Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal has set a tone of election campaign using peace and development cards while pushing polarisation in the backdrop. He cited reasons why his party should be voted back to power. He did also repeat the “enemies of the nation” phrase but did not emphasise on it. Excerpts from an interview
Q: Why do you think people will vote for BJP and you again?
A: Five years ago, there was anarchy everywhere. There was corruption, nepotism. There was the cash-for-jobs scam in the Assam Public Service Commission (APSC). People had lost their trust and faith in the administration.
The previous government should have ensured 100% benefits to the beneficiaries. Instead of doing that, the government developed some middlemen to carry out its corrupt practices. The middlemen siphoned off the benefits of beneficiaries. They looted and people suffered. There were protests. Due to Congress misrule, governance was weakened. It went far away from the people who realised they will not get justice as governance failed to protect them. Every scheme failed as a result.
People got alienated from governance due to the corrupt practices of Congress. Restoring people’s trust in it was a major challenge for our government. We focused on cleansing governance by working sincerely. We first closed down 156 illegal check gates on national highways. Money collected there used to reach the pockets of elements, including politicians, bureaucrats etc. A signal was given that we will not tolerate corruption. There will be zero tolerance. This fight has continued. We have not spared the corrupt.
The probe agencies were given total freedom. No government before achieved that much success during the drive against corruption like us. There are challenges when you go after the corrupt. You have seen how we dealt with various scams. For the first time, candidates secured jobs based on merit after clearing exams conducted by the APSC. Many of them were from very poor families. Not just the achievers, even those who failed to crack the exams gave statements, stating that the exams were conducted in a fair manner.
The previous Congress government did not work sincerely to stop rhino-poaching at Kaziranga National Park. We involved five districts, which surround the park, to ensure the animal’s protection. By taking every villager into confidence, we kept a hawk’s eye on the park.
We gave sophisticated weapons to the forest guards so they can fight the poachers who come armed with automated weapons. The poachers used to get away during Congress rule. We thought if they are not punished, poaching will continue. We ensured the arrested poachers are tried in a fast-track court. Altogether 370 of them were arrested and 70 convicted. Previously, they had no fear, for they knew the government is not going to take action.
With cooperation from villagers and everyone, we were able to curb poaching. We built highlands inside the park and also ensured there is no food scarcity for the animals, especially during floods. Not just human beings and livestock, we also sought to secure the lives of wild animals. We thought we have to conserve biodiversity and it means us and everything around.
We have planted 10 crore fruit, flowering, and medicinal plants and created 222 sq km of forest. In the past five years, the population of wild animals also increased.
The beneficiaries of PMAY are happy to have got good houses. During Congress’ rule, since there was corruption, the houses would decay months after their construction. We ensured value is registered in the field of action.
We managed the COVID-19 pandemic well as the various departments worked in close coordination. We developed a model on the effective management of the pandemic.
During Congress’ time, there were lakhs of indigenous people without land rights and land “pattas” (legal documents). There will be uncertainty on your identity, language, and culture so long as you cannot assert your land rights and have ownership. Our slogan was “Aamar Mati, Aamar Asom, Aamar Adhikar”. We lived up to it. We had come up with a new land policy. Land in Assam was never surveyed; we started it. We gave land pattas to 3.65 lakh indigenous people.
We offered financial aid to namghars (Vaishnavite prayer centres) and other religious institutions and protected the identity of communities. We gave equal respect to all communities to ensure peaceful co-existence. Congress always followed the divide and rule policy. So, people’s trust in us increased.
There is no anti-incumbency. We did what we said. There is transparency. Despite the pandemic, development work continued. We took steps to conserve the 600-year history of the Ahom dynasty. We built 18,000 km of roads and universities, AIIMS, and other institutes.
Q: Did Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) divide the Bengali-majority Barak and Assamese-majority Brahmaputra valleys?
A: To fulfill their own interests, some elements had resorted to lies. Some said one crore Bangladeshis will come to Assam. Some said two crore will come. Time proved everything.
Q: The Assam Accord says the immigrants, irrespective of faith who migrated after March 24, 1971, will have to be detected and deported. CAA wants to protect non-Muslim immigrants who came till December 31, 2014. Doesn’t CAA come in conflict with the Assam Accord?
A: Clause 6 of the Assam Accord says the immigrants, irrespective of faith who migrated after March 24, 1971, will have to be detected and deported. CAA wants to protect non-Muslim immigrants who came till December 31, 2014. Doesn’t CAA come in conflict with the Accord’s Clause 6?
The High-level Committee on the Implementation of Clause 6 of the Assam Accord has submitted its recommendations. It sought the implementation of the recommendations in two years. The time has not elapsed. Let us retain power, we will examine it. Leave it to the government.
Q: Could the daily wage of tea garden workers be a big election issue as the Gauhati High Court has stayed the hike of Rs 50 after the decision taken by the government was challenged by tea garden owners? Congress has started campaigning against it.
How much had the Congress raised the wage in 55 years? They raised it in paise. We raised it by Rs 80 in five years. Congress has no moral right to talk about it. We love the tea workers. We have taken several steps to take the community forward. We prioritised education in the tea belt. We built 19 high schools; Congress could not build even one. We engaged two additional contractual teachers in 400 schools that are managed by tea gardens.
We ensured free admission of schoolchildren, gave books to them for free. Sardars and night watchmen in tea estates were given mobile phones. Women belonging to the community are given a financial aid of Rs 12,000 during pregnancy. Roads in tea estates were in a bad shape; we improved their condition.
Q: How much could the Congress-AIUDF (All India United Democratic Front) alliance damage BJP in the polls?
A: Congress-AIUDF always had an alliance although it was never made official like now. They are the two sides of a coin. Their ideologies and principles are the same. They don’t raise their voice for a greater Assam. Because of them, the people of Assam are facing a threat to their existence. Who created this situation? First, it was Congress; later, it was AIUDF. So, people have understood their design. These forces are working to endanger the existence of people. They never worked sincerely in the nation’s interests. That’s why people have sidelined Congress today. The Assam Agitation was a result of Congress-created problems. People will not forget these events.
Q: Are the new parties – Asom Jatiya Parishad and Raijor Dal – a threat to BJP?
A: No matter how many parties are formed, one thing is clear. We have a very conscious society that understands right and wrong. I am confident people will vote for BJP again. People want peace, progress, and security. They know we worked on these sincerely in the last five years and achieved success.
The members of several insurgent groups have joined the mainstream. Now, people have no worries as regards their daily business and security. They are happy with the government. They want peace, brotherhood. They are convinced that only a BJP-led government can turn Assam into a progressive state.
Earlier, people had to agitate to get a bridge over the Brahmaputra. Now, the work of not one but five bridges has started. There are four bridges coming up over river Barak. Around 19,000 km of road has been built in Assam in the last five years. Our farmers can now export their produce in cargo flights. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has become a darling of the people of the Northeast for his series of development initiatives in the region.
Q: You had called upon indigenous communities and genuine Indians to stand united against “Mughal aggression”. Don’t you need the votes of the Muslims?
A: Modi Ji said “Sab Ka Saath, Sabka Vikash, Sabka Vishwas”. We strongly believe in it. Nobody has been deprived of any scheme. Benefits are reaching every household irrespective of caste, creed and religion. That is the spirit of democracy and the principle of secularism.
However, those who are the enemies of Assam and the country, have to be identified. By studying the work of a political party, you will know if it is committed to the nation. We will never allow forces, which are a threat to the nation, communal amity, brotherhood, Assam’s art, culture, land, and language, to raise their head.