In an interview with The Indian Express, Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal speaks about a wide array of topics ranging from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal in the Northeast to the National Register of Citizens (NRC) to the protests over the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016. Excerpts:
In Assam, what are the primary issues this election?
The main issue, honestly speaking, is development. Modi ji has shown people how a leader can work honestly after being voted to power and fulfill the promises made. The benefits of his work have been received by all sections of society. Congress had said “gareebi hatao” but that was only a slogan – no steps were taken. Modi ji’s Jan Dhan Yojana is not only about opening bank accounts but it’s about giving a chance to the poor for financial inclusion. In Assam, 1.35 crore people — hitherto unconnected to the banking system — have opened bank accounts. In Congress’s time, middlemen used to siphon off all the money from the poor.
Is the election about PM Modi’s appeal among people or the development work done by your government?
Modi ji has led us from the front. The PMs from Congress visited the Northeast like Presidents of US visit India — very limited in approach and no connection with people. But Modi ji has visited the Northeast 27 times. He is the first PM to do so. That’s why people in the Northeast connect with him so quickly…
Do the national narratives of this election, say India’s air strike in Pakistan, strike a chord in the Northeast?
Yes. In 1962, when China attacked India, they had come up to Tezpur. The Northeast people appealed to the then PM Nehru to protect them. Pandit Nehru said from London “my heart goes out to people of Assam, sorry brother I cannot protect you”. Compare, the Congress’s moral and the BJP’s. See how Modi ji has responded to the Pulwama terror attack — by going inside Pakistan and killing the terrorists.
But the BJP saw intense protests in Assam, and the Northeast, over the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 earlier this year. That anger is not much palpable now after the Bill lapsed. But the BJP has made it clear that it stands committed to bringing the bill. How do you look at the issue?
The apprehension about the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 amongst people here has been addressed clearly in our manifesto. People’s sentiments will be taken care of and their interests will be absolutely protected. Modi ji said in Silchar, we will take everybody in confidence, we will discuss with all stakeholders, and after thorough consultation we will arrive at a consensus. Congress and the Leftists have spread a bhram in people’s mind. They scared people on the issue. Even while pamphlets were distributed against us in every household in the villages, we swept the Panchayat polls. Congress will try based on this issue this time, but they will fail.
Your views on the NRC and does the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 and the NRC update process contradict each other?
No, it does not. The NRC’s main purpose is to detect the illegal migrants in Assam, as meant by ‘detection’ in Clause 5 of Assam Accord. The Congress government could not complete NRC process and we are doing that. The Congress did a natak in the name of the NRC pilot project in Barpeta and Chaygaon. They created a law and order situation on their own and got people killed so that they can call it off. In our government, we have dedicated 55,000 government employees for NRC work. The Assam Accord has been given the highest importance by Modi ji’s government. Indo-Bangla land agreement which is essential for border fencing was done by our government. The fencing between the two countries will be completed in the next six months. It will be a historic achievement for Assam.The Congress never worked to implement Clause 6 of the Assam Accord. Modi ji’s government brought it up in the Cabinet, formed a committee and gave the terms of reference for it. Through Clause 6, the rights of land and property, language and cultural, seat reservation in Vidhan Sabha and Panchayat, and reservation of jobs for the Assamese people will be ensured…
The government of Assam has appealed for sample reverification of the NRC draft. Your comments on that and what about the deportation of those left out of final NRC?
There have been complaints from many people. In a democracy, you have to look into complaints. People desire a free and fair NRC. We have already appealed for re-verification. First lets talk about the first ‘D’ — that is detection. To the two other ‘D’s — deletion and deportation – we will come after this….