HT interview: CAA won’t adversely impact BJP’s poll prospects, says Sonowal | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

HT interview: CAA won’t adversely impact BJP’s poll prospects, says Sonowal

By, Dibrugarh
Apr 13, 2024 08:10 AM IST

In an interview with HT, Sarbananda Sonowal speaks about his campaign, the impact of CAA, and the BJP’s prospects in the state.

From student leader to chief minister to a member of the Union Cabinet, Sarbananda Sonowal has donned many hats in a career in public life that has spanned over three decades. He is contesting as the Bharatiya Janata Party candidate from the Dibrugarh seat in the tea-rich region of Assam. In an interview, the 61-year-old spoke about his campaign, the impact of CAA, and the BJP’s prospects in the state.

Sarbananda Sonowal. (HT file)
Sarbananda Sonowal. (HT file)

How’s the campaign going and what has the response been?

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The response is very good. This time the public is coming out in large numbers to support BJP, and everywhere there is lot of enthusiasm among voters. The reason for that is that the public has received many benefits from our party’s governments, both at Centre and Assam, in the past 10 years. They now believe that the flow and pace of development will continue only if BJP returns to power in New Delhi under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

You represented Dibrugarh in Lok Sabha in 2004 as an Asom Gana Parishad candidate. How does it feel to return to the same seat after a gap of 20 years?

We were in the Opposition at that time. I have seen a lot has changed in Dibrugarh in the past two decades due to the good work done by the NDA government at Centre. The people are witness to these changes. Roads, including those inside villages and tea gardens, have improved. Things which the Congress governments of past failed to provide in past 60 years -- like electricity connections and drinking water -- are now available. People have good houses and free rice is being provided so that no one goes hungry. Health care needs are taken care of with Ayushman cards, which provides insurance cover of 5 lakh per year.

You mention that a lot of work has been done in the past 10 years. In your interactions with voters, do you get feedback on what else needs to be done to improve their lives?

How can we accomplish all tasks, which Congress failed to fulfil in 60 years, just in 10 years? We want to reach out to each person in society through our initiatives. While the benefits of the welfare schemes have reached most, there could be some who are still left out. In the next five years, all such pending tasks, which Congress overlooked, will be undertaken.

The rules for CAA, which makes it easier for non-Muslims from three neighbouring nations to get Indian citizenship, were notified just before announcement of schedule for the polls. In Assam, there was lot of resentment against the legislation and your opponents are using it to target BJP. Will that affect your poll prospects?

People in Assam have realised that the Congress and others were trying to mislead the public by saying that around 2 million people from Bangladesh will come to India if CAA is implemented. It’s been a month since the rules were notified, and only one person from Assam has applied to get citizenship under CAA. That’s why there’s no agitation this time, unlike in 2019 when there was widespread violence, destruction of public property, and five lives were lost. Those who roused public sentiments with falsehoods will now have to answer the families of those who lost their lives in the agitation against CAA. The notification of the legislation won’t have any adverse impact on BJP’s prospects in this election.

Both you and your main opponent, Assam Jatiya Parishad president Lurinjyoti Gogoi, who is the common candidate of the united opposition, started your public life from All Assam Students Union. How do you rate him and his politics?

Gogoi was the leader of a student body, which was opposed to Congress’s ideology and considered that party an enemy. Now he has now come under that same party’s umbrella. How can he claim to protect Assamese people and their interests by becoming friends with Congress? Does he think Assamese people can’t see through such acts?

The other contender who is creating some ripples is Manoj Dhanowar, the candidate from Aam Admi Party, who is from the tea-tribe community, which has a significant vote bank in Dibrugarh. Will his presence cut into BJP’s votes?

Dhanowar’s father was a Congress MLA and AAP is part of the united opposition alliance. People from the tea-tribe community know how Congress cheated them for six decades. On the other hand, we have raised daily wages of tea garden labourers from 96 to 250, launched many schemes for upliftment of the community including building schools, hospitals, improving roads in tea garden areas and opening bank accounts of nearly 850,000 tea garden workers. So, his presence in the race won’t hurt us.

The sitting BJP MP from Dibrugarh, Rameshwar Teli, who belongs to the tea tribe community and was a Union minister, was denied the ticket this time and it was given to you. Don’t you think it will have some negative resonance in that community?

People from the tea tribe community are aware of the good deeds done by our government for them. Who gets to contest from where is decided by the party leadership and we loyal BJP workers follow that.

How many seats do you think BJP and its allies will get in Assam and the region in total? I have been saying since the beginning of the campaign that we will win more than 12 of the 14 seats in Assam. Of the 25 seats in the North-East, I think BJP and its allies will win 23.

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    Utpal is a Senior Assistant Editor based in Guwahati. He covers seven states of North-East India and heads the editorial team for the region. He was previously based in Kathmandu, Dehradun and Delhi with Hindustan Times.

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