Express Adda | Regional parties can’t come together against BJP because states compete with each other: Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma

“I’ll say that the Gandhis have outlived their utility. I am sure that at some point in time Sonia Gandhi was needed to unite the party. But today, India has changed. I do not think that the Gandhis can serve the Congress now. Every empire has to fall at some point of time.”

Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma
Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma

At an e.Adda held recently, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma spoke on Centre-state relations, on those excluded by the National Register of Citizens, and why he supports the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.

On how the Covid challenge could have been tackled better
On the one hand, obviously, everybody wants to contain and combat Covid but at the same time, they want to try and attack Modi too. They have a two-fold agenda: contain Covid and contain Modi. I think India should have collectively fought Covid. The Covid battle should not have been bipartisan.

On his meteoric rise and success in the Modi BJP
Sonowal (former Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal) and I came from other parties into the BJP. We were fortunate to have got the opportunity to work directly under the Prime Minister and with Amit Shah. Because both of them have guided us, I think we immediately became part of the ideological family and today nobody considers us outsiders. They have accepted us and we have been able to rise.

On whether the alternative to the BJP is now coming from regional parties
I think it’s Mr Modi’s biggest achievement that now liberals are saying that the Congress is no longer an alternative, regional parties are. But regional parties creating a national alternative will never be possible because states compete with each other. Bengal and Bihar cannot come together, Bengal and Assam cannot come together and even if you do, there will be conflict. So the coming together of regional parties cannot silence the might of the BJP at the national level.

On his now-famous meeting with Rahul Gandhi
We went to meet Rahul Gandhi… elections were nearing. But during the meeting, I saw that Rahul was not interested in the meeting. He was busy playing with his dog Piddi. We were served tea and biscuits, and the dog picked up a biscuit from the plate. I thought someone would take away that plate but I saw everyone taking biscuits from it. I was not a frequent visitor so I realised that this must be normal for everyone here. That day I realised that enough was enough. But having said that, I am grateful to him. If I am in this position today it is also because of that famous meeting and because of the fact that Rahul Gandhi did not appreciate me being in the Congress party.

On whether the Congress needs the Gandhis
I’ll say that the Gandhis have outlived their utility. I am sure that at some point in time Sonia Gandhi was needed to unite the party. But today, India has changed. I do not think that the Gandhis can serve the Congress now. Every empire has to fall at some point of time.

On whether the BJP has a Modi cult at the top
The culture of the BJP is rooted in India’s grassroots. So whatever people may say about Mr Modi, he is not a cult, he is a father figure. There is no similarity between the Gandhis and Modi.

One wants to empower his family, another wants to empower India’s young generation.

On NRC and the fate of people excluded from it
In 2005, Dr Manmohan Singh had spoken to the leadership of AASU (All Assam Students’ Union) and had come to a conclusion that Assam needed an NRC. Now NRC has been done but in between we noticed that certain manipulations had taken place. What we are demanding is that a 20% verification takes place in the border district and 10% re-verification takes place in the heartland. Today it has excluded 19 lakh people… a foreigner tribunal has been set up. People will now go to that court and they will establish that they are Indian citizens. After that we have to take it up with the government of Bangladesh and we must try to send them back. But if it is not possible, at least disenfranchise them.

On the Citizenship (Amendment) Act
CAA is just discharging your historical responsibility. It should not be seen from a communal framework. CAA is just an agenda which you need to finish. The Congress during the Partition should have clearly stated that there is Hindu population with you who you should take care of and if you don’t, then they will get automatic citizenship in India. I think our Indian Muslims should have been generous. They should have said that yes, if they are being tortured, if they are being persecuted, let us bring them back to India.

On discrimination against refugees on grounds of religion
Can any Muslim say that I have been persecuted for religious reasons in Pakistan, in Bangladesh? Muslim refugees have come to India because of economic reasons. India has a historical, constitutional and legal responsibility towards the minorities of Pakistan and Bangladesh.

On his comment during campaigning that he did not want minority votes
We did maximum welfare programmes in areas where the “35%” people (minorities) live. We have taken up construction of 8 lakh houses for Muslims in Assam. Roads, buildings, colleges, institution after institution are being built in areas where they live. But as a political person I know that I’m not going to get my vote from there. So if I am a bit realistic and if I concentrate my resources in a place where I will get votes, what is wrong in that? But today as a Chief Minister, if you ask me, whether I am going to work for that 35% or not — I will answer, ‘yes, I am going to work more and more for the welfare of those 35%’. But as a BJP (politician) why will I go to seek votes where I am 100% convinced I am not going to get even a single vote?

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Eminent guests who participated in the e.Adda include Martin Strandgaard, Deputy Head of Mission, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Denmark; Swati Piramal, Vice Chairperson, Piramal Enterprises; Kedar Upadhye, Global CFO, Cipla Ltd; OP Mishra, Joint Commissioner, Delhi Police; Ashok Taneja, Managing Director & Chief Mentor, Shriram Pistons & Rings Ltd; Meenakshi Gopinath, Chairperson, Centre for Policy Research; Sunil Parekh, Chief Corporate Affairs, Zydus Cadila Group; Prabhat Pani, Senior Advisor, Tata Trusts; Dr YK Alagh, Vice Chair & Professor Emeritus, Sardar Patel Institute of Economic And Social Research; Arvind Paranjpye, Director, Nehru Planetarium; Sanjay Bhutani, Managing Director — India & SAARC, Bausch & Lomb India Pvt Ltd; Gurdeep Singh, Chairman, Kloeckner Pentaplast India Ltd; Arvind Sahay, Professor, Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad; Kiran Khalap, Managing Director and Co-Founder, Chlorophyll; Ajit Gulabchand, Chairman and Managing Director, HCC Ltd; Karni Singh Bhada, Head Corporate Affairs, ACC Ltd; Dharmakirti Joshi, Chief Economist, CRISIL; Nalini Singh, Director, Tvlive India Pvt Ltd; Pravir Krishna, MD, TRIFED, Ministry of Tribal Affairs; Sevanti Ninan, Columnist.

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First published on: 20-06-2021 at 04:30 IST