“Being in opposition, I cannot bring a krantikari change, but I can draw attention,” Pradyut Bordoloi, MP, Nowgong
Editor of G Plus, Swapnil Bharali, caught up with new Member of Parliament from Nowgong constituency, Pradyut Bordoloi, at his residence in Guwahati.
Here are the excerpts from the conversation. The video version is available on the YouTube Channel of G Plus.
After being in state politics for so long, how do you see yourself in national politics?
I am trying to break new frontiers now. I had been in state politics for almost two decades. I had been an MLA four times and a minister in the former Tarun Gogoi government since 2001. This time, the party asked me to contest at a very difficult situation as you know. It had been an uphill task, but somehow I could overcome it. I offer my gratitude to my constituents.
Your win was not expected. How did you manage it?
Yes of course, Nagaon is not my place. It is my adopted constituency. In fact, the BJP wanted to create an issue that I am an outsider.
Secondly, since 1985, Congress, except for a very brief period of one year in 1998, has never won the Nagaon constituency. Our late leader Nripen Goswami won from this constituency in 1998, but when mid-term elections took place in 1999, he suffered a defeat. So after 1999, BJP’s Rajen Gohain has been winning from the seat for 20 years straight.
The point is, winning this constituency indeed was very difficult and challenging. Especially at a time when a party like the BJP, whose main political narrative is polarization, is in power, both at the Centre and in the state. But, I am very fortunate that I could transcend the boundaries.
What do you feel made you win?
Maybe my disarming smile which people liked and voted for me (laughs)…
For the Congress party, this entire election has been a debacle and everyone pins the blame on Rahul Gandhi…
Rahul Gandhi is not responsible for this. I will tell you what has been happening. Mohammad Ali Jinnah had espoused the two nation theory before independence. This two nation theory was shot down by the Congress leadership.
Jinnah attained a separate and sovereign country on the basis of religion. Even at that time, the people with Hindu agenda, especially the Hindu Mahasabha and RSS, voted for a separate country on the ground that if Muslims can get a separate country then why not the Hindus, which will be a majority in future India.
But the Congress leadership said no to this and insisted that there will be no religious bigotry after India gained independence. Independent India would be a secular country. But the Hindu Mahasabha and RSS did not like it.
Mahatma Gandhi was such a colossus that he could overrule this and that is why these people perceived Mahatma Gandhi to be the main obstacle and assassinated him.
After that, our founding fathers like BR Ambedkar and others framed the constitution, which has become the bedrock of Indian identity. The constitution has no place for religious hegemonism.
It was going on all right. BJP probably always had a hidden agenda, but it could not pursue it because it was fragile. Its strength was not very huge.
But, here comes such a big actor (PM Modi), who in 2014, if you remember, never mentioned about Hindutva. His issues were corruption, bringing black money back from Swiss banks and distributing them among the people. He promised “ache din,” employment to 2 crore people every year. He promised a whole lot of things, even the Moon. So people fell for it. The BJP somehow sold that narrative.
After being in power for five years when they could not deliver, their narrative has undergone a total change. This time, what they have done is they started selling nationalism, for which they took Pakistan as a punching bag. Anything happens; they say Pakistan, Pakistan, Pakistan.
If you criticize the policies of Modi, you would be Pakistani sympathizer. If you criticize the BJP, you would be a traitor of the country.
They would hype some kind of balloon of nationalism.
I get your point. While it does not directly answer my question of Rahul Gandhi being responsible for the debacle or not, but if it takes all of this to win the election which is the ultimate goal…
I am coming to you. Actually, they (BJP) could sell and Narendra Modi being such a great actor has been backed by all kinds of moneybags, whose volumes and sizes have increased astronomically during his first regime.
We had no match to that. There were unlimited funds, unlimited resources. Even the various media, pardon me for saying this, were in the pockets of Modi. All the major media houses including Arnab Goswami’s Republic, Times Now, Zee TV, India TV and all types of social media were in the pockets of Modi or the big capitalists. They were portraying the image that Modi can do no wrong.
We were cornered basically. In today’s politics, I think we were touching the fundamental issues. Unlike Modi, we were not abusing him and the BJP leadership. We were touching the fundamental issues that touch the lives of the common people.
What about “chowkidar chor hain?” Can’t that be counted as abuse from the Congress?
Because he himself said “I am a chowkidar.” But, under his nose, all the big capitalists, industrialists had taken away money from the banks. The money was hard earned by common people and was deposited in the banks. And abuse… in what way? We never said derogatory things that Modi mentioned about Nehru or Rajiv Gandhi.
That (chowkidar chor hain) was a correct thing. Because he declared himself as a “self-styled chowkidar.” If you are a “chowkidar” how can you allow people to steal money?
We still believe that Rafael was a big scandal and I stand by this. But, the problem is, somehow we could not sell it. Probably, people will realize it in a hard way later.
Clearly some kind of introspection and going back to the drawing board is required for the Congress party over the next five years.
Obviously, we have to contemplate. But see, it was an ideological war. The tragedy today is that the two nation theory that Jinnah once successfully espoused and got away with by getting Pakistan has been repackaged and resold.
After around 72 years of independence, they are still blaming Pakistan. They are still blaming Muslims and trying to sell a false pride of nationalism. They have been successful that way.
Do you think there is a dearth of leadership in Congress in Assam? Because, no big Congress leaders, except for Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi, were campaigning here and there was nothing from the state level to show that leadership is there.
No, that’s not true. We had our president, Ripun Bora and Debabrata Saikia and all other leaders for the campaign. Somehow, as I said, it was a kind of narrative that Modi was selling and people were buying it. So, we had no chance.
How will you rate the Sonowal government which has just completed three years in Assam?
Very dismal, because, in the last three years they have not been able to do anything, except give out some doles to the tea garden mazdoors three or four months ahead of the election to gain votes. They have been successful that way. They have taken some populist measures and repackaged and relabeled all our old policies and programmes.
You can see the road conditions, all the industries and business places, trade and commerce are at a standstill.
There is no income and employment generation in the state today.
There was a lot of protests when the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) was about to be passed. But, now that people have voted for the BJP, what do you make of this contradiction?
See. We oppose CAB, because it is a very dangerous concept. All the street-smart, assorted groups were creating a chorus to protest against CAB.
But the BJP government with a lot of money, promises, doles and lollipops could puncture the cohesive leadership of the anti-CAB forum.
For example, Ashwini Chetia, a former member of All Assam Tai Ahom Student Union (AATASU), was in the forefront of the anti-CAB protest. When the elections came, he was given the hope that “Look, if you join BJP, you will get a ticket to contest in the elections. If BJP’s Topon Gogoi wins in the Lok Sabha elections, then his seat will be vacant and you will be given a chance to contest in elections.” So he (Chetia) jumped in. It’s all about personal agenda I tell you.
BJP is very clever that way. The leadership of the assorted organizations is with the BJP now. But, by doing this, they are betraying their own people.
The people will realize and all those leaders who have joined the bandwagon of BJP will become irrelevant.
Is there any realistic chance for Congress to come back to power in 2021 in Assam?
We stand a huge chance. Obviously, we have to pull up our socks. We have to reach out to the people. We have to give a very clear narrative and probably we have to do exercises of permutation and combination. We have to cobble up a new combination in Assam. Otherwise, electoral gains may not be there. Our leadership has to study the situation and then finally we have to hit the roads.
Dou you think Rahul Gandhi would be a competent leader?
See, this time we failed or even Rahul Gandhi failed. But, don’t ignore the what Rahul Gandhi created. Modi’s position was unassailable. He is known for fakery. He is an actor and good for camera and TV. He is a megalomaniac. He is growing in the mould of Hitler.
Strong words, Mr Bordoloi…
Yes, these are strong words, but I believe in these. Modi will bulldoze others. But, he will not be able to transform the Indian society the way he has promised. So, I have given this round again to Modi, but he is bound to fall.
With BJP in the state and in the centre, how would you go about improving the Nagaon constituency?
There are many issues. The fundamental issues which have been neglected by the government in centre are river erosion and unemployment. River erosion is a huge problem in my constituency, Nagaon. This is a constituency that probably houses large number of progressive farmers in Assam. The farmers in the area do triple cropping and are enriching Assam’s economy.
Unfortunately, the farmers are in distress now. In all the riverine areas lying on the bank of Brahmaputra, say from Jagiroad to Lahorighat and beyond, erosion has taken such a huge toll that thousands of hectares of farming land have been submerged in the Brahmaputra. We have to arrest that. That’s the one fundamental issue which has been neglected.
There is a huge problem of unemployment. What would be my contribution? You see, being in opposition, I cannot bring a krantikari change. We don’t have a government in Assam nor in the centre. But, I can draw attention. I can probably flag all these issues in a very effective and articulate manner - maybe on the floor of the Parliament or in other forums like the power corridors of Delhi or molding some public opinions.
Let me give you an example. Do you know that almost four to five lakh youths from the Nagaon constituency have been employed as security guards across India? Top security agencies from Mumbai, Pune, Bangaluru routinely come to the constituency that covers three districts to recruit security guards.
I will tell you why. The security agencies recruit young boys who maybe school dropouts, or class 12 pass. I was very inquisitive to find out why the largest number of youths from my present day constituency is taken away as security guards. Then one security consultant told me that they are above average. They are very obedient. If you can condition them they can be very good security guards.
Now, because of demonetization, economic depression under Modi’s regime, many of those youths have returned to Assam. But, fact remains that we have the inherent strength of skill building. If you can mobilize new initiatives to train them, they can be absorbed in any place.
These things probably I can do through NGOs, through my effort to create employment.
How many MLAs are there from the Congress in the 9 assembly segments of Nagaon constituency?
So that’s further trouble for you.
Yes, we lost out very badly. Out of 9 assembly segments, only the Lahorighat constituency has an MLA from the Congress party. Despite this, people from all assembly constituencies voted for me. My vote share is almost 51%.
Serious issues of heartburn, suicides and depression have been found among people who were working in the now shut down Nagaon paper mill.
That’s why I am saying that the fundamental issues have been neglected. They were ignored systematically by the BJP government. It was busy creating polarization, division among people on the basis of religion and language. But, in that bargain, they totally forgot the fundamental problems that have afflicted our society. We have to attend to these issues.
The Nagaon paper mill can be revived?
I cannot give a sweeping statement. I don’t want to be another Modi saying it can be done. But, it can be done. I will take up (the initiative) maybe by changing the entire model or remodeling the functions of the mill.
I don’t want to be one of those politicians who blame everything on BJP. But, unfortunately, both the paper mills, Nagaon and Cachar, were closed down during Modi’s regime in the last five years. That’s very unfortunate. But, they have been blissfully, I would say unaware, insensitive.
There has to be sincerity. Because, all these people are in deplorable condition. We have to do something. We might have to go for PPP model if we have to revive the paper mill. The economic model has to be restructured. The present model may not be feasible for revival.
As an MP, you would require a lot of research, go through international trade agreements and see what would fit to your constituency or perhaps the state of Assam that you can bring in something and make a difference. How would you go about that?
I am told that being an MP, I have got an advantage in Lok Sabha. There is a research team. You can go and request them to do research for you. Otherwise, I will have to do research, fall back on my own friends or maybe put up a small team. I will see.