Titabor, Jorhat, Assam: When Gaurav Gogoi joined the Congress in May 2013, his only identity among the masses was as the son of Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi. He quietly faced the sharpest of criticism that called him another avatar of dynastic politics, even as he worked hard to come out of the shadow of his prominent father. Today, as a Lok Sabha MP from Kaliabor, Gaurav has traversed every nook and cranny of the chief minister's constituency braving inclement weather in Titabor while campaigning for his father.
Firstpost met with this young MP and had a chat on the chances of a fourth term for the incumbent chief minister and how the Congress views this first direct contest with the BJP after the 2014 Lok Sabha Election debacle. Edited excerpts follow:
There is talk that the Congress high command has also the name of former Union minister Paban Singh Ghatowar in their mind as a probable chief minister. Your reactions?
The Congress party has clearly projected only one person as its chief ministerial candidate and that is Tarun Gogoi. All the other leaders have very significant responsibilities to steer the party in their respective regions and in their respective communities.
How much of a factor would anti-incumbency become for the Congress party in this election?
Anti-incumbency will be a political factor. There is no doubt people will keep it in mind with regards to the Congress government. But there will also be anti-incumbency against the two-year old BJP government at the Centre. People will compare the work done by the BJP in the last two years and the work done by the Congress in the last 15 years. People will see to it that the Congress party that is pro-poor, pro-farmer, pro-student, pro-rural economy and pro-entrepreneurship emerges victorious. Given all these factors, people will vote for a leadership in which they have trusted for the past 15 years. People have lost trust in the BJP as none of their promises made prior to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls have borne any result.
How dependent is the Congress on Badruddin Ajmal's AIUDF?
The Congress as of now is in a very strong position and is set to win and form the fourth consecutive government. Its position every week becomes only stronger. I won't be surprised if we form a majority on our own, but if we don't we will explore all our options at that point of time.
Is the BJP making inroads into the tea garden community which is traditionally a Congress voter base in Assam?
The BJP has made inroads at the expense of the AGP. The Congress retains its base among the tea garden community. This has become even stronger prior to the elections due to the vision of the government and the benefits the tea garden community stands to enjoy including land to the landless, land deeds or pattas for those who do not have any, rice at Rs two per kg, vast improvement in electricity distribution and transmission — these factors will be in the minds of the voters from the tea garden community.
They will also remember that the BJP, after forming the government at the Centre, planned to cut the subsidised rations for tea garden labourers. Their representatives in the Central government have not managed to bring any substantive improvement for the tea garden community.
Even if the Congress forms the next Assam government, how tough it would be with a BJP government at the Centre?
When the Congress first came to power in 2001, it was a BJP government at the Centre. Yet we performed much better than the AGP government prior to 2001 which was a regional ally. This only shows that the leadership of the Congress party is far more effective in bringing development to the state than any other leadership. My question to the BJP leaders of the state is what did they do when the Centre cut the special category status, when the Centre suspended North East Industrial Policy, when the Centre withdrew the Model School and the backward region grant fund? In fact, people in Assam have realised that the BJP leaders in Assam are themselves ineffective and incapable of bringing back any benefits from their government in Delhi.
What about granting SC/ST status to six ethnic communities? It seems both the Congress and the BJP are dilly-dallying on the whole issue.
People have realised that the BJP as a party cannot be trusted. They are only bound to make false promises. They have raised expectations of many people including people belonging to six ethnic communities when they had promised them ST status prior to the Budget. Unfortunately, the BJP has not been able to do so and is consistently involved in delaying tactics. By and large, the people of the state are fed up and will not tolerate any more rhetoric and will not be misguided by the election announcement or speeches of the BJP leaders including those of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and (BJP president) Amit Shah.
The BJP is taking credit for the ongoing National Register of Citizens (NRC) process which is likely to be a key step in identification and deportation of people from neighbouring Bangladesh and other countries, who are living illegally in the state of Assam. What do you say about it?
The BJP is consistently not serious about any issue or any political development related to Assam. They keep making u-turns and flipflops. Earlier, they criticised the Land Boundary Agreement (between India and Bangladesh) and now they are now in favour of the Land Boundary Agreement. Initially they opposed the state government's approach to implement the NRC and now they are trying to hijack it. These shows that the BJP itself does not have any vision or have any understanding of Assam's problems. The Congress has emerged as the only party that has clarity about how to tackle some of these issues. At the initiative of the Congress government, state government officers went to each and every nook and corner of the state — to every village, to each alley — to ensure that every person living in the state is a genuine Indian citizen and has the proper documents.
When will flood and erosion stop becoming an election issue in Assam?
Flood and erosion is a very important issue for the state of Assam. The previous UPA government had initiated several schemes to ensure that areas are well-protected from flood and erosion. The flood management programme was started by the UPA government. The Brahmaputra Board received lot of money from the past UPA government to protect the river banks in Majuli and other regions from flood and erosion. Unfortunately, in the current scenario the present Central government has totally ignored this problem.
They have not announced flood and erosion as a national disaster, which is our persistent demand. The prime minister never even visited the flood- and erosion-prone areas. And when the state asked for support from the National Disaster Response Management, the government never provided the funds on time. It is a very serious and important issue for the state and for its people, the Congress party takes it very seriously. Unfortunately, the BJP takes it very lightly.
Which is a more difficult election — the 2014 Lok Sabha polls or the present Assembly election?
I think this election is more important because after the 2014 results, Assam is the first state that the Congress party across India is set to win back and win on its own. The party has done well in the Panchayat elections in Gujarat, municipality elections in Chhattisgarh and by-elections in Madhya Pradesh. After 2014, Assam will be the first state where the Congress party will have a direct contest with the BJP and emerge as a winner. So from that point of view, this election is not only very important for the people of Assam but for the entire country that wants to see the Congress party become even stronger largely for our secular and inclusive politics.