Tells SAMUDRA GUPTA KASHYAP it’s not the end for AGP, twice in power but now depleted and relegated to BJP’s junior partner
So many top AGP leaders have joined the BJP in recent years. After failing to win even one Lok Sabha seat, your party is now a junior partner to the BJP. Is the AGP on the verge of extinction?
No, not at all. We may have fared poorly in 2014, but that was because most people voted for Narendra Modi to defeat the Congress. In the outgoing assembly we are the bigger party; we have 10 MLAs against five of the BJP. Some leaders may have left, but that does not mean the AGP is finished. That the BJP has taken us as a major partner is in itself proof of our importance.
Many AGP leaders opposed the alliance, some are contesting as rebels…
In every election you will find some rebels. But the numbers are few. I am sure some of them will withdraw at the last moment. The rebels will not affect us because we have divided seats on winnability. BJP president Sarbananda Sonowal and I have been campaigning together. I accompanied him when he went to submit his nomination. He accompanied me when I went. This is sending a strong message down the ranks.
Is it true that Prafulla Mahanta opposed to the BJP-AGP alliance?
Who said Mahanta opposed the alliance? He had a significant role, he is campaigning. Senior BJP leaders accompanied him when he went to file his papers.
Where is regionalism headed in Assam?
Regionalism is here to stay. We had allied with the CPI and the CPM and run our second government. At the Centre, we were partners in at least two governments, but that has not wiped out regionalism. The importance of regionalism has only increased. Our alliance has allotted 38 of the 126 seats to regional parties. Look at the main issue this election — identity and security of the indigenous and ethnic communities. Every party is fighting on this plank. Even the Congress is trying to go overboard to present itself as a champion of regional cause. Regionalism is in the DNA of the people of Assam.
Then why didn’t the AGP fight alone?
We had originally decided to fight alone. We had prepared a panel of candidates. But since the primary focus in on ousting the Congress in the greater interest of Assam, we had to settle for some give and take. We have to ensure that not only does the anti-Congress vote remain intact, but a major chunk of Congress supporters too shifts sides.
The AGP does not distinguish between Hindu and Muslim Bangladeshi immigrants, the BJP does. Have you compromised on your ideology?
No. If we had, the AGP would have merged with the other party. We have differences on certain issues… There are many common issues.
The AGP was in power twice but failed to detect and deport Bangladeshis. Why?
Detection and deportation of a foreigner is the Centre’s responsibility. If the Centre is not willing, then you cannot. See how the Congress kept dilly-dallying with the National Register of Citizens. They even encouraged some groups to oppose and sabotage the pilot project in 2010. Even then, if you look at figures, you will find more Bangladeshis were detected during AGP rule.
What other issues are you fighting on, apart from identity?
Economic development — agriculture, infrastructure, livelihood, education, healthcare and tourism — is the second most important issue. In fact this too is related to infiltration and identity. Then comes security to lives and property… In 15 years of Congress rule, Assam has topped in even the number of deaths in road accidents… in crimes against women, in trafficking of women and girls, in land and homesteads lost due to riverbank erosion.
Your party keeps saying that the Congress has a secret alliance with Badruddin Ajmal’s AIUDF.
Yes, it is an open secret. The Congress and the AIUDF are two sides of the same coin —they have the same basic agenda, of protecting Bangladeshis, encouraging more to come. Moreover, the AIUDF is a communal party.
Tarun Gogoi has been trying to revive the “secret killings” issue against the AGP.
Gogoi hasn’t read the Saikia Commission report carefully. His government did not act on the recommendations of the report. The people will now ask him questions.
How do you rate Gogoi and Sonowal?
Sonowal is young, energetic and clean, has a vision, is committed and hardworking. He was our MP once. But, 15 years in office and Tarun Gogoi is a tired and confused man. He does not trust anybody in his party, including the APCC president. How can the people trust him? Moreover, he often keeps contradicting himself.