Former Uttarakhand chief minister and the Congress’s Assam affairs in-charge Harish Rawat tells Lalmani Verma that the time to formalise any alliance has not come yet, and the party at present is trying to befriend pro-people, pro-Assam social organisations ahead of Assembly polls in the state, scheduled next year. Excerpts from the interview:
What is the status of Congress’s alliance with Badruddin Ajmal’s AIUDF?
We are in talks with some social organisations that are fighting for Assam and Assamiat and are against anti-Assam policies – such as CAA — of the Centre and the Sarbananda Sonowal government. But there is no discussion on any form of alliance so far because forging alliance is neither in my jurisdiction nor that of the state Congress. Only the party high command has the power to choose an alliance partner, if it has to be done.
There is nothing like that (alliance plan) as of now.
Is AIUDF among organisations the Congress is talking with?
No…because in several regions there is a face-off (electorally, between Congress and AIUDF). But AIUDF and Congress collectively voted in Rajya Sabha elections and ensured victory of a force in the Assam agitation (senior journalist from the state Ajit Kumar Bhuyan). Due to that, there may be speculations among people but there are no talks (with AIUDF)… so far we are busy strengthening our organisational set-up.
The time for alliance has not come yet. We are only talking to social groups to bring them closer to us.
There was a time when the Congress had called AIUDF a communal force and B-team of BJP.
Brahmaputra mein bahut saara paani nikal chuka hai (a lot of water has flown down the Brahmaputra since then); time has changed all political parties, too. The AIUDF has changed itself and may have also modified its way of working.
We are taking all steps carefully. We know our opponents are smart…a party (BJP) that has such foul thinking…it can go to any extent (to win electorally). We are alert and cautious about future planning and we will not allow BJP to play any dirty tricks in Assam.
Will an anti-BJP front be formed?
Not an anti-BJP front – it will be a pro-Assamiat, pro-people, pro-development front of like-minded groups. We are trying to connect groups that are in favour of conserving the culture of Assam and the Northeast.
With such groups, can a broader poll alliance take shape in future?
There has been no discussion on this so far, but there is a place in our heart for forces that are pro-people, pro-Assam, pro-Northeast. Electoral compulsions will be decided later. I still feel we should develop friendship with such forces and take them along…we have loudly and clearly exhibited our intentions by taking a right decision in Rajya Sabha elections.
I cannot say right now what will be the electoral position with them in future. A decision on alliance with any political party will be taken by the party (Congress) high command at an appropriate time.
Will the Congress take along Akhil Gogoi of Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti?
Yeh bhi hamari ichcha mein sammilit hain. Dosti ho jaye to kya harj hai (he is also in our wish-list; we will not mind if we become friends).
What will be the party’s key agenda for Assam?
The BJP has divided Assamese society with CAA and NRC. For development and public welfare, we should have an agenda that makes every genuine Indian citizen feel that his/her interests are safe in Assam. Our first agenda will be to ensure every genuine Indian citizen gets the right to place and security. We will end the division created by BJP, and will make a united Assam.
The Assam government (under Sonowal) has virtually divorced development and public welfare. We will bring development back on track. The state’s economy will be improved and employment opportunities generated.
We will include (in party’s agenda) electricity, housing, water, medical care, education as a right — their (people’s) burden on expenses on these heads will be gradually reduced as a move towards providing these facilities free of cost in Assam.
If it forms the government, will the Congress take a decision on NRC and CAA?
The NRC will be completed in a friendly manner and all genuine Indian citizens, who have been left out, will find their place in NRC. On CAA, we stand for the slogan of CAA na maanu (we do not accept CAA).
We will muster resources for equal and balanced development of Barak valley and Brahmaputra valley.
How is the Congress preparing for Assam Assembly polls?
The party is completely geared up. Every month, we are utilising 20 days on strengthening the organisation by including new members and increasing social outreach. We are staging an agitation in another 10 days against failures of the Sonowal government and the Central government’s betrayal of the Assamese people. Virtual rallies and door-to-door visits have been started.
Will Congress project a CM face? If yes, who is a prospective candidate?
Let the time come. We are working with a collective leadership. Of course, the PCC (Pradesh Congress Committee) president and CLP (Congress Legislature Party) leader have important roles to play, but at the same time there are AICC functionaries and there is the seniormost leader in Tarun Gogoi (who will also have a say).
So far we have worked on the basis of collective leadership but when elections come we will think what to do next (on CM face).
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