Exclusive: 'Modi has overtaken Nehru', says Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma

He says ULFA(I) leader Paresh Baruah calls him every month

38-Himanta-Biswa-Sarma Himanta Biswa Sarma | Salil Bera

Exclusive Interview/ Himanta Biswa Sarma, chief minister, Assam

Joyful chants of “Mama, Mama” filled the streets of Guwahati on January 10, as thousands of people lined up to cheer for Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who kept waving at them, smiling ear to ear, standing alongside BJP president J.P. Nadda and pleased to see the saffron wave sweeping the Brahmaputra valley. Once called “dada” for his strongman approach, Sarma is now the more endearing “mama”, a change that came about after he became the chief minister.

If it is a fight between China and India, then the prime minister should come. But when two brothers are fighting (in Manipur), we have to resolve it by ourselves.
Rahul is very arrogant. But he is arrogant without knowledge, education or political maturity.
There will be some protests in Assam [on the caa issue], but I will talk to them. I have asked the people not to put the state in a situation where we disturb the progress.
Nobody on the street discusses ULFA or Baruah, except when some reporters ask. The state is in pursuit of peace, development and tranquilLity.

Sarma is leading the BJP in the northeast and in an election year there was no better start for him than facilitating Nadda’s visit to the Maa Kamakhya Temple. Later they huddled in the party office to strategise the great number game for the BJP. Sarma has promised to deliver 22 of 25 Lok Sabha seats from the northeast.

After Nadda left for the airport the next day, Sarma settled down for an interview with THE WEEK. In a candid conversation at the secretariat, he shared his experience of handling politicians who rebelled, defected and changed the number games. “When I was with the Congress, we were deputed to various states to manage resorts” where such rebels were safeguarded, said Sarma. In 2022, he brought Eknath Shinde and company from Maharashtra to Guwahati after they rebelled against Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena.

Sarma is emerging as a master strategist for the BJP after spending 22 years in Congress. He predicted another decade of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and a new political spectrum in the country. “Prime Minister Modi will cross 325 seats (in the Lok Sabha polls),” he said. Excerpts from the interview:

Q/ Assam has a long history of agitations. Do you think peace is settling in, finally?

A/ A lot of reforms are taking place and there has been a turnaround. This is the best time for Assam and we are getting a lot of support from the Central government. We lost nearly 700 security personnel and around 20,000 men and young boys in the conflict over the years, but we have not lost a single one in the last three years. We have withdrawn the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act from the state, except for three districts. But for ULFA (Independent) leader Paresh Baruah, with whom there are only about 100 to 150 boys in Myanmar, others have surrendered. So I would definitely say that there has been a turnaround in the last three to four years, but it is not because I am the chief minister.

Q/ Has the divide with Delhi been bridged?

A/ I have been a minister for the last 22 years, I have seen the transformation under the BJP government. Earlier, governments were slow and distant. Now, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has come to Assam 60 times. We have taken various small steps which have reassured people that now our battle is being fought from Delhi, like the decision to implement the NRC (National Register of Citizens). It was a big healing touch. Nobody thought delimitation would happen this way, but it was done and people think it is a healing touch. During the Congress regime, we used to request the home minister to visit the border, but now it is a part of the routine visits of Union Home Minister Amit Shah. If there is a [militant] attack, the home ministry gives a prompt reply. In the last three or four years, outside support for militants has been neutralised and security forces have started gaining upper hand.

On the right side: Prime Minister Narendra Modi being felicitated by Himanta Biswa Sarma during a 2022 rally at Loringthepi in Karbi Anglong district | PTI On the right side: Prime Minister Narendra Modi being felicitated by Himanta Biswa Sarma during a 2022 rally at Loringthepi in Karbi Anglong district | PTI

Q/ You said the prime minister visited the northeast, but people are talking about him not visiting Manipur.

A/ I am the chief minister of Assam, so I cannot answer for Manipur. But as someone from the northeast, I don’t want anybody, even you, to come here when we are fighting. I don’t want (Congress leader) Rahul Gandhi to see us fighting and say, ‘Look, the people of the northeast are fighting’, and then go and advertise it. If it is a fight between China and India, then the prime minister should come. But when two brothers are fighting, we have to resolve it by ourselves. The Union home minister came and stayed for three days. The minister of state for home camped in Manipur for two months.

Q/ As the face of the BJP in the northeast, how do you see the party’s performance in the upcoming general elections?

A/ In the northeast, there are 25 Lok Sabha seats, of which we are going to win 22. We will get 11 seats here in Assam (of 14). In Manipur, we are going to win both the seats. Although there is fighting between two communities, nobody has a problem with the prime minister and the BJP. Not a single Kuki minister or MLA resigned from the BJP, not a single MLA or minister from the Meiteis resigned from the BJP, and not any minister or MLA from the Nagas resigned from the BJP. So as a party, [we have not been brought] into their dispute. Their loyalty to the party and the prime minister is intact. So under the North East Democratic Alliance (the National Democratic Alliance’s coalition with regional parties in eight northeastern states), we will win 22 of 25 seats.

Q/ Which are the three seats that you are doubtful about?

A/ There are three seats in Assam predominantly inhabited by Muslims where we cannot think of contesting. Unfortunately, Assam is completely divided on religious lines when it comes to politics. There is social harmony and people live and work together, but when it comes to voting, we know that we have to secure our own political future. Muslims, up to 99 per cent, vote for the Congress. And Hindus, up to 99 per cent, vote for the BJP.

Q/ Do you think voting on religious lines is limited to Assam or is it becoming a nationwide trend?

A/ Assam’s history has nothing to do with the present political discourse of the nation. If I don’t sit here, somebody like Badruddin Ajmal (chief of the All India United Democratic Front) will sit here. Assam has been like this from 1979. It is a very polarised state as far as politics is concerned. The Congress represents Muslims here. But we are together for festivals, literary works, in office and sports. So it has nothing to do with the present political dispensation, atmosphere or environment.

INDIA-POLITICS-TELANGANA-ELECTION Making a point: Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi at the swearing in ceremony of Telangana Chief Minister Revanth Reddy | AFP

Q/ In the Lok Sabha elections, how many seats will the BJP win?

A/ I believe that the BJP will get anything between 325 and 400 seats. I believe Prime Minister Modi will cross 325 seats; he will go closer to 400.

Q/ Who will be the challenger to Modi this time?

A/ I don’t see anybody in the next 10 years.

Q/ What will happen to Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra?

A/ I think this is their last election. I was in the Congress for 22 years. People have shown great loyalty towards the family. They will be made accountable for being out of power for 15 years. Congress workers have shown large-heartedness by not holding the family accountable…. People will put up with one loss, two losses…. But after this election, people will realise that the Gandhi surname has no political equity. They will realise that they won Telangana because of the equity of a local politician. If there is victory in Karnataka, it is not because of the Gandhi name.

Q/ What happens to Congress as a national party?

A/ After this election, at the national level, the Congress will disappear. There will be various regional Congress parties in various names. They say the NCP is a Congress party, but Ajit Pawar is aligning with the BJP. So you will see the emergence of a lot of regional parties with the name ‘Congress’. I see the Congress completely divided into regional parties like Kerala’s Congress, Karnataka Congress, Maharashtra Congress. Sometimes there may even be alliances with the BJP. And they might retain power in some states like this. So, there will be some scope for Congress politicians. But they will become autonomous, more liberated and will handle their own affairs.

PTI2_8_2020_000256B All fired up: Members of the All Assam Students Union protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in Nagaon district of Assam in 2022 | PTI

Q/ So there won’t be any national party?

A/ I do not see [one] on the horizon. The BJP will face challenges from other parties in the states, but there will be no national party other than the BJP. There will be strong regional parties, including the Congress. So my prediction is that from next October-November, the disintegration of the Congress will start. Congress workers will abandon Rahul Gandhi. They will wait for parliamentary polls and immediately after that the Maharashtra and Jharkhand elections. Once those are over, you will see a completely new realignment.

Q/ Don’t you think that having just one national party somehow impacts democracy?

A/ That is for the citizens to decide. If democracy needs opposition, then people will create an opposition. You cannot expect Modi to create his opposition. Many people have even that demand from him. He cannot be responsible for building an opposition party. It is not the BJP’s responsibility to create an opposition party.

Q/ Do you see Prime Minister Modi outliving Pandit Nehru’s legacy and becoming the longest serving prime minister?

A/ I am not counting years and numbers. But in my view, Prime Minister Modi has already overtaken Nehru’s legacy. Nehru was not known in parts of the country like the northeast. He did not travel across India so much. I will not blame Nehru for that; that time was different. But 75 years after independence, [you would find that] Modi’s era has been much more impactful than Nehru’s. Modi has created a name for himself for the next hundred years; he has become an institution. He has left behind the legacy of every other prime minister to become the most impactful prime minister.

Q/ Do you see ‘one nation, one election’ becoming a reality soon?

A/ I think Modi strongly believes that it should become a reality. He has constituted a committee and let us wait for its report. He has said on many platforms that he wants it as it will save unnecessary expenditure, bring stability and is good for the country.

PTI12_31_2023_000010B All smiles: ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa arrives at the Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport in Guwahati after the signing of a peace accord between ULFA and the Central and Assam governments in Delhi in December 2023 | PTI

Q/ When you talk of the BJP as the only national party and also about ‘one nation, one election’, don’t you think it will be advantage BJP?

A/ The BJP will still have competition in the states. So whether it will help us politically or not, we do not know. But it will certainly reduce costs. For the Lok Sabha elections, the expenditure for Assam comes to 0600 crore, excluding other costs like police mobilisation, political party expenditure and so on. If Assam elections were held simultaneously, we could save 0600 crore. We spend at least one lakh crore rupees for a national election and (as much) for state elections. If those are held simultaneously, it would be good.

Q/ You indulged in what people call ‘resort politics’ by bringing the Eknath Shinde faction [of the Shiv Sena] to Guwahati in 2022.

A/ Whenever there is a (political) rebellion in a particular state, you cannot stay in that state. Because, obviously, the state machinery will be against you. So everybody has to go to a neutral place. In the past, Congress MLAs were taken from Karnataka to Hyderabad. If somebody wants to rebel against me, would they be so foolish as to stay in Assam? Obviously, someone like Mamata Banerjee will call and say, ‘Come to my state’. So this [resort politics] should not be a news event.

Q/ Isn’t ‘resort politics’ something new?

A/ When I was with the Congress, we were deputed to various states to manage resorts.

Q/ How many have you managed?

A/ In the 22 years I spent with the Congress, I must have done it eight or nine times. We used to bring MLAs before Rajya Sabha [elections], keep them in a Congress-ruled state, and, in the morning, take them to vote…. These are normal things. So if Eknath Shinde decided to rebel against Uddhav Thackeray, then he has to be foolish to remain in Mumbai. But if he is not a fool, he will go to a state where Uddhav’s writ does not run. So they came to Assam, stayed here for eight days, enjoyed Guwahati, and I collected GST (goods and services tax).

Q/ Who paid their hotel bills?

A/ [Money came] from their own party account, and I collected GST at 18 per cent. Additionally, they gave Rs50 lakh for the chief minister’s relief fund because of the floods here. Similarly, if Rahul Gandhi is coming to Assam [for the Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra], I am very happy. At least they would spend some money in Assam and my GST [revenue] will increase. So what I did for Eknath Shinde, I would do for Rahul Gandhi as well.

Q/ What was that one moment when you took the final decision to quit the Congress?

A/ I decided to quit the Congress in 2008 itself. Rahul Gandhi had come to Guwahati and we were at the same table. After talking to him, I told my friend that it seemed difficult for us to continue together. He is not a person who can handle statecraft. Finally, I took the decision in 2015.

Q/ There was talk that Rahul Gandhi made a last phone call to stop you from leaving.

A/ Well, I was at Amit Shah’s residence [when] Rahul and [the late] Ahmed Patel (political secretary to Sonia Gandhi) called me and said, ‘Please come, we will resolve [the issues]’. But I was already in Amit Shah’s official drawing room.

Q/ What was Shah’s response?

A/ I did not tell him that I was getting a call. I was new at that time.

Q/ Which other exits seem to have caused a big dent to the party?

A/ The Congress lost many leaders and many people have retired. Many people have slowed down. Today, what you are seeing is not the same party when Sonia Gandhi was leading the Congress. It is purely Rahul’s Congress. Those who were with Sonia Gandhi or Manmohan Singh have either taken a backseat or retired. And the remnants like Kamal Nath are also gone now. I think Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge got a lease of life for one or two years, but he will also fade away.

Q/ What is the biggest factor that led to the Congress’s downfall?

A/ Rahul is very arrogant. But he is arrogant without knowledge, education or political maturity. When you are an intellectual or are popular, you have a right to be arrogant. When you are an iconic leader, you can be arrogant. But he is mediocre. Calling him mediocre is still a tribute. He doesn’t know anything. And I will not blame him. Probably he could not undergo formal schooling or he had a traumatic childhood, or it is the society he lives in. He might be talking to you with respect [one moment], but he may not recognise you after one hour.

Q/ Priyanka Gandhi had a similar childhood. How would you assess her?

A/ I have seen both of them during my Congress period. Suddenly they are becoming socialists! There is not a single business leader of reckoning who has not visited or was not friendly with Congress leaders. Their access or relationship is evidence of how close the entire government was with industrialists. Now suddenly they talk about crony capitalism.

Q/ Why is the Congress talking of crony capitalism now?

A/ All these are blackmailing [tactics] to extract money during the election period. I will say that industrialists brought vibrancy to the economy and at least industrially we have become a strong nation. I see them as employment generators. I see them as movers and shakers of the Indian economy. They are creating millions of jobs. Who opened up the Indian economy? Isn’t it Dr Manmohan Singh who brought foreign investment to India? So I wonder why the Congress, which created the infrastructure, is now denying that. If there was no Congress, whether any of the known industrialists would have been here or not, nobody knows. Now Priyanka and Rahul believe that they were paradropped from the moon and the sun. That is not the truth.

Q/ What do you think of the Congress not attending the Ram Temple pran prathishthan?

A/ They should have come. They could have said they would visit on another date, but they missed the bus in their attempt to please certain Muslim fundamentalists of Kerala and others.

Q/ Do you think it is a blunder?

A/ It is a blunder. The political connotation would have changed the minute Sonia Gandhi went to the Ram temple on January 23rd morning. Indian politics would have changed not just for them, but for the entire country. They made a historical blunder to adopt the image of being anti-Hindu. In India you can be pro-Christian, pro-Muslim, but you cannot be anti-Hindu.

Q/ The Congress thinks the Ram Temple is being politicised.

A/ If you visit the Ram Temple, then it will not be politicised. Your absence will make it politicised. If there are Muslim and Christian leaders who roam around in the name of secularism, why can’t they sit together and celebrate Hindu triumph? When the Pakistan government restored a Hindu temple, senior BJP leader L.K. Advani was invited. Can it be more communal than Pakistan? But Sonia Gandhi was asked not to go, [because of the threat that] there will be problems in Rahul winning Wayanad. Rahul went to Babur’s tomb in 2005, but he did not go to the Ram Temple. Doesn’t the Hindu feel hurt? You cannot become secular by being anti-Hindu. It does not work.

Q/ How do you analyse the word secular in the Indian Constitution?

A/ The word ‘secular’ was not ours. It was inserted by Indira Gandhi. The first generation of the Congress [leaders] never thought of [including] secular. They said India’s ethos is sarva dharma samabhav (respect for all religions). Gandhiji, Nehru and Sardar Patel never thought that the Constitution should have a word like secularism. The Constituent Assembly had debated and decided against the word and instead put Article 14 whose operative part talks about the state not discriminating against any religion, any sex or any individual. The word ‘secular’ makes us defensive, as if we were not secular. It was included only in 1975 to please certain people and the word was stamped in the Preamble, as if we were not secular.

Q/ But don’t you think talking about it now creates fear and confusion?

A/ That is why I always say that India never started from 1947. Many people mistake 1947 as our beginning. If India’s Constituent Assembly had 60 per cent Muslims or even 50 per cent Christians, we would not have been a secular country. You go through the entire world history―wherever 50 per cent lawmakers are Christian or Muslim, it is either a Christian state or an Islamic state. Because the Indian Constituent Assembly was full of Hindus, we dared to make India a non-Hindu state. That is the strength of Hindus. I can immediately go to and eat at a Muslim’s home or visit a mosque, but a Muslim will never visit a temple. The point I am making is that secularism is imbibed in our body and soul.

Q/ What is your take on INDIA bloc? People say it is a fight for ideology.

A/ What is INDIA bloc? I want to ask if you―except for Arvind Kejriwal (who is a new entrant)―were confident, why would you change the name from UPA to INDIA. UPA has given you two solid governments―UPA 1 and UPA 2. People of India know more about the UPA than INDIA, because [it ran] India for 10 years. So changing the name shows how much confidence they have lost.

Q/ There is speculation that the name ‘Bharat’ came as a retaliatory step because of the INDIA bloc?

A/ Many people wanted Bharat, but the INDIA bloc gave us the trigger. Many people have gone to the Supreme Court [demanding] that India’s name should be Bharat. But I think there was no outpouring of that emotion…. All along I thought India’s name should be Bharat, but I did not have the courage to say it. Within five minutes of the INDIA bloc being announced, I found the courage to ask why not call India as Bharat. Because the Congress opposed Ram Mandir, it gave me courage to support Ram Mandir. Sometimes it works in reverse. And I must thank INDIA bloc― because you have taken the name of India, Bharat has become a household name.

Q/ New BJP chief ministers have come up in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Is it the BJP strategy to groom new leaders?

A/ It is a very good practice they have started. A chief minister should be there only for a decent period. If a chief minister stays on too long, then the next generation gets killed. The party has to decide on the period of service. But at some point, everybody has to go. At least in the BJP, you should not come with the mindset that you will stay here. You should always be ready to go back to your original address―of being a karyakarta. I think that’s the message.

Q/ What would you say to Rahul Gandhi’s allegation that the BJP also follows dynasty politics?

A/ Our party is not controlled by any dynasty. But suppose my son is meritorious and can contribute to my party, why will I waste the talent? I would say, ‘Come and work, son, but you cannot take control of the party.’ It doesn’t mean that he can be equated to the Gandhi family, Mulayam family or Lalu family. I often see them (opposition leaders) trying to draw a parallel between the Gandhi family and the Anurag Thakur family. That is an apples and oranges comparison. [Is there a] dynasty controlling the BJP? The BJP is a party where you just give a phone call and you become a member. So the sons and daughters of any leader can join the party and contribute, but the control button of the BJP will not go to any family. Too many systemic reforms have taken place to disturb that balance.

Q/ There is worry that a nationwide delimitation can create a north-south divide. Will population be the criteria?

A/ There are many states where the population has come down because of various factors. For instance, in Assam, the Hindus have been [observing] family [planning] norms. Among Muslims, for various reasons, that stabilisation has not come. Today, if delimitation happens in a straitjacket form, then we would lose. So the Election Commission came out with a good balance and gave a margin of 20 per cent and that is how the delimitation happened in Assam, taking into consideration several factors. For a nationwide delimitation, we have to wait for the Delimitation Act to be passed in Parliament after due consideration.

Q/ So, population won’t be the only criterion in delimitation?

A/ It has never been. In India, population, geography, terrain, everything is considered and if you see the way delimitation was conducted in the past, the aspirations of the people were accounted for. There will be a lot of consultations before the act is drafted and we will get an opportunity to vent our grievances and expectations. I am sure it will be on the basis of consensus.

Q/ When will the Uniform Civil Code be implemented?

A/ On UCC, I have not heard the prime minister express his views elaborately. We know that Uttarakhand and Gujarat are preparing a draft and when the draft comes and the prime minister endorses it, then we will know his views. Personally, I support UCC because Muslim women need that emancipation. This is not a Hindu-Muslim issue, it is gender justice and this is a mandate of our Constitution. We cannot have a different view than Mahatma Gandhi. The UCC is not the BJP’s creation. It is the directive principle of state policy. This line was inserted by B.R. Ambedkar, Nehru, Rajendra Prasad. The BJP was not there in that house…. Now how it is done depends on statecraft. If Modi is the blessed son of this motherland to bring the UCC and implement the directive principle of state policy, we should be happy about it.

Q/ How soon will the Citizenship (Amendment) Act be implemented? Will there be protests?

A/ The CAA is already passed and the framing of the rules is a formality. But it has to be [notified] before it lapses. We are ideologically committed. There will be some protests in Assam, but I will talk to them. I have asked the people not to put the state in a situation where we disturb the progress.

Q/ Do you think the anti-CAA protests were genuine or orchestrated in Assam?

A/ No, these are genuine protests. When we talk of Assamese people, we do not mean Hindu Assamese. We mean Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist Assamese. So we take pride that we are not communal. Our ideology, our agitation against the foreigners was purely against any attack on our language and demography. So that generation cannot reconcile with the CAA easily. They are not aware of religious identity and what was happening on the other side of the border. Today in Assam, there are around seven lakh Bengali Hindus who have prima facie come from Bangladesh and have no rights, no citizenship. They cannot go back. So where will they go?

Q/ And what about the detention centres?

A/ Nobody in Assam believes in detention camps. It was the order of the Guwahati High Court for which we had to set up a detention camp…. Now we have obtained an order from the Guwahati High Court that if a foreigner is declared a foreigner, then he will be debarred from certain privileges.

Q/ Voting rights, for example?

A/ Voting rights, yes. But we are very liberal in our thoughts. One crore 36 lakh people have entered Assam in different stages, right from 1951. How many people have we put in a detention camp? One hundred and seventy-two. Instead of putting them in a detention camp, I could have convinced the Bangladesh Rifles and pushed them back. But we did not do it. I cannot send back Hindus. That is why we need CAA.

Q/ Do you see Islamic radicalisation rising in Assam?

A/ Islamic radicalisation was on the rise in Assam. We busted some modules of the Popular Front of India. Under the guidance of Amit Shah, we have reinvented policing in Assam. From militancy, we are now focusing on tackling drugs, crime, fundamentalist activity…. I have to stabilise Assam for Assamese people, including Hindus and Muslims. We have 4 per cent Assamese Muslims in the state. Recently, I sought views on an anti-polygamy bill and all Muslim organisations have submitted a memorandum expressing support.

Q/ How are you dealing with the Rohingya threat?

A/ Rohingyas keep coming, but the numbers are not in the thousands. We are working actively with the National Investigation Agency (NIA)and have busted a few modules. But I think we need to resolve the Rohingya issue, as there are bombs waiting in Bangladesh to enter India. So, if we can push them back to their original land, [there will be] some kind of a solution. But I think the international community has to address the issue. In 2023, we detected almost 250 to 300 Rohingyas and handed them over to the NIA, but 2,700 remain undetected. They don’t stay in Assam, but travel to Haryana, Jammu and so on.

Q/ How do you see the Chinese threat in the northeast?

A/ Many Indian insurgent groups now have a confirmed settlement on the Chinese border. They are getting complete support from across the border…. As long as the India-China relationship remains bumpy, the northeast cannot be stabilised permanently.

But Assam is different as it does not face a direct threat from China. So Assam can be made completely peaceful. In Nagaland and Manipur, we have to factor in external influence, ethnic conflicts and internal governance. Today, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram are peaceful. The dialogue with NSCN(IM) is in the advanced stages. And I believe an accord will be signed sooner or later because neither the outfit nor the government wants to go back on it. So I think somehow Nagaland will be stabilised. In Manipur, the division is deep and we will have to be patient.

Q/ But the hill-valley divide in Manipur has been there for long. What do you think went wrong this time?

A/ What is wrong is that a conflict breaks out every five to ten years. Somehow the state leadership could not anticipate it, and once tribal people fight among themselves, reconciliation is not very easy. There has to be back channel negotiation and healing touch. The reason why Manipur has not recovered so far is beyond the comprehension of those who raise the issue of Manipur in Parliament. This world is very different from theirs.

Q/ Have the hill people lost trust in Chief Minister Biren Singh?

A/ I think the plains people have also lost trust in the people from the hills. It is both ways. Biren Singh individually has not had a problem with Kukis. The problem is between two communities. If Biren is removed, then other Biren will do the same. Similarly, in Kukis, if you remove one leader, the other leader will do the same. The best thing is to bring both the communities together. And that process is on….

Q/ How do you see Mahua Moitra’s claims about mistreatment by Parliament’s ethics committee?

A/ Mahua speaks contradictorily. First of all, being a Parliamentarian, she should not have given her login ID to anybody who lives on foreign soil even for a bona fide purpose. If an Army general gives his login ID to a person who lives in Pakistan, even by default, is it acceptable? I think she should have accepted her mistake gracefully and owned up morally that she committed an error of judgment. She could have resigned and fought the byelection and won again. But she tried to defend the indefensible, again by blaming Modi. Modi did not tell you to give your login ID. Nobody is saying she took money. That is a matter of investigation. In politics, we are not talking about criminal culpability. But the opposition made it a political circus by backing her. If Trinamool Congress and Congress don’t form an alliance, will Sonia support Mahua in this election? These are gimmicks.

Q/ How important is it to bring ULFA(I)’s Paresh Baruah back for lasting peace in Assam?

A/ For me, Paresh Baruah is back. I talk to him every month. He has lived his life like many people who thought they were fighting for a cause. People of Assam now should not think too much about bringing him back because his era is over. He cannot disturb peace. He is just a symbol of certain causes and let us handle those causes.

Q/ What kind of conversations do you have with Baruah?

A/ I ask him, ‘What did you eat today? What happened in the morning, in the evening? Dada, you blew a grenade today. If you attack us, we have the right to attack you.’ But that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t love Assam or I do not love Assam. I do not have a monopoly over Assam, neither does he. It is a constant persuasion. I will keep talking and if there is a meeting point, then it will come. But Assam has gone beyond Baruah now. Nobody on the street discusses ULFA or Baruah, except when some reporters ask. The state is in pursuit of peace, development and tranquillity.

Q/ Do you see private industries coming to Assam?

A/ Big private players will come next month. I am expecting a big announcement. Things are changing in Assam.

Q/ We know Himanta Biswa Sarma as the chief minister of Assam. What’s next?

A/ My lifelong ambition was to be the chief minister of Assam. It is my luck that I was given a chance to serve Assam…. I want to be here for 10 years so that I can consolidate peace and development and be remembered in Assam’s history for the work I did. But the party is supreme and my future will be decided by my party only.