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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Baghel: ‘In Bengal, those who fill Brigade Ground sit in Writers’ Building… PM rally was a flop. At Cong-Left rally, ground was full’

Baghel said, "The people are feeling dejected and thinking they made a mistake. They had promised to build expressways along the Brahmaputra river. They had promised that Bangladesh border would be sealed. They had promised that the daily wages of tea garden workers would be increased but did not do it."

Written by Manoj C G | New Delhi |
Updated: March 8, 2021 6:38:09 pm
Bhupesh Baghel said, "They have made (Sarbananda) Sonowal the Chief Minister. But he does not have much say in matters." (File)

As the Congress’s senior observer for Assam, what is your assessment of the party’s chances in the state?

I am confident that the Congress and the alliance led by it will form the government in Assam. People had given a chance to the BJP-led alliance for five years but they could not deliver. Instead of one, there are two Chief Ministers – ek naam ka dusre kaam ka (one for work, the other just in name). People are wondering who the Chief Minister is? They did not address any of the issues based on which they came to power. The people are feeling dejected and thinking they made a mistake. They had promised to build expressways along the Brahmaputra river. They had promised that Bangladesh border would be sealed. They had promised that the daily wages of tea garden workers would be increased but did not do it. They don’t do what they say. These are big issues on which they have done nothing. And instead, they have started to run a syndicate. They seek votes in the name of cow but cattle smuggling is rampant in the state.

They have made (Sarbananda) Sonowal the Chief Minister. But he does not have much say in matters. Himanta (Biswa Sarma) is running the show. So there is much scrimmage there. This will have an impact on the elections as well. Our campaign is advancing smoothly and strongly. You have seen how parties like the Bodoland People’s Front have left the BJP alliance and joined us. We are very strong at the ground level. These are clearly positive signs.

Why has the Congress put so much focus on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in its campaign?

See, it is about the pride (asmita) of Assam. They have been waging a battle against it. People feel the CAA will impact them and threaten their very existence. Protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act had started from Assam. Remember the summit meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japan Prime Minister (Shinzo Abe), which was to be held in Guwahati (in December 2019), had to be cancelled because of the protests. So, there is massive sentiment against the CAA.

But there is a sentiment in favour of the CAA as well in the Barak valley region of Assam.

There is little bit of sentiment. But we will have to make them understand.

Why don’t you have a chief ministerial candidate?

Has the BJP announced that it is projecting the incumbent chief minister as its CM face? Is the BJP fighting the election under his leadership? Have they announced that the election will be led under the leadership of (Sarbananda) Sonowal?

The Congress generally doesn’t project a chief ministerial face where it is not in power. In such states, we fight the election collectively and after elections the MLAs and the high command decide who will be the Chief Minister. Nobody was projected in Chhattisgarh. There can be rare exceptions like in the case of Punjab where Amarinder Singh was projected.

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The Congress has entered into an alliance with Badruddin Ajmal’s AIUDF in Assam and Furfura Sharif Abbas Siddiqui’s ISF in West Bengal. The BJP has attacked you for the tie-ups…

I will talk about Assam because I have been made an observer for the state. In Assam, there is a multi-party alliance, including the CPM, CPI and the AIUDF. It is not right to say that we have entered into an alliance with Ajmal alone. Now, BPF has also joined us, after leaving the BJP. So, we have tried to ensure that there is no vote division.

But questions are being raised by your own leaders. Senior Congress leader Anand Sharma has said alliance with parties such as the ISF and other such forces “militates against the core ideology of the party.”

See, he has not been given any responsibility in West Bengal. He should not say anything regarding Bengal. The people who have been given responsibilities like (AICC in-charge) Jitin Prasada and others…they should talk… If he is talking in his capacity as a member of the Congress Working Committee (CWC), then he should raise the issue in the CWC. That is the platform…not through media or publicly.

You are sharing power with the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, you have an alliance with the AIUDF in Assam and the ISF in West Bengal…

I have been given the charge of Assam only. In Maharashtra, we fought the election separately. But the situation which emerged (after elections)…we had to take a decision in view of the situation. It was a decision which we made depending on the situation.

How will the outcome of these Assembly elections impact national politics?

Let the results come…only then will we be able to say something. But one thing is clear…the BJP is not going to get anything. They will lose seats in Assam, they will anyway get nothing in Kerala and Tamil Nadu and in Bengal they are trying desperately. They could not even fill the Brigade Ground on Sunday (March 7). The Prime Minister’s rally was a flop show. It is said that those who manage to fill Brigade Ground sit in Writers’ Building. The Left and Congress rally was much bigger and we filled the ground with people.

In Tamil Nadu, the DMK gave only 25 seats to the Congress, down from 41 last time. In Bengal, the Congress could not get even a single extra seat from what it had contested last time. The Congress’s strike rate in Bihar was quite poor. Are regional parties now seeing the Congress as a baggage?

The situation is different in every state, and decisions are taken based on the situation in the state. The leadership of Bihar will review the party’s performance but it is clear that the RJD votes did not transfer to us because of which we suffered losses, and they could not form the government. Had there been transfer of votes…the situation would have been different. The Congress has allies in Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu…even in Bihar even though the votes did not get transferred, there was an alliance.

The farmers’ protest has completed 100 days. Why has the issue not figured much in your campaign so far?

We are raising the issue. I have spoken about it in Assam. Rahul Gandhi speaks about it. But which part of our speeches gets highlighted by the media…that is not in our hands.

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