Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi, 80, considers the three-party alliance led by BJP as an axis of evil. The hands of its leaders, he says, are smeared with the blood of social workers and innocent people and their alliance – with tacit support from perfume baron Badruddin Ajmal’s All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) – is helping voters gravitate towards the Congress. Confident of forming the government for the fourth straight term, he spoke to HT.
Q: Has the BJP-Asom Gana Parishad-Bodoland People’s Front alliance posed the first major challenge for the Congress in 15 years?
A: Alliance shows lack of confidence in going it alone like us. We are confident of forming the government again, because the people know we have provided the kind of development Assam was not used to. They also know the leaders of this alliance have blood on their hands and hatred in their hearts.
Q: How do you explain that?
A: Sarbananda (Sonowal, state BJP chief) was accused of involvement in murder of a student leader, as was Himanta (Biswa Sarma, former Congress minister turned BJP poll manager), and Prafulla Mahanta was the mastermind of ‘secret killings’ (extra-judicial killing of ULFA kin when he headed AGP government from 1996-2001). They were all in All Assam Students Union, which was known to breed hatred against Bengalis (Hindus and Muslims who comprise 45% of the voters).
Q: Has the BJP stolen a march by proposing citizenship to Hindu Bengali refugees?
A: BJP leaders in Assam protested when I was the first to propose this in 2014. BJP has merely issued a statement to hoodwink people. How can Bengalis forget Sarbananda had the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act of 1983 scrapped and Mahanta had led an anti-Bengali agitation? The Assamese too cannot forgive Mahanta for the ‘secret killings’. The BJP-AGP alliance has, in fact, made Bengalis tilt toward Congress.
Q: BJP says the Congress has a poll deal with AIUDF, evident from the Rajya Sabha elections.
A: It is the other way round. BJP plays Hindutva politics, AIUDF plays minority politics. They are two sides of the same coin. The Rajya Sabha election (in which all AIUDF legislators voted for two Congress candidates) was a BJP conspiracy to harm the Congress’ prospects but this will not work.
Q: Who is your main rival – Sonowal, Himanta, Mahanta or Ajmal?
A: None of them. My fight is with (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi. All I can say to the others is best of luck.