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.
Rohan Mukherjee drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in Guwahati city, Assam's capital, in July 2009.