Sayed Zarir Hussain (SZH): I Sayed Zarir Hussain, welcome you to the Prekshapat programme at News Live. People of Assam are aware that the results of the elections of the Bodoland Territorial Region are already out. UPPl (the United People's Party Liberal), BJP & GSP (Gana Suraksha Party) would form the Government in BTC and today we have the man of the moment with us, Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma. Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma, I welcome you. It was earlier said that there is never much hype or publicity in a council election like that of BTC. But this time we have seen a high voltage election almost like an assembly election, also it has been covered like that and there was a similar level of campaigning too. Also it’s been said that it’s like a semifinal for the 2021 elections. So how do you see and explain this election?
SHZ: But we have seen a lot of changes politically in terms of alliances. In the 2016 it was with BPF (Bodoland People's Front) and this time you contested alone in the BTR elections, BJP contested 26 seats and won 9 seats. And today we have seen you forming the government along with UPPL and GSP. So there’s a political change as well.
HBS: See, this whole change hasn’t taken place in a single day. In the last Lok Sabha elections, Pramila Rani Brahma was our common candidate. But for a very long time BPF was not associating itself with our campaigning, not even with pictures of Prime Minister Modiji. They reckoned that if the visibility of BJP gets increased then the minority votes would drift away from them. So be it Mr. Hagrama Mohilary or the BPF party, they started to drift away from BJP during the Lok Sabha elections itself. You also are aware that three of the BPF members were honourably included into the ministry as well. In return, our party state president Ranjit Das, our organizational secretary Phani Sarma and the four presidents of our district committees, we all had humbly requested Mr. Hagrama Mohilary, personally meeting him in his office to give an EM post to our sole representative in the BTC. But he did not pay heed to our request. Later we also requested the BTC chief Mr. Hagrama Mohilary to include the members of BJP in all the welfare activities in BTC. For whatever reason he never wanted to openly acknowledge the relationship with BJP in the BTC region. But I would also admit that when our candidate Mr. Dilip Saikia contested in the Mangaldoi Lok Sabha constituency elections, the members of BPF did help us. So the relationship of BPF with BJP was never smooth in the BTC region and earlier it was the same problem with Congress party as well. And even now the problem with BPF is that they do not want BJP to expand in the BTC region. But as a political party we cannot withdraw ourselves from an important political institution like BTC. So it was evident that one or the other day we will have to contest the elections on our own and I believe everyone democratically participated in the elections and people also wanted a change, so a new government would be in place.
SZH: Now we have seen due to this BJP is in an alliance with UPPL and GSP and like you said the government would be formed. Now would this alliance in BTC be carried forward since you had said that the 14 constituencies are very important?
SZH: Now here there’s another question. We have got a minority component in the BTC region. Now this time in these lections we have seen that the main reason behind BPF getting the 17 seats is due to minority votes or the Muslim Block as it’s referred to shifting its base towards BPF from the Congress or the AUDF. So how do you analyze this factor?
HBS: When we had our talks with Mr. Hagrama Mohilary on different issues, the minority community came under the impression that Mr. Mohilary was opposing us. Also on the basis of our criticism of Mr. Mohilary which we did rather than that of Pramod Boro, Naba Sarania, Congress or AUDF in terms of BTC elections, the minorities somewhere found an anti-BJP stand in BPF. So that’s why his Muslim Block as you referred to, voted for BPF. But I don’t think it will be a permanent vote and I believe this vote would again shift its base to Congress or AUDF in due course of time.
SZH: Now this whole political dynamic would change in 2021 in the BTR. Now the Congress and AUDF have already aligned and there’s a possibility of them coming together with BPF. Then would there be any change in the composition of these 14 constituencies?
HBS: The thing is at the council level the affinity of the minorities that BPF has been able to gain; now this vote would automatically shift to Congress and AUDF in the assembly elections, because the minorities know that Hagrama Mohilary can’t challenge the BJP in the assembly, Congress and AUDF perhaps could. So I believe this alliance amongst this segment which is not voting for us or still not considering to vote for us is not going to politically impact us. But since election is like a war in ballots, we would keep a track of their movements and we will formulate a defence or an offence mechanism for us. But here, there’s nothing to gain or lose for us. So even if BPF, Congress or AUDF come to an alliance I believe it’s the same segment of vote that has never been in our favour and that’s why me or BJP is not that much worried about it. But we shall just keep a track of it.
SZH: Now you have said there are 14 constituencies in these districts this region and you are going to begin with Plus 14. Would you please explain that to us a bit?
HBS: See now if we three parties together form the government in the BTC, naturally BJP will get the opportunity to better organize itself in the BTC region. I have been a minister for a very long time and probably I will be the longest serving minister by the end of this tenure. But even during this long term I had never been to places like Baganpara, Dihira, Salakati, etc. They also never invited us and we too even if we go there we wind our trip by visiting Kokrajhar or Udalguri. This time we, the BJP got a chance to intrude into these places politically and it seems the people were actually waiting for BJP. Within just 9 months of political activities we won 9 seats and we gave a close fight in 10 constituencies. So I believe by the time the assembly elections approach, BJP will be in a very strong political position in the BTC area which will definitely impact the elections to these 14 assembly constituencies.
SZH: And if this alliance carries forward…….
HBS: Well, it will be too early to comment on it today. The government will be formed and we also can’t predict the experiences of the government as well. There are some segments of the UPPL, they probably would not want to leave those to BJP and BJP would also want to contest there. So we can’t say at this moment whether this alliance in BTC would surely continue in the assembly elections as well. But this whole thing will certainly extend our organizational activities in the BTC region to a large extent. That’s the reason I believe BJP will probably contest and win these 14 constituencies or at least the 12 main constituencies.
SZH: Now there is a question here that in these elections you took up a lot of risks, political risks because you parted your ways with BPF, you contested the elections alone, and then you had a political arithmetic with UPPL as well. But if we look into the scenario in terms of the assembly elections what do you get to see here?
SZH: In other words, though it could be analysed differently, the semifinal was a bit tough…!
HBS: I would not use the term semi final but yesterday if Hagrama Mohilary had a huge win, either BJP would have completely been dependent on BPF for 2021 or after this win had had Hagrama Mohilary decided to side with Congress and AUDF or to with the winning party in the elections, it would have been a disaster for us. So yesterday was a complex day which we don’t face that frequently. So I believe we all would remember the day for a long time in our political life.
SZH: Very interesting observation, I would take a short break and would try to understand it more from you. Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma, there are a few other things. As you said it was a risk, you took this challenge and you overcame this challenge. Now the question is 2021. Now in 2021, if we see it from the Assam’s perspective, there have been realignments: Congress AUDF and some other parties such as Raijor Dal and Asom Jatiyo Parishad, though Asom Jatiyo Parishad is yet to take the shape, may be in a day or two they would announce their organizational set up. So how do you see this whole thing?
HBS: I would say it like this. Recently I had the opportunity to come closer to the local people in the BTC area due to the elections. Though some people did not vote for us in the BTC for various local reasons, one thing is for sure that people want us in the assembly elections. Similarly, I have been to places like Gohpur and others and I reckon from the excitement amongst the people that I see when we go there, the people of Assam have already taken a decision to bring BJP back to power for a second term. The elections are due in the next 4 months; tentatively people take their positions by now. So people actually haven’t seen these parties like Raijor Dal or Asom Jatiyo Parishad. People only have got to know from the media reports that two such parties have been formed. But the public hasn't seen it. Booth committees haven’t been formed; people do not know their leaders or even the electoral symbols. So I believe all these alignments or realignments are just the food for media people. Elections will be primarily fought between two forces: Congress-AUDF versus BJP. So the elections will be fought between these two forces like before. Now we can say that there will be a fight between two ideologies or rather a fight between two civilisations. So I don’t think there will be massive realignment and it will be a recurrence of the last elections of 2016. Also this particular civilizational battle as I call it would be recreated even in the next two or three assembly elections in Assam in different ways. And I believe there will be a fight between two ideologies, two civilizational values and several elections In Assam will be like this till this issue is decisively settled
SZH: So what you are trying to say is that these new parties do not have a space amongst the people?
HBS: They do not have a political space for them because the people are facing a lot of problems. Now I have given the benefits of Arunoday schemes to the 16,000 families in the Jania constituency. But BJP would not get a single vote there, I can assure you that. Same is the condition in the Jaleswar constituency as well. So it means the votings will not be on the basis of the development or such other indices. Even if the Brahmaputra bridge between South Salmara and Phulbari is completed which would be a very very critical infrastructural development for their lives, then also BJP would not get votes there. So it means people are in a civilizational battle now. They also are in the same battle and so we are. So I don’t think there is any role for the new parties here besides just being at the margin till the completion of the delimitation process and the 2031 census. Finally only after we have the final draft of the NRC and the results would be visible of this civilizational battle, then only another political discourse may begin.
SZH: Now though we had seen that Congress and the AUDF had an informal sort of an alliance in the last elections, in places like Nagaon and Koliabor in the parliamentary elections; this time they are moving for a formal alliance……
HBS: Well my political assessment says that it won’t be that easy for Congress and AUDF to forge a formal alliance. The way it is concluded in the media that there is an alliance just by two people sharing a helicopter, it is not that easy. The way Badruddin Ajmal is receiving funds from forces which patronize terrorism and utilizing these funds for Islamic radicalization, several revelations are yet to come. Several other things are yet to be revealed. So after that Congress has to take decisions whether they are going to continue their relationship with the Assamese, Indians and the Sanatani people or not. We are aware of the list that they have in mind, but in reality the feasibility of this alliance is not that easy. This time for the first time after creation of BTC not even a single Muslim has been elected as a member of the BTC whereas Congress and AUDF contested all the seats. But their alliance did not click and all the votes shifted to BPF. So in this civilizational battle it is determined who is going to fight BJP well. The alliance between Congress and AUDF is going to create so much confusion that even their loyal vote banks would get disrupted. So though they have a longing for this alliance whether practically it would happen or not, or if it is going to be successful or not that can’t be said now.
SZH: I would try to understand if this alliance between AUDF and Congress would help BJP or not.
You are doing an interesting analysis on this alliance, now my question is if this alliance takes place will it benefit or harm the prospects of BJP?
HBS: Well even if this alliance does not take place we are not going to win in places like Dhrbri, Jania, Baghbor, etc. Now they might think that if the alliance materialises the 8 constituencies where BJP won by a margin of 10,000 votes, they probably would win. But a political alliance doesn’t mean an alliance at the personal level. The one who would not get a ticket he too would contest. So how would they guarantee that at least 5,000 votes if not 10,000 will not be taken away by an independent candidate? And there are several other candidates too. So whether this alliance takes place or not is not going to materially impact BJP except in these eight seats. But similarly we will be benefited in some other 5 constituencies too because of the resentment this alliance would create. So in the end, this alliance is not a challenge for BJP. But this civilisational fight would make us lose at least one or two assembly seats every year. So the seats of that particular civilisation would increase by one or two this time, might be in the form of Congress or that of AUDF as well. Because their population is growing and they are becoming politically aggressive, so I believe their numbers would increase by a number of one or two in this assembly. So that could be credited to the alliance but that would happen even if the alliance does not take place because it is not a fight between Congress, AIUDF and BJP, it will be a fight between two civilisations.
SZH: Is there a chance of a strategic alliance between Congress with Raijor Dal and AJP?
HBS: See they do not have the space. Even if there’s a strategic alliance those who would vote would anyway do so. So their number of voters is fixed, 35%.
SZH: Now suppose if Congress does not fill any candidate in some constituencies where there is a candidate of Raijor Dal or AJP?
HBS: Now the political space in Assam is divided between the 35% and the 65%. Now this 35% people would make as many winners as possible irrespective of the alliance. But the rest 65%, we are not that united. People say that BJP talks of communalism, but that’s not true. Hindus are not talking about communalism, because Congress gets votes in a predominantly Hindu seat. But BJP does not get a single vote in constituencies which are predominantly populated by Muslims of Bengali origin. So who is more communal? I leave that debate aside. Now the 45% would anyway make 40 to 42 winners. Now what’s the unity of this 65% of the population? So if the index of unity is 100% we will win the rest of the seats, if it’s 80% we will win a little less, so everything will depend on the unity of this 65% of the people of Indian origin by the time of election. If it’s maximum we will not be materially affected, but if it’s less depending on things like the places of domicile, cast or creed definitely our seats will be reduced. Now BJP is not bothered of what they are doing, BJP is only bothered about how united we the 65% of the population are. The more the index of this unity would be more the seats we would get.
SZH: I would try to know like the “Jati Mati Bheti” was the slogan in 2016, will the “Battle of Civilisation” be the slogan this time and also if BPF too would be included in the BTC as Hagrama has repeatedly requested so. Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma we have seen on one hand you staked the claim to form the government with UPPL and GSP whereas Hagrama Mohilary in a press meet said that they are still in the alliance and they should also be taken into the alliance giving a hint that they are ready to join the alliance even with UPPL and GSP in it.
HBS: Well last night I talked to Mr. Hagrama Mohilary over the telephone, a courtesy call it was. Even in the morning he called and checked if we can form the government together. Now the thing is we have got an ideological difference with those who voted for him this time. We don’t have any problem with him. But will he be able to forget in a day the things he said or those who voted for him? Or should he actually forget? The people who support Congress and AUDF, supported him this time in the BTC elections. So it would be a questionable alliance if it materialises and we both would be questioned by our respective voters. So I believe from a political perspective it would be termed as opportunism by the people, just to remain in power. Therefore though we have got a good personal relationship, we have taken a decision that has been endorsed by our national leadership too and that is that on the basis of this mandate BJP and BPF should not come together and form the government, for political reasons. Now I have a long association with Hagrama Mohilary, for about 17 years, though I would prefer him personally but politically it would not be a wise decision. That’s why I think politics depends on possibilities. So the relationship in future will depend on how far he could drift away from those who voted for him or how far could we reconcile with those people. But personally I believe our relationship with Hagrama Mohilary would not cease to exist. But politically our stands are very different.
SZH: There is another relevant question of terrorist funding of Ajmal Foundation and it is not just confined to the media here in Assam. The national media too have taken this issue seriously. Now this allegation is there that they have received funds from such groups which have links with various terrorist organisations such as Al-Qaida, Hamas, Islamic Brotherhood, etc. Now you have quite aggressively been vocal about this issue….
HBS: The Ajmal Foundation registered itself under the FCRA in the year 2014. If you check the FCRA website, you would get to see which all the organisations that have funded the Ajmal Foundation. Now if you go to the next page and check the background of these organisations, any layman can see that various investigative agencies have declared that these particular organisations have funded various groups for the purpose of Islamic radicalization. So it is an open and shut case. Now what are the conditions that the Ajmal Foundation has received funds from these organisations and how are they fulfilling those conditions. Now these are things that people of Assam as well as the Union Home Ministry have to be aware of. So no matter how much politicization takes place of this issue it is an open and shut case for Ajmal Foundation and they will be in trouble in explaining because law will eventually catch them. Already a complaint has been there on FCRA violation, because only when it is pure charity the Home Ministry allows funds under FCRA. But if along with charity things like conversion and radicalization are involved then it’s not considered to be charity. Now Ajmal Foundation has taken Rs. 130 crores from these dubious organisations. Now whatever we discuss here politically for the ministry it’s a big thing and they have to explain it.
SZH: So they definitely would be investigated and they would come under the radar?
HBS: They would definitely come under the radar and I think immediately that FCRA fund has to be stopped, that is their foreign funding will come to a halt. Secondly the government would definitely ask the Ajmal Foundation for the internal agreements on the basis of which the funds were received and if traces of radicalization are found then law will catch the Ajmal Foundation.
SZH: Now the balance sheet of that Rs. 138 crores too would be sought?
HBS: Now the first thing is that this fund has been misused for a very long time. I even saw a tweet of Prasanta Rajguru that day. Many intellectuals in Assam have a notion that all the works done by Mr. Ajmal is being funded by him only. Whereas that’s not true. He does all these things with foreign funds. It has been alleged that he is spending only half of the money and the rest is misused. But the Govt. of India doesn’t involve itself in that as that’s an issue between the donor and the receiver. But whether this money has some link with terror or this money has links with radicalization that will be the subject matter of the investigation. It will definitely come. But the misuse is definitely there as they have not done works worth that money. We had said this during the Jamunamukh bye polls that all this money comes through donations and he is not the donor and he is just a channelizing agency. But many people loud him for that. But not a single penny has come from the balance sheet of Mr. Ajmal. The entire money is being received as donation and he actually should give the account details for the same. I know that in many cases such organisations divert around 20 to 30% of the money as administrative cost and therefore even blacklisting of such organisations takes place by the donors. But what we want to know is what is your agreement with these organisations to receive this money. That’s what we want.
SZH: In the last elections you had the slogan of the “Jati, Mati and Bheti” to be saved and this time it is the battle of civilization. Is there a link somewhere?
HBS: The thing is to protect the “Jati, Mati and Bheti” is a defensive connotation. Then we talked of our defence from the aggression. Now it’s been 5 years. Now we are not defensive any more. Now we are in the battle of civilisations. In next elections we will talk of defeating them. It will escalate. So protecting Jati, Mati and Bheti was the initial slogan and now it has matured after 5 years. Now we are saying that it will be a frontal fight. In the 3rd elections we will call it time to defeat. Then there will be another term such as the civilisational win. So now we are not talking about defending, we are talking about the fight of the civilisations and then will talk about the win in this civilisational battle. So these are all evolutions of the same topic. The issue has been the same. So this is a scientific evolution. Last time we were not in power. So we talked about protecting, we were defending places like Kaziranga and Batadrava from encroachment. Now after coming to power we are more experienced, so we are talking about the fight now. Next we will talk about defeating them and this fight will go on till 2031 census.
SZH: Now some People are talking about an agitation against CAA. How will it impact amongst the voters in Assam do you think?
HBS: This issue has been a sensitive issue for some people who believe in the regionalism and the regional aspects of Assam. Those who talk of Assam in terms of regionalism and chauvinism do not think about the challenges that lay ahead. I have seen many people who would create an issue if my Gamusa falls and they will make a video while I would be trying to pick it up. So there are some people who are very chauvinist and regionalist. So for them CAA is a sensitive issue and it will remain so. But we believe in nationalism through regionalism. So somewhere our ideology does not match with that of theirs and these are different. Like I was talking about unity amongst the 65% of the population, it is difficult to achieve because there are nationalists, regionalists, regionalists with a belief in nationalism as well as chauvinists amongst us. But the 35% is united. They only want to finish BJP and that’s it. So it depends on the intensity of this unity, the more the unity is the benefitted we are. So it depends on us who we should be sensitive to. Some people have criticized BJP for bringing in the CAA and this is a fact of life, this is a reality. This will continue because I can’t change that mindset and instead of the 100% unity amongst us it will probably lead to an 80% unity and it’s a truth. Now some people criticize BJP for the CAA and they look for a political alternative and this is a fact of life and you have to admit it.
SZH: I will try to know from you your predictions of the political equations of the elections of 2021,
Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma we all have anxiety and the elections are almost round the corners and so the people are already in the election mood especially after the BTC elections and people are really curious about it now. Now people have always seen Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma making accurate and pinpoint predictions of the election results, though it’s too early as alignments and realignments are yet to take shape, still what picture do you see of it today?
HBS: Well during the last few days I have traveled through various constituencies of Assam and the love that we have received from the people especially from our mothers and the women section of the society and the interest of the youth section towards BJP, has made me believe that we will form the government again and with a greater margin than that of the last time. Now we are working on a plan for 100 constituencies. So I will not predict the number of seats today but I believe BJP will come back to power with an increased majority and mandate. Because the BJP has gained its organizational strength manifold in these 5 years. People have been benefited through the schemes of the Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modiji. Our performance and modus operandi during the Lockdown and for the COVID-19, all these have taken the Bharatiya Janata Party to a much greater height.
SZH: You also have talked about the Women regarding the Arunoday scheme…?
HBS: It’s rather the unfortunate women that we have been able to take care of, almost every one of them. There is also scope for its expansion and increment of financial grants. Though nobody believed me when I talked about it during the budget but today we have been able to execute it. Also the general opinion of a society is reflected through the women or through the youth and the rising interest for BJP that I have observed in both these segments during the last one month indicates a very good mandate for us.
SZH: There is one more thing that I wish to know. I’ve seen you in 2019 ad then in 2020 as well. Your age has increased by a year. But the energy level that you have got through the passing years has remained the same.
HBS: In the year 2019, I had changed the campaigning style on an experimental basis. I wished to be close to the people and to interact more. Now here I feel good because the love that people have got for you can be directly observed. Let me give you one example of this time during the campaigning: my experience with two workers from the tea garden who do the manual work of plucking the tea leaves there. I had been there to a meeting earlier where I had said that when I will come next time to you people I will have the Pitha here. I didn't even know if I would go there again. But after 15 days I had a bike rally there. When I was on my way crossing the tea estate the two women stopped me there saying that you had said you would have Peetha when you would come here. I said yes I did. Then they fed me the Peetha and the Kheer that they had brought in a tiffin carrier in their sarees. Now you will never have this experience if you fly in a helicopter and attend a meeting. So what else a politician wants! Money is something earthly, it will come and go. But this genuine love of the people gives you much more energy. When such a procession goes well you feel like doing two more.
SZH: I do not have much time at all but if you can answer me in 20 seconds: now this style of campaigning would probably change, like it’s more than the conventional way of going to the stage and……..
HBS: Well I’ve seen most of the political parties are now engaging in a little bit of music etc and it will increase the level of communication. Also if you are in the midst of things like music even the political speeches do not become much bitter. And if you are in the processions you don’t really have to give a speech, you just need to greet the people. So I believe this was a campaigning style that I had adopted in 2009 and it gives you a lot of energy with the love and affection of the people. Now if people happen to show you black flags you probably would not like doing it, but till you enjoy people’s love and affection, I think this is a beautiful way to communicate.
SZH: Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma I thank you for letting your opinion on so many topics and issues, you commented on so many things! I thank you for that. With that I beg all of you to leave today's Prekshapat programme, Good night!!