Tarun Gogoi is the longest-serving Chief Minister of Assam. This is his third term and he has been successful in keeping the Congress happy with eight MPs elected from the state in 2009. In an interview with Arup Chanda, he candidly shares his thoughts on the Lok Sabha polls. Excerpts:
Q: What are your achievements in Assam?
I have brought peace to Assam which is the most important thing. Not just the ULFA but others insurgent groups have agreed to talks. Assam’s economy has never been so good as it is now. I can spend more than thousand crore rupees without any loan from the Centre. Roads are in excellent condition, which even the Opposition parties admit. Healthcare facilities are one of the best in the country. We never got any publicity but my government was the first one in the country to provide laptops to students and bicycles to girl students.
Q: Then why is there a ‘Modi wave’ in Assam?
There is neither a Modi wave nor a BJP wave in Assam. It is the creation of a section of the media and thanks to thousands of crores of rupees spent by the BJP. This is a dangerous trend. Modi believes in the same philosophy as Hitler. The most unfortunate part is that some big corporate houses are also supporting this dangerous campaign for their own vested interests. This so-called Gujarat model is a myth. Muslims in Gujarat dont’ even get a house on rent if they reveal their religious identity. Land from poor farmers are being snatched and ha nded over to industrialists. Land at the rate of one rupee per square metre!
Even in a so-called backward state in the northeast, land is at least `150 per square metre! This is an ominous campaign going on in the country. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to campaign like this or spend this much money.
Q. How many seats will then the Congress win in this Lok Sabha polls from Assam?
The Congress will certainly do much better than last time. I don’t care about what is being written in newspapers or telecast on TV channels. We’d rather spring surprises and wrest seats from the BJP. We will win the Tezpur and Guwahati seats also.
The BJP’s sitting MP in Guwahati, Bijoya Chakraborty, is unpopular within her party itself. Last time too many seats were said to be lost for the Congress but we won. I challenge the BJP to retain their four seats even with this so-called wave.
Q. Narendra Modi has come several times to Assam for campaigning and also attacked your government.
He is uttering falsehoods without knowing anything about the northeast. He is playing a dangerous game by trying to divide the people on religious lines. He is raking the issue of infiltration from Bangladesh on religious lines. He has no idea about northeastern states and out of his ignorance trying to fish in troubled waters. His campaign is divisive and he doesn’t realise the harm he is doing to this region.
Q: What is your stand on infiltration then?
Our stand is very clear and secular. Those who are compelled to come due to religious persecutions should be considered on humanitarian grounds. Modi is talking about only Hindus. What about Buddhists and Christians too? Many Chakmas also sought refuge. And why only Assam? There are large numbers who seek refuge in West Bengal too.
Q: Will Muslims vote for the Congress this time?
Why not? Muslims know very well that we protect the interests of the minorities and they will vote en masse for us. Why only Muslims? Even tribals and other ethnic groups will vote for us. We have given autonomy to many tribal groups. Modi’s campaign was trying to create a divide among Bodos and non-Bodos.
This is nothing but communalism. The Bodos are very much with us and a part of our society. He is trying to flare up a communal situation.
Q: How will your relation with Modi be if he becomes Prime Minister?
(Laughs) You also seem to be assuming before the election results are out! There is no chance of Modi becoming Prime Minister. He is faced with Opposition within his own party. Just wait for May 16 and see what happens. I don’t think the NDA alone will be able to obtain a majority of the seats to form a government at the Centre.
Q: Then are you predicting that the Congress alone will be able to form the government at the Centre?
I am not making any prediction but I am confident that a Congress-led front will form the government. People in this country are not fools to vote in favour of communal forces like the BJP. If a situation arises, we will support anyone who opposes communal forces. Let there be such a front.
Q: Then who will be the Prime Minister?
That new front will decide who will be the Prime Minister. The new alignment will decide. Who knows who will get the largest number of seats after the Congress? It can be Jayalalithaa or even Mamata Banerjee. Our stand is very clear. We want a secular, democratic and socialist government according to the preamble of the Constitution. What Modi is preaching is against the basics of the Constitution.
Q: Do you think the UPA-I and II succeeded?
Of course. Every state government got more funds during the UPA regimes. Even Modi’s Gujarat was flooded with money which he used. Even during his campaigns has he ever accused the UPA governments of not providing any BJP state government with funds?