Sarbananda Sonowal is about to complete a full term as Assam’s first BJP chief minister. Prabin Kalita caught up with him on the campaign trail to talk about the state’s key issues:
What are the key issues in the campaigning for the assembly elections?
This election will be fought on the basis of the success story registered by BJP in the last five years: Quality service to the people, good governance, transparency and accountability, successfully fighting against corruption, fighting against rhino poachers, against extremists and stopping day-to-day influx from across the border. And also quality implementation of government schemes, giving 100% benefits to beneficiaries by removing the middlemen, who reigned during Congress government.
Why did the huge NRC exercise fail?
We have filed an affidavit in Supreme Court praying for re-verification of 20% data in border districts and 10% data in other districts. People wanted an error-free updated NRC but whatever came out in the final publication, we see that there are many ifs and buts.
What are your thoughts on the 2016 assembly election slogan of jati, mati, bheti (identity, land, homeland)?
That time we were beginners and before that there was no history of BJP rule in Assam since 1952. We went into election with PM Modi’s blessings and we won. When you’ve the right over land you can protect your identity, which means you can protect your culture, language and tradition and we successfully lived up to our slogan.
Is your campaign narrative triggering hatred?
No hatred. But, whoever’s trying to destroy our culture and civilisation will always be resisted. That’s very clear. In the principle of ‘sab ka saath, sab ka vikas, sab ka vishwas’ we’ve no prejudice. All of the government’s decisions and mechanisms have helped us win the hearts of everybody, every ethnic group was given justice and social security and respect to have a dignified existence and living.
Why does BJP frequently refer to the Mughal invasion?
By this we mean the Congress and its unholy alliance with AIUDF. Since 1952, Congress has been bringing problems to the people of Assam by allowing illegal migrants to settle only for their own vested power politics. Congress never proved that they are the well-wishers of Assam and its people. They’ve always sided with the ‘suspected’ and that’s why the integrity of Congress is always under question and will remain so. History has proved it and Congress cannot escape from this stigma.
What’s the current status of illegal border crossings?
Developing certain mechanisms to seal the 48km of riverine border in Dhurbi sector was our concern. During Congress rule, this patch was left open but our PM took some bold steps and imported the best technology from Israel to find a way out to put a technical solution in the form of sensors, which has ensured that the 48-km patch is sealed. Now, there’s no news of influx and the border is completely sealed with physical barriers and technological solutions. If you keep the borders open, there’s no point in claiming that you’re fighting against illegal migrants.
How would you assess your term in government?
BJP has played a very positive, proactive and progressive role, and that’s why we could perform well. From having the highest level of Covid-19 management among all states, to fighting corruption by putting all the corrupt behind bars and dismissing from service all those who got government jobs illegally, our performance speaks volumes of our integrity. Today even among the poorest, meritorious are getting government jobs and this has made people put their trust back in governance. During Congress time, cash for jobs was the practice.
What is the chance of BJP’s victory?
We can very proudly claim that we brought back respect and dignity to the lives of people. They feel that only this government can provide dignity of life, respectable existence and protection of their culture, language and identity. This is the level of confidence generated in people.
What should be the agenda for the next government?
To make Assam self-reliant in order to make PM’s Atmanirbhar Bharat campaign successful. We’ve made a road map and few things have already started moving. With development of cargo connectivity we’ve started exporting fruits, vegetable and even rice. The first project under Bharatmala, India’s first multi-modal logistic park is being built at a cost of Rs 3,200 crore at Jogighopa and all these have changed the mindset of the youth.
What’s your opinion of your colleague Himanta Biswa Sarma?
He’s very competent and he performed very well this time in every department he was allocated. We all worked as Team Assam. He’s experienced and has calibre. I have confidence in him.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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