‘Most thought we will lose because of CAB, but it helped us’: Himanta Sarmahttps://indianexpress.com/elections/interview-assam-bjp-leader-himanta-sarma-5745776/

‘Most thought we will lose because of CAB, but it helped us’: Himanta Sarma

"The BJP respects their regional aspiration, identity, self-respect and through them, reaches out to the tribal and indigenous communities of the NE."

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Himanta Biswa Sarma.

Congratulations on the BJP’s performance in the Northeast today. As the man-in-charge, how do you see this result?

This is a tremendous victory. This has become possible because of the strong leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The love and affection of the people of India towards the Prime Minister is unparalleled. The single most important factor in this victory is his leadership and the organisational expansion carried out by our party president Amit Shah.

In the Northeast…

In the Northeast, we have won because PM Modi has developed the Northeast very methodically.

During the Tripura election, he had coined the term HIRA — he said do not vote for Manik [Sarkar], but for HIRA. HIRA is Highway, Internet-way, Railway and Airway. So he laid complete emphasis on connectivity. Today, every state of the NE is connected through air, the meter-gauge conversion is almost completed, the railway is expanded to every state of the NE region…and you have seen the construction of roads and highways even in areas as remote as Silchar-Jiribam. Then there are the bridges. The development is no longer in the files, you can see it. Modi has done everything. People of NE have realised there is a PM who really cares for NE. That is why this overwhelming support.

The second most important reason behind our victory is the BJP’s capacity to work with its regional allies. The BJP is the world’s largest political party, still today we are working with regional parties which, say, have influence over a district or a particular region. We work with them. The BJP respects their regional aspiration, identity, self-respect and through them, reaches out to the tribal and indigenous communities of the NE.

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When you spearheaded the campaign in the Northeast, what were the crucial challenges?

The challenge was two-fold. A lot of negative things were said about our party and our leadership on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill [CAB]. So we had to overcome that. And while overcoming, we had to ensure that we are not compromising with our core beliefs, our values and our ideology. We remained steadfast towards the NRC and CAB. Then we covered that challenge to a positive thing. Many people thought we will lose because of the CAB but you will see when the final results are out that it has helped us. The CAB has consolidated our votes.

The second challenge was that certain differences cropped up amongst the NEDA allies. We walked on and saw to it that we faced the election like a family. We succeeded on that point also.

But allies like the NPP contested against the BJP this election on some seats.

No, no, they had attended the NDA meeting day before yesterday. Every political part of this region, including the Sikkim Democratic Front, NPP, everybody attended the NDA meeting. We were all there.

So will the CAB be passed?

Whatever we have committed right from Clause 6 of the Assam Accord, the tribal status to certain communities, the implementation of the CAB [will be done]. While implementing CAB, you remove certain points which might agitate the minds of the other people. For instance, in CAB, we want a “cut-off date” — that could only be interpreted from the Passport Act. But if you put that cut-off date of December 2014 in the CAB itself, then all this rumour-mongering about the CAB will end. I believe that the core of CAB will remain the same, the ethos of CAB will remain the same but we have to address one or two issues which give a kind of advantage to those who are opposing the CAB to actually spread rumours. With a cut-off date and a statistical disclosure about how many people will be taken in, all the debate about the CAB will be over.

While overcoming the challenge due to the CAB, you steadfastly criticised certain sections of the Muslims in Assam, doubting their citizenship and alleging them of land encroachment…

Of course. That is why the NRC is going on. The Supreme Court has ordered the NRC after convincing themselves that there is a need for doing an NRC in Assam. So, the presence of foreigners in the soil of Assam is not a question to be debated. We represent a civilisation. You cannot challenge our civilisation. You cannot encroach our monasteries, our land. You cannot be a threat to our indigenous people. If you have to come here, you have to respect my civilisation. It is not a message for conflict, rather it is a message to show them how to live in this country in the days to come.