Express News Service
One of the main election planks of the Bharatiya Janata Party is development, what about the Congress?
I don’t hear the BJP talking about development, instead we are doing that. In our manifesto we have talked about what we will do for all sectors. We have announced that we will set up a fund for the poorest of the poor.
We have also recognised that a woman’s household work is of value so for householders we have announced a financial aid of Rs 2,000 per month.
Our campaign is around five guarantees which focuses on jobs, relief from inflation and tea garden workers who were promised the sky but got nothing. Other than development we are also talking about the identity of the Assamese culture. We have Muslims and several tribes.
The Congress government gave the tribals development councils which helped them assert their unique cultural identity.
But this government is trying to homogenise Assam and reduce the diversity into one form of philosophy that emanates from Nagpur. So while we want to celebrate our diversity, they want to reduce us to vassals of Nagpur.
How do you propose to protect the Assamese identity?
The dominating discourse in this election is the Citizenship Amendment Act. The Assam Accord has been made redundant by the CAA. The accord is an article of faith for the people because it resolved the burning issue of illegal immigration. Now the BJP is imposing its will, it is choking the cultural and democratic aspirations of the people through the CAA.
But the BJP says the fears over the CAA are unfounded as all those who had to enter Assam are already here, more people will not come into Assam.
We are a democracy where the will of the people is supreme and the people of Assam never wanted the CAA. Why is the government not listening to the people? The government has to abide by the wishes of the people but they want to impose their own ideology and their own arguments using brute force and political majority. This is not democracy but dictatorship.
There is a view that the Congress alliance with the All-India United Democratic Front has not gone down well with the local Assamese, who are opposed to illegal immigration.
There are prominent voices here calling for unity among all political parties to oppose the CAA. My late father was a proponent of this alliance. It has not happened just a few months before the elections. Last year the Congress and the AIUDF came together and sent leading journalist Ajit Bhuyan, a prominent voice against the CAA, to the Rajya Sabha. His candidature was welcomed by the people. This larger alliance which has the Left parties, the Bodo People’s Front and some smaller parties has the blessings of the people.
The 2016 assembly election vote share shows the Congress-AIUDF alliance stands to benefit from consolidation of votes in only 14 seats. Is that a worry?
You have only added the vote share of the Congress and the AIUDF, you have not added the vote share of the CPI-M or the BPF. The BJP president, Ranjit Kumar Dass, has had to change his seat because of the alliance. In this constituency the alliance candidate is not from the Congress or the AIUDF but a CPM candidate. Dass is unsure of winning his own seat. It shows how shaky and unsure the BJP is. So we cannot reduce the mahajot to just two parties, there are other parties with their own vote share and presence.
Is the Congress united? The state president, Ripun Bora, recently said if the Congress comes to power he should be the chief minister so there seems to be a tussle already.
All of us are united, none of us are here for our personal ambitions, we are here for the five guarantees that we have promised. If there is any division it is in the BJP where there are two camps. One camp seems to be favoured by the Prime Minister and other camp seems to have the favour of the union home minister. Many supporters of the chief minister have been denied tickets so clearly there are two leaders in the BJP.
How confident are you, surveys show the mahajot will fall short.
We are very confident, the response to Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi’s meetings have been electrifying. They are engaging in personal, one-to-one meetings. Rahul met college students in a small town, Priyanka visited the home of a tea garden worker. When such interactions are captured on social media instead of large rallies they have a positive impact.
Was it a conscious decision to not have large rallies?
We had a large rally in Sivasagar and we will have more. Let us call it the rally plus model where we also engage in meaningful conversations through personal meetings. Has Prime Minister Modi spent time with the tea garden workers? Has the PM gone to a college in Assam and fielded unscripted questions? He has not, but Rahul has. So through social media the people have seen the difference between our leaders and theirs.