Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel does not have to worry about elections in his own state right now. He is busy, nevertheless, as an observer of the Congress for the Assam polls, to be held in three phases starting March 27 and results on May 2. The party has formed a Maha Jot, or grand alliance, that has the Maulana Badruddin Ajmal-led AIUDF as a key ally, in a bid to defeat the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. Infiltration, flood control, protection of local culture and values, tea garden workers’ wages, etc, have emerged as crucial issues for the polls. In an interview with News18, Baghel insisted that anti-CAA sentiments would play a big part in the elections, while he also responded to the BJP’s attacks on Ajmal and took a dig at the ruling party on its perceived CM-face dilemma. Excerpts:
How do you feel about the poll situation in Assam? What is your analysis of the ground situation?
The government will be formed by the Maha Jot.
What gives you the confidence that you will form the government?
In five years none of the promises made have been kept. Promises to mazdoor (labourers), kisan (farmers), youth have all been unfulfilled. Promises to Assamese people about the culture of this place about jaati-maati (community and land)…nothing has been kept. And on the other side, there is a popular resonance with the five guarantees that we are giving.
CAA and the anti-CAA sentiments were supposedly the trump card of the opposition. But the feedback from the ground suggests this isn’t a poll issue.
There is a huge impact of the anti-CAA sentiments. For one year, people agitated. The maximum agitation was in Assam… The people have not forgotten that. They know that their Assamese Identity will be taken away if the CAA is implemented. It is very much in the consciousness of people here. And Rahul (Gandhi) ji has promised that we won’t implement CAA if voted to power.
The Bengal Sankalp Patra of the BJP has said the CAA will be implemented in the first cabinet meet if the BJP is voted to power. Did it have an impact in Assam?
The BJP is indulging in classic doublespeak. In Bengal, they say we will implement CAA in the first cabinet meet. In Tamil Nadu, their alliance partner says it won’t be implemented. In Assam, they are tight-lipped. People can see how on the same issue three different things are being said. The BJP itself is confused. The PM came so many times…didn’t mention CAA. Amit Shah ji came…just dodged this issue. People can see this.
The BJP has questioned your alliance with Badruddin Ajmal. Is the AIUDF proving to be a liability?
Not at all. This is what we are telling people. The BJP took the help of AIUDF in Nagaon zilla panchayat elections, in Rajya Sabha proceedings…then there was no issue with Ajmal? Today, when he is not with the BJP, his name and image are being tarnished. Nafrat failane ke alawa kuch hai hi nahi na inke paas (they can do nothing except spread hatred).
This is also being pointed out that Tarun Gogoi never joined hands with Ajmal.
All the parties that are opposed to the CAA have come together this time. That is why the BJP is so agitated. CPI, CPI(M), CPI(ML)…they have all united because of opposition to the CAA.
How are you taking on CM Sonowal? He claims to have kept development promises like the Hazarika bridge.
The first thing is, last time the BJP slogan was ‘Assam ka anand, Sarbananda’. This time they have not declared a CM face. This is the first time that they are unable to declare a CM face with a sitting CM in the poll fray. There is so much infighting in the party that they are unable to declare Sonowal CM. Himanta (Biswa Sarma) will then get upset.
So you think the BJP will make Himanta Biswa Sarma the CM if voted to power?
Both are being tested. Both are being kept in good humour. As far as work goes, Sarbananda Sonowal has failed to build a bridge in his own constituency. He had promised express highways on both ends of the Brahmaputra. Even that has not been built. 25 lakh people were promised jobs. That hasn’t happened. So they are not asking for votes based on the work done. They are seeking votes by raising fears about Ajmal.
Are you missing Tarun Gogoi? Some people believe his presence this time could have altered the election outcome.
The cycle of life and death cannot be changed. His blessings are always there for the people of Assam and for Congress.
Chhattisgarh to Assam…how is Bhupesh Baghel managing? From a small state’s chief ministership to a big state’s election management…
I object. Chhattisgarh is not a small state. It is the ninth biggest geographically.
Let me rephrase. From the administration of a big state to the election management of a bigger state: how are you balancing it?
We have a 100-150-year-long association with Assam. Lakhs of people from our state came here and continue to live here. So I also find this to be a second home.
Is the Bengal outsider-insider formula applicable to Assam too? Himanta and Sonowal are Assam insiders but the Congress is depending on outsiders?
The election is being fought by Assamese people only. We are giving support. If PM, HM and Yogi Adityanath are coming, are they outsiders?
When you address public meetings, what sentiment do you gauge? How do you rate the anti-incumbency factor?
Anti-incumbency is massive; price rise, unemployment, the syndicate that operates here…there is huge resentment against these. Also, there is a lot of attraction for the Congress’s 5 Guarantees campaign.
Amit Shah says BJP’s tally will be 100 plus in Assam.
That he is talking about our tally. In Chhattisgarh also he had said 65 plus. Congress got 68 out of 70. So Amit Shah says 100 plus in Assam, which will ultimately turn out to be that of Congress’s Maha Jot.
Who will be your CM face?
The CM will be from Congress and will be a dhartiputra (son of the soil).