In Assam which is in the grip of state election fever, the Congress party is brimming with confidence after a pre-poll survey predicted victory for the country’s grand old party. Voting for the state’s 126 assembly seats is being held in three phases. The result will be announced on 2 May.
Congress party that has ruled the state of Assam for more than 50 years has joined with seven other regional parties to form a grand alliance or “Mahajot” whose sole purpose is to defeat the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Sputnik spoke with Gaurav Gogoi, Congress party’s deputy leader in the lower house of parliament and son of Jarun Gogoi – the three-time chief minister of Assam between 2001 and 2016 – about the performance of the BJP government, his campaign, and the need for Mahajot in the state.
Sputnik: How do you rate the BJP’s governance of the state over the past five years?
Gaurav Gogoi: The state speaks for itself: unemployment in the state is 61 per 1000 of the population, way above the national average of 50 per 1000. At present there are four million unemployed people in the state – it is above 11 percent, whereas five years ago (when the government was led by Congress between 2011 and 2016), it was between three and four percent.
Furthermore, five years ago, according to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) figures, Assam was the second-fastest-growing state in the country whereas it is now in 20th place.
There has been no development in the past five years. People have lost their job, inflation is worryingly high, and the paper mills – which employed thousands within the state – were shut down.
And that’s why people will vote for Congress.
Sputnik: In 2014, Narendra Modi’s government announced the Act East Policy. Its primary focus was to increase the interaction of the north-eastern Indian states with other parts of south-east Asia. How has it helped north-eastern states?
Gaurav Gogoi: Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed the most crucial diplomatic deal in north-east India in 2011 with his opposite number in Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina – the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA). This was vital for Assam and West Bengal as they both share boundaries with Bangladesh.
In 2010, India (when Congress was in government nationally) and its neighbour Bhutan vowed to end insurgency and cross-border terrorism. It also agreed to track down certain groups such as the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), an armed separatist group.
But since those two agreements, there have been no other comparable developments recently.
Sputnik: Talking about the BJP’s political campaign in Assam, they target particular communities, reaching out to rural women or tribes. Do you think these strategies will hurt Congress?
Gaurav Gogoi: I don’t see any faults with targeting any individual group, provided you keep your promises to them. The BJP failed: they promised the tribe that they will provide reservations for them, but so far, nothing has been done.
Similarly, they promised to protect the identity of the state’s indigenous people. However, on the contrary, they are forcefully trying to implement the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
Editor’s Note: In 2019, the Narendra Modi government passed the Citizenship Amendment Act, which allows ‘persecuted’ non-Muslim immigrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh who arrived in India before 2014 to gain Indian citizenship. But those from Assam say the CAA is an attack on their tribal state. In 1985, the state government signed the Assam Accord with the federal government, which says no citizenship will be granted to any migrants who entered Assam after the midnight of 24 March 1971.
Sputnik: Earlier this month, when the BJP launched its manifesto for the state it seemed to play down the CAA.
Gaurav Gogoi: The BJP is trying to confuse the people and is hypocritical. When launching its manifesto in the state of West Bengal it placed great emphasis on the CAA. Why should they refuse to talk about the subject in the neighbouring state of Assam?
They’re just trying to confuse the people.
On the other hand, we’re quite clear if Congress comes to power in the state, the CAA won’t be enacted. We will respect the Assam Accord.
Sputnik: What’s your take on the Congress grand alliance in the state and its campaigning?
Gaurav Gogoi: Congress has formed Mahajot (grand alliance) with several state-level parties and key individuals representing different ethnicities.
We are confident of forming the government. The people of Assam are welcoming us and want Mahajot to come to power.
Sputnik: Why has Congress not declared a chief ministerial candidate for Assam?
Gaurav Gogoi: We in Congress are not motivated by personal ambition, we are only concerned about forming the Congress-led Mahajot government in Assam.
Congress is focused on real issues and providing solutions. We are reaching out to people and making five promises: job creation, $28 (INR 2,000) per month in cash for poor women to run a household, electricity 24/7, $5 a day minimum wage and no CAA.
Sputnik: You’re saying there is no personal ambition among the Congress leaders, but there’s lots of infighting between Congress reported in Indian media.
Gaurav Gogoi: I don’t agree with that. I think Congress in recent months has displayed a united front, and leaders are coming together and have been to every nook and corner of the state, spending time with farmers, traders and weavers, among others, to get a sense of what people are really worried about.
Sputnik: But we have not seen former union leaders of Congress campaigning in the state. It’s only you, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi.
Gaurav Gogoi: After the my father’s death (Tarun Gogoi died in November 2020), my family received tremendous moral support from the Gandhi family, and they are spending a great time in Assam.
They’re not just attending the electoral rallies but also speaking with people in smaller groups such as tea garden workers and students. The people of Assam welcome this new form of campaigning where there is more space for individuals and the public.
This is quite different from BJP leaders who just come during election time.
It’s an incorrect assumption: in fact, state leaders are getting more space. The entire state and central leadership are together and confident of winning in Assam.