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Himanta Biswa Sarma: ‘If people saw CM sit back, things would have gone bad in Assam’

The situation at the border is still tense. The government of India is talking to both the states. We, both the states, are also talking to each other using our own channels. We hope a solution will emerge.

Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma told Liz Mathew that the “healing process is on” between his state and Mizoram — after the bloody clashes along the border — with the Centre’s “cooperation”, but a permanent solution can be found only by the Supreme Court. Excerpts:

Do you think the current standoff between Assam and Mizoram at the borders is over now?

The situation at the border is still tense. The Government of India is talking to both the states. We, both the states, are also talking to each other using our own channels. We hope a solution will emerge.

There is a truce for the time being. What has been the role played by the Centre, especially the home ministry?

The home ministry from day one has been trying to diffuse the tension. For the last six months, the home ministry has been working very hard to make the states reach an agreement over the borders. But unfortunately, it did not have a result for some reasons. After the July 26 incident also, the home ministry, including the ministers and the senior officials, have been trying to resolve the issue by talking to both sides. They are ensuring that no more clashes take place.

Isn’t it a failure of the Centre too? Two days after Home Minister Amit Shah visited the region, it broke out.

See, this incident was not anyway related to the home minister’s visit. It has nothing to do with it in fact. It’s an issue that is complicated and has been there. It’s a very very complex issue and a solution to it is not possible overnight. This has been going on since last October. There are efforts from both sides too – but there are some regional and constitutional issues for which a solution is not happening.

You said it has been there for a while. Then how did it go so bad last week?

If you look at our history, this has been an issue since the late 1980s. Assam has lost almost 200 people in conflicts with neighbouring states. When they formed the states, they did not define the boundaries clearly… When the Congress government had carved out Mizoram. Nagaland and Meghalaya, they should have defined the boundaries also. But they did not do so. It was a time when the Congress had governments in every state. Had they made efforts and made the demarcation clear, the situation would have been different. Because of that people of Northeast are fighting against each other. That’s why I am saying it’s not an issue of today.. It has been going on for some time… It’s a historical injustice that has come to us, thanks to the Congress.

But why did Assam take it to a different level? You have issued travel advisories against the Mizoram government. You have treated them like a foreign country.

See, travel advisories did not mean anything. Even in Covid times, we have issued alerts against travelling from one state to another and from one district to another. It’s not to stop you from going there, but to be alert. When there is tension and conflict, how can you let people go there? It was a precautionary measure so that there is nothing to fire up the tension. If someone goes there and some untoward incident happens, the conflict becomes even worse. We could not afford anything from people also to escalate the tension. But we have also issued another advisory to protect the lives and properties of Mizo people in Assam. I do not know why everyone singled out only one advisory. We do this every time there is a conflict.

You have made some remarks that were seen as provocative. Despite being the convener of NEDA, why did you do that?

See, once our policemen died, you must understand there are sentiments in Assam also. People were feeling that Assam has taken a toll… There was no damage to Mizo people or Mizoram. If the people would have seen that the Chief Minister was sitting back without saying anything, things would have gone bad in Assam. But I have been keeping my channel of communication with Meghalaya also… at the same time, I was doing my duty as Chief Minister of Assam also. People have seen that I have not abandoned them.

What do you think is the long-term solution?

Long-term solution is very very complex… Assam needs to protect its constitutional boundaries. Others can claim historical facts. Our state is a result of various administrative arrangements made by the Government of India. We have not demanded anything, but we have been given these territories saying these are your constitutional boundaries and you manage it. People of Assam did not create these boundaries… But we are being looked at with suspicion. You must understand unlike other states, Assam is not just about one community and the state is not created on a particular community’s demand… These boundaries were given to us by Parliament…If the Supreme Court can look into the history, various governments’ administrative decisions and decide the boundaries, Assam has no issue.

You have asked for a neutral agency to look into the issue, probe the incident.

Like the Supreme Court took up the dispute with Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh, the apex court can take a decision. The Supreme Court has the mandate to decide on the inter-state boundary dispute. The matter is pending… If the Supreme Court takes a decision, we will be grateful.

What’s your comment on the case filed against you in Mizoram?

If somebody registers a case and if I get the notification, like a law abiding citizen, I will go and join the investigation.

Do you think this incident would affect your efforts to coordinate between the states?

We have been trying to find common issues to work together. But we have been burdened with the problems and issues created by the Congress governments in the past. Congress party had a feeling a united Northeast could not be governed. That was the reason the Congress party played divisive politics in this region. Because of that the northeastern states never could come together… Our efforts to come together are going on. I am sure the healing process is going on with Mizoram. At some point of time, with the active cooperation of the Government of India, we will be able to work together. A permanent solution, I think, will be from the Supreme Court of India… the issue will be resolved permanently.

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