Amit Shah was wrong in Chhattisgarh and he will be wrong in Assam, says Bhupesh Baghel
Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel, the Congress campaign manager in Assam, is brimming with confidence when we meet him. In the thick of campaigning, he took time off to answer a few questions
Some people snidely describe the upbeat mood in the Congress camp in Assam as overconfidence. But the Chhattisgarh chief minister is unruffled. BJP, he says, is trying out every trick up its sleeves to build its narrative in the state, he says and quips, ‘BJP’s desperation shows’.
BJP’s major poll plank in the state, he points out, has been to attack Badruddin Ajmal and the alliance between the AIDUF and the Congress. The Home Minister in his election rallies is calling upon people to save the state from AIDUF, he recalls with a chuckle. “But who was the BJP saving when it had aligned with AIDUF? The regional party was not a threat to national security then,” he asks rhetorically.
In Chhattisgarh, he recalls, Home Minister Amit Shah had predicted BJP would bag 65 seats in the Assembly; but it was the Congress which went on to bag 68 seats. In Assam too, he says, the Home Minister is putting up a brave front and claiming that BJP would be sweeping the election. Baghel predicts that results will be similar to Chhattisgarh. Excerpts from an interaction with him:
How do you view the party’s campaign in Assam this time?
Five years ago, we were in the seat of power here. Indeed, Tarun Gogoi’s government was in Assam for a long time, for the previous three terms to be precise. There were undoubtedly certain degrees of anti-incumbency and people of Assam did not elect us in 2016. It also came as a setback when a strong leader like Tarun Gogoi passed away last year. But the party, as you will see, has recovered and is very much in the race. We are putting up a tough fight on every seat. Congress workers are active up to the booth level and its effect can actually be seen in BJP’s strategy.
Many BJP candidates have been changed. BJP has been forced to change the seats of candidates in many constituencies. Even though it is the ruling party, it is not seeking a mandate on the strength of its chief minister and his work. If Sarbananda Sonowal’s government has done a good job in the state, why is the BJP not presenting him as its chief ministerial candidate? Apparently, they are so scared that their strategy now is only to mislead people.
How is the BJP misleading people?
First, look at the CAA issue. BJP is saying something in Assam, something else in Bengal and Tamil Nadu. Those who speak with a forked tongue on one issue are double faced and called hypocrites. Elections are not merely for making fresh promises. If you are in government, then you also have to perform. Their strategists know that they have failed miserably to perform and hence their anxiety to change the goalpost and the narrative.
Whether it is the case of daily wages of tea garden workers or about its promise of generating jobs, BJP has failed. When nothing seemed to work, they have started their usual trick of dividing and polarising people on the basis of religion, the usual Hindu-Muslim politics. Like the British, BJP has been adept at pursuing a policy of ‘divide and rule’. But people have seen through their tactic. The people see how a sword is dangling over the citizenship of so many people in Assam. A bureaucrat only has to write ‘D’ (Doubtful) on the papers of a citizen and his/her life is ruined. It may take them 20 years to get their voting rights back. This means that the BJP does not trust its citizens, but is still asking votes in their name. Who can blame people in Assam if they feel disgusted and used?
A lot of credit for returning to the fight is being given to you and the team of Chhattisgarh working in Assam. What do you feel?
Congress has always played a major role in Assam. That is why the party is here and our presence is everywhere. All that was needed was to be better organised. I am thankful to the Assam Pradesh Congress, which invited us here and gave us the opportunity to assist. We helped create a framework for information, coordination and programmes. State Congress leaders and Assam Congress workers are fighting the elections. And whatever impact you see on the ground is the result of cooperation and coordination. Congress is going to form the government this time.
I have brought my track record in Chhattisgarh to the people of Assam, and they have patiently heard us out. It was important to communicate to the people how we fulfilled our promises in Chhattisgarh. Because BJP makes promises in every election but never cares to fulfil them.
But Congress is said to have always been on a weak wicket in Northern Assam; how do you plan to deal with it?
Congress has always been strong in other parts of Assam and this time we have put in a lot of effort in northern Assam. You will be surprised by the results. BJP is upset. Whether it is the case of Chabua or the daily wages of tea garden workers, BJP is on uncertain grounds. The promises it had made could not be fulfilled. Now it’s making new promises.
No matter how much noise it makes, people know what is the truth and hard reality. And this time, they will definitely think twice before voting for the BJP. Our point is clear and the message has been conveyed directly to every Assamese. Another thing is that the cultural, regional and ethnic identity and self-esteem of the people of Assam is also a factor. The ultra-nationalism card, which the BJP tries to play everywhere, may not work here.
BJP is trying to corner the Congress over alliance with Badruddin Ajmal’s AIUDF?
It exposes BJP’s opportunism and their criticism is bogus. The largest communal party in the country should not be giving character certificates to others. BJP is not telling people why or how the AIUDF is communal. But it wants to polarise Hindu votes by portraying Congress with that brush.
BJP thinks public memory is short and people do not remember how it had taken AIUDF’s help in Zila Parishad elections in Naugaon, Darang and Karimganj. But suddenly AIUDF has become unholy and communal because it has forged an alliance with the Congress and not with the BJP. In Kashmir too, BJP had formed alliances with both the regional parties - the National Conference and the PDP but it now projects both as anti-national. BJP should be free to do what it likes but if others do so, it has trouble accepting it.
Amit Shah is claiming that this time BJP will win more than 100 seats in Assam?
Amit Shah had claimed in Chhattisgarh that his party would get more than 65 seats. But that did not happen. Chhattisgarh will be repeated here in Assam. The Congress will get more than 100 seats.