"People are extremely disappointed by the leadership of the current chief minister," Congress leader and two-term parliamentarian Gaurav Gogoi tells Asianet Newsable in an exclusive interview.
The votes are in, and now the wait begins for May 2, when the Electronic Voting Machines will reveal the electorate's mood.
In Assam, the Congress-led Mahajot alliance is confident of removing the Sarbananda Sonowal-led BJP government.
Asianet Newsable's Yacoob caught up with Congress leader and two-term parliamentarian Gaurav Gogoi to understand the mood in the party camp. Here are excerpts of that interview
How confident are you about Congress's victory in Assam? Surveys have indicated a clear win for BJP?
I am very confident about winning the Assam 2021 election. I think the results of phase one of the seats will surprise everyone. We are going to perform much better than our own internal projections. And in phase two and three, we have matched our expectations. Therefore, we are very confident that our grand alliance will achieve 101 seats. We are going to be very close to that target.
How significantly is Congress feeling the absence of Tarun Gogoi in this election?
Of course, it has been very difficult emotionally to travel the length and breadth and hear people say such positive things about him. But at the same time, we feel guided by his soul. We feel he is still amongst us, pushing us to fight harder and work harder. People have also responded tremendously with a lot of goodwill and affection. He was very much the part of the conversation among the people before they go for voting. Everybody has been very kind in their words, and they still remember his 15-year Congress government's positive achievements.
Prime Minister Modi and Amit Shah addressed several campaign rallies in Assam. Why did the top-most leaders of the Congress party not campaign with as much force?
I see a vast difference between the campaign between Congress and the BJP. BJP has done only big rallies where either their state leaders or their national leaders have come, given a speech and then flown back. But the Congress campaign has been more people-centric. It has been more interactive and has been more modern. We launched two campaigns, one in February and another in March. We had state leaders addressing big rallies and holding several small town-hall interactions with students, shopkeepers and traders. We actually had a dialogue with them, and senior-most state leaders did this.
Similarly, both Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi, instead of just speaking at rallies, interacted with college students. Priyanka Gandhi visited tea garden worker's house and got to know their plight. I feel that in this modern era of social media where everybody can watch the movement of our leaders and can get a 24/7 update on our campaign, Congress brought a sense of freshness, newness and public participation, which is completely missing in the BJP.
How big an issue was CAA among the local population? How did Congress outline its position to the people on the matter?
CAA has taken a deep root in the heart, mind and psyche of the Assamese society. People feel that if the BJP successfully implements CAA, they will further bring more such legislation that attacks the Assamese cultural values of harmony and peaceful co-existence, put Assam in the backburner, and put the Nagpur RSS ideology in the front.
People have seen how Congress, especially Rahul Gandhi -- whether it is 2019 Lok Sabha elections or even now in Assam 2021 election -- has been at the forefront, saying that the party will abide by the 'wishes' and 'will' of the people of Assam and oppose CAA in Assam.
And it is mentioned among the five top guarantees in our manifesto that CAA will be removed. But after our government is formed, we see that BJP's attack on federalism and constitutional values will be repealed by our government. The central government cannot impose its will on the state government without taking the state's people along.
Last time the AIUDF contested nearly 80 seats. This time they are an ally and are only contesting about 30 seats. Has this given a wider playing field for Congress to revive its position?
We are very grateful to all the parties that are part of the grand alliance, including the AIUDF, BPF, the Anchalik Gana Morcha, the parties that belong to the Left front, RJD and other parties who have supported us but not contested any seats. We feel that this is a great alliance, and we are taking this alliance forward from the perspective of any one party. We have collectively come together to ensure that CAA is defeated. We have been formed on an anti-CAA platform against BJP's misrule and BJP's alliance, which has only focused on strengthening and enriching society's already wealthier section.
The kind of inequality BJP and its allies have created has to come to an end. So the alliance (Mahajot) has formed with a larger interest of protecting Assam economically, culturally and socially. It is not one individual party's perspective.
What were the issues that your campaign primarily focussed on?
In February, all our state leaders undertook a month-long yatra with the slogan 'come, let's save Assam' (Aayiye Assam Bachao). We travelled the length and breadth in buses and stayed in people's homes. And the people of Assam told us the issues that are in their heart and mind -- the Citizenship Amendments Act, rising unemployment problem, the crushing rate of inflation, the rising cost of homes, electricity cost, the plight of tea garden workers who were promised the sky by the BJP but got nothing in the end.
And that is how we came up with our 'five guarantees' (promises)'. When our grand alliance comes to power, we will ensure that CAA is not implemented and ensure women in the household get financial support to run their homes. 200 units of electricity will be waived off so that the burden of inflation is reduced. Five lakh jobs would be created in the public sector in addition to what we create in the private sector, and tea garden workers will be given a wage of Rs 365 per day. That is our Congress party's core agenda in this election.
Three phases of voting have concluded. What is the sentiment that you are picking from the ground?
There is an undercurrent in favour of the Congress party and the Mahajot. People see freshness in its leadership. Despite Tarun Gogoi's absence, people have faith in the collective experience of the Congress party and local leadership. People are extremely disappointed by the leadership of the current chief minister. Actually, he (Sonowal) does not have power in his hand. He has lost power to people sitting in Nagpur (RSS headquarters) and Delhi (central BJP leadership). Even in Assam, the decisions are often overturned by ministers in their own cabinet. Never in history we have had such a weak chief minister.
What does a high turnout of voters in Assam signify?
Young people have come out and rejected the politics of polarisation and hate. They have voted for politics of accountability, politics that promises jobs, politics that talks about real issues affecting Assam and leadership that is not remote-controlled by people sitting in other parts of the country.
Does the party regret letting Himanta Biswas Sarma leave? He did draw a massive crowd at his roadshows and is today counted as a strong leader in the state?
Himanta Biswas Sarma is a migratory politician, and the day BJP loses power, the day he is unable to see his dream of becoming chief minister, he will migrate again. So we are not concerned because migratory politicians migrate everywhere and sometimes end up flying back home.
The BJP has accused Congress of running a polarised campaign, especially since it joined hands with the AIUDF. How have you countered this allegation?
BJP has always made such allegations against the Congress party. But it is the Congress party, by and large, which brought security to Assam. It the Congress party that initiated NRC, which looks into the issue of illegal immigration. The Congress party, which under the leadership of Tarun Gogoi (former CM), created a modern Guwahati and upgraded the infrastructure health and education for the public. But the BJP has nothing except for rhetoric and allegations. They themselves fail to answer why unemployment is higher than five years ago. The state's GDP is lower than five years ago. No major investments have come in the last five years.
Badruddin Ajmal has said that he will support a Congress chief minister if the alliance secures a majority. Who do you think will be the chief minister in that scenario?
We are grateful to the Mahajot partners for accepting that the chief minister will be from the Congress party. There will be no deputy chief minister. Right now, we are focused on ensuring that our five guarantees are implemented. The Congress party in Delhi (central leaders) and the people of Assam will decide who will be the next chief minister.
There was a major furore over an AIUDF leader's 'daadi, topi, lungiwallah government' remark. How will Congress keep AIUDF leaders from making such statements? Don't such remarks play to the strength of the BJP?
I sense that remarks have been edited to suit the narrative of the BJP. The speech indicated that all sections of people have a clear say in the future Mahajot government. And everybody's concerns will be represented, and that essentially what our Constitution says that we will not discriminate based on religion or somebody's attire or somebody's choice of food. But the BJP has edited this remark to suit their narrative. We are very confident the Congress will the largest party (win more seats) and will have its own chief minister. Congress will emulate the path set out by its former chief minister Tarun Gogoi. People of Assam know that what BJP is up to, and they will not fall for such politics.
Last Updated Apr 7, 2021, 2:02 PM IST