the tribes, sections and sectors of people in the struggles of their existence, but helped them in achieving their immediate goals - there by giving them self-confidence and self-respect. In all spheres of development, including sports, music and performing arts he laid the basic foundations. He also laid the foundation of work culture and popular initiative in all. His was the first government among all provincial governments in India, which dared to levy agricultural income-tax on the rich and powerful planters, and helped usher in swaraj in place of `Planter's Raj. When he was not saddled with governmental responsibilities, Bon doloi volunteered to serve as a school teacher and college professor and became the founder principal of a private college which is still highly regarded in Guwahati. He was a true Congressman of the Gandhian school, which probably explains why successive Congress governments or Congress-supported governments did not care to remember Bordoloi. Not just a good Assamese, Bordoloi was a good Indian, and finally, a citizen of the world in the true sense of the term.