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When Tarun Gogoi was elected chief minister of the Indian state of Assam in 2001, the government’s finances were in shambles, key public enterprises were on the verge of
collapse, and two decades of violence between insurgents and the police and armed forces
had created deep insecurity among the citizenry. The main insurgent group, the United
Liberation Front of Asom, continued to threaten the state’s ability to govern the
countryside. Faced with poverty and insurgency, with the former often feeding the latter,
Gogoi set development ahead of peace-building on his list of priorities for the initial
years of his tenure in office. But before development could be addressed, he had to fix
the government’s finances. Gogoi assembled a team of young ministers to spearhead his
reform efforts and appointed talented civil servants to senior positions in important
departments such as finance and home affairs. Together, these individuals were able to
augment the state’s financial base, make spending more efficient, turn around ailing
public agencies and devolve power to newly created autonomous councils to address the
demands of ethnic groups. As his state’s finances improved, Gogoi began working to
lower the hurdles posed by insurgent groups through a two-pronged approach. He aimed
to defeat insurgent groups militarily while trying to shift public support from the
insurgents to the government. Assam’s reform story unfolded “gradually, gradually,” in
Gogoi’s words, and it contains important lessons in financial management and conflict
resolution. Assam was an interesting case of development forming a vital part of a
strategy to reduce conflict and create the space for further development.


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