Bhartiya Janata Party national vice-president Jay Panda, who is also the party's Assam election in-charge, tells that there is a positive mood in their favour because of the massive development works in the northeastern state
Good governance and the commitment of national leaders to treat Assam as priority are among the factors the BJP is banking on to retain power in the state. According to Jay Panda, there are other reasons also, why he thinks the people of Assam would vote for the saffron party. Excerpts from an interview…
What is the Bharatiya Janata Party's main election plank?
I don’t think the northeast has got the kind of attention it is getting now. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has come here at least 50 times, before him if you add the number of visits by all other PMs in the past, this should be more. The people see this.
Just compare the number of bridges constructed over the Brahmaputra over the previous 70 years and how many have been built or are under construction now. Similarly, roads and medical colleges. (Home minister) Amit Shah keeps pointing out the 20,000 kms of both highways and panchayat roads.
There have been no communal riots and the recent Bodo accord has brought peace, as the last of the militants has surrendered and joined the political process.
The politics of Assam was dominated by illegal immigration and the need to protect the indigenous culture. But except for 7-8 kms, the border fencing is complete. So all these things contribute and that’s why I get this very positive feeling.
Is development enough to win the elections?
Look at our track record in administration. The kind of corruption there was before is over now. Everyone knows about the Assam Public Service Commission scandal. The APSC chairman and other officials who used to take Rs 30-40 lakh bribe have been jailed.
There is also no leakage of money as funds are deposited directly to bank accounts. There are roughly 20 lakh beneficiaries of the Orunoday scheme (where people get Rs 843 every month) and there is no leakage.
The Congress and the All-India United Democratic Front alliance is expected to dent BJP's performance...
I think Congress has made a huge mistake by aligning with AIUDF. The late Tarun Gogoi never aligned with AIUDF. Maybe they had some secret understanding or some adjustment, but it was never official. Everybody associates AIUDF with illegal immigration and this repulses the majority of the people in Assam.
Congress leaders are telling me privately it was a mistake. AIUDF may get some 2-3 seats extra, but Congress will end up winning fewer seats. Congress leaders are disconnected from the people. They go to tea gardens and pluck tea leaves for photo ops.
They were in power for so many years, yet wages of tea garden labourers was only about Rs 100. It has been more than doubled now.
Do you think the Congress will lose Hindu votes?
There are indigenous Muslims in Assam who are also unhappy with illegal immigration. Congress had lost supporters after losing power. Now, the remaining supporters are also moving away. Everyday, many Congress leaders are joining us because of the alliance with the AIUDF.
Will the Citizenship Amendment Act be an issue in the polls?
I have spent three months here and gone all over the state. Whatever the situation was 14 months ago because of the CAA is no longer relevant. The opposition spread two lies about CAA. One, Indian Muslims will be expelled, but this is complete falsehood. Second, they said from a neighbouring country 1.5 crore Hindus will be brought in but not a single one has come.
What is the government’s plan on attracting industries?
The base of any progress and development is good infrastructure. That is why there is a massive drive to develop this. International cargo flights have started and this will boost value added products. The airport is being upgraded and expanded. Once this is done, the attractiveness of Assam as an investment destination for companies such as ITC or agro-based businesses will increase.
Some ethnic-based militant groups are still present in the state...
The biggest was the Bodo issue but that has been comprehensively resolved. This was 80% of the ethnic based issue. They have laid down their arms and now there is new party in power in the Bodoland Territorial Council. The rest 20% will also be dealt with in the future.
How will you view your contribution if the BJP retains power?
For me any reward or post is only a byproduct. I am grateful the party gave me this responsibility. But my job was only to coordinate and manage. Here the biggest factor is Modi’s image, then it is the BJP government’s performance. Our third biggest asset is our state leaders such as Chief Minister Sarabanda Sonowal, Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and party chief Ranjit Dass.