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BJP attempting to turn India into an authoritarian state, says Gogoi

Apr 12, 2024 06:12 AM IST

Since Jorhat is the home town of my father and he represented the seat in Lok Sabha and was also an MLA from the district, there’s a deep personal connection, says Gogoi

In his 10-year-stint as a parliamentarian, Gaurav Gogoi has emerged out of his father, former Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi’s shadow and made a mark as a well-informed and aggressive politician who can raise issues with conviction both inside the Lok Sabha, where he is the deputy leader of Congress, as well as outside. In an interview , the 41-year-old who is contesting from the Jorhat Lok Sabha seat, speaks on his campaign.

Gaurav Gogoi is contesting from the Jorhat Lok Sabha seat (PTI)
Gaurav Gogoi is contesting from the Jorhat Lok Sabha seat (PTI)

It’s a switch this time from your old seat Kaliabor (now renamed Kaziranga) which you represented twice. How has the campaign been in Jorhat and what has been the response from voters?

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The response is fantastic. All sections, old and young, have come out (to support me). Kaliabor has ceased to exist due to last year’s delimitation and people and party workers wanted me to contest from any of the three seats, Kaziranga, Jorhat and Nagaon. I told that to my party and they thought I should contest from Jorhat.

Your late father had represented Jorhat thrice in the Lok Sabha. Do you think that legacy will help you ?

Since Jorhat is the home town of my father and he represented the seat in Lok Sabha and was also an MLA from the district, there’s a deep personal connection. Voters in Jorhat are new to me, and they will want to know how I will work. I tell them that my ethics and ideals are the same as my father’s and I have learnt my politics from him. I find that people appreciate that.

What do you think are the main issues in Jorhat which need addressing?

I find health to be the most important factor. If anybody in Jorhat has a serious injury, there’s not a single hospital in the constituency which can take care of patients. Most patients have to be shifted to Dibruagarh (located around 140 km away) or to Guwahati (300 km away). Secondly, a lot of work needs to be done in the education infrastructure, especially the higher education sector. Some of the best colleges are suffering because of lack of facilities. Thirdly, connectivity is an issue of concern. Highways in Jorhat are in shambles, and I have raised this issue in Lok Sabha several times. The train connectivity to Jorhat is bad and timings are unsuitable. Jorhat is a hub of commerce and industry, but flight connectivity is also bad.

Some of your party colleagues have left and joined the BJP, the ruling party in the state which has launched a very aggressive campaign to defeat you.

Poaching of Congress leaders (by the BJP) is a show of weakness on their part as they can’t seem to bank on their candidates. It has no impact on the voters, but is just an attempt to grab headlines for a day.

If they have their ministers campaigning in Jorhat, we have our MLAs who are campaigning for me. Interestingly, many people, including students and elderly are volunteering to be part of my campaign. Winning Jorhat (or defeating me) might be an ego battle for BJP, but for me, it is about serving the people of the seat. For me it’s a fight to save democracy.

Your main rival in this election, the sitting MP from BJP, has made a statement that he will defeat you by a margin of over 200,000 votes. How do you react to that?

BJP is known for their ‘jumlas’. 15 lakh in each account, 2 crore (20 million) jobs, making Guwahati a smart city etc. We all know the reality is different. For us, it’s the enthusiasm we see in the people. I find young children telling me that they want to vote for me (even though they are not eligible to vote), elderly ladies jostling with young people to click selfies with me, old Congressmen coming out and saying that they have worked with my father and now they want to work on my behalf. It’s a very organic, grassroots movement. It’s going to be a special election and I believe the results are going to surprise everyone.

We have seen many senior Congress leaders in Assam leaving the party including MLAs and office bearers. What do you think plagues the party in the state?

The BJP is using agencies like income tax and ED to blackmail and intimidate everyone including political opponents, media houses or big corporate entities. We see the BJP extorting money from corporates through electoral bonds using coercive measures. We see TV channels whose ownership changes if they have an independent stand. It’s the same with political opponents and student activists who are sent to jail, threatened with false cases unless they switch over. I find this is an attempt of BJP to turn India into an authoritarian, single party state.

You are the most vocal voice from the northeast in Lok Sabha. What do you think are the main issues in the region ?

The first is Manipur, where the state government has completely lost its authority. Underground outfits are active once again, sophisticated weapons are being sold openly in the markets, children belonging to the Kuki community are still unable to resume their study in Imphal and many Meitei families are unable to resume their normal lives. All of these is happening in a border state of India which threatens and undermines our national security.

Manipur shows the weakness of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership. I am glad that Rahul Gandhi started his recent yatra from Manipur when nobody else seems to be talking about Manipur apart from the Congress. Secondly, I find home minister Amit Shah’s efforts in curbing smuggling of all kinds of illegal goods from across the borders to be ineffective. This will have a destablising effect on villages, rural economy and young people because instead of working in a formal economy they will get sucked into gangs and criminal networks and the region would head into a downward spiral. Thirdly, I don’t understand the BJP logic of Citizenship Amendment Act not being applicable in tribal areas in northeast and applicable in other parts. While BJP, which is part of the government in Meghalaya, has opposed it there, I find a lack of commitment on it from the same party in Assam.

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