Open to Alliance with AGP if necessary: Debabrata Saikia
Debabrata Saikia, Leader of Opposition in the Assam Legislative Assembly talks to G Plus on how the Congress Party is going to fare in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls and the party’s stand on Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016.
Rajya Sabha standoff on Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016
In Lok Sabha we don’t have the numbers so we could not prevent the bill from getting passed. Everyone expected the Congress to play a major role in preventing the bill being introduced or passed in the Rajya Sabha as Congress has the numbers. The Congress along with the other opposition parties had a very good floor coordination. People of Assam were expecting the Congress to take a very decisive role in Rajya Sabha.
Under the guidance of our All India Congress Committee (AICC) in-charge, Harish Rawat we had an internal meeting of the Congress top leaders which had PCC president Ripun Bora, Rockybul Hussain, Sushmita Dev, Gaurav Gogoi, APCC functionaries, ex-ministers, Kamalkshya Dey (MLA). There it was decided that for the interest of the people of Assam the bill should be stopped at Rajya Sabha. This message was conveyed to our top leader Rahul Gandhi who was aware of it. We then met the Rajya Sabha leader of the opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad, chief whip Bhubaneswar Kalita and our treasurer Ahmed Patel. Through their help the floor coordination with other parties like RJD, Trinamool and all other political parties was done. We can all see the outcome now as the BJP did not introduce the bill in Rajya Sabha.
Friendship with AGP and AIUDF for upcoming polls
With the AGP, if it becomes necessary, there can be an understanding. In 2016, we tried to have an alliance with the Asom Gana Parishad during the assembly elections and it did not materialise. Congress is a national party which is leading a united opposition where many parties are there who are opposed to the ideals of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The BJP is hell-bent on violating the constitution, dividing the society, polarising the votes on the basis of language or religion. We, being a part of the leading opposition party at the national level, are opposed to any communal party, be it Hindu communal party or minority party.
The AIUDF (All India United Democratic Front) is viewed as a sectarian party in Assam and people do not accept it as a secular party. Because politics is about how people react to you, how people perceive your view. It may be difficult for Congress to make an alliance with AIUDF as people will not accept it, so we will not go for an alliance with AIUDF in Assam.
Plus, if you look at the results of the recent panchayat polls there were many areas with AIUDF influence where they have been rejected and Congress has made inroads. The relevance of AIUDF in localities where it had influence has gone down terribly.
Will Congress be benefitted by AGP coming out of government?
Firstly, they have only come out of the Assam government and have not broken their alliance with the NDA (National Democratic Alliance). We will have to wait and watch whether they come out of NEDA (North East Democratic Alliance) and the NDA. They have come out of the administration role due to the policy adopted by the Assam government. The AGP cannot support the bill so they are parting ways. At the moment they are not out of the NDA.
Are you trying to align with Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti?
The issue raised by KMSS is about preservation of identity of Assam. It is about opposing the citizenship bill. Our party also stands for the sanctity of the Assam Accord that will be violated if the bill is passed. So, some things are common and it has come to news that KMSS is trying to float a political party. Right now they are not a political party and so, we will see when they do it.
Snatching seats back from BJP
I cannot exactly tell you the numbers but our tally from three will definitely double, maybe more. Last time, in 2014, the BJP had Modi wave and they promised a lot during the election and the people also wanted change. After four-and-a-half years they have realized that whatever was promised has not been delivered. It will be difficult for the BJP to get support in many areas of the state like they had in 2014. Moreover, this Citizenship (Amendment) Bill will definitely create problems for the people of Assam in terms of language, in terms of religion.
Two former chief ministers, Prafulla Kumar Mahanta and Tarun Gogoi were seen together. Is that an indicator of something brewing?
That is a common cause and even I had participated last time when Sachetan Nagarik Manch held a rally. If it is in the interest of the state, when all parties who love Assam might have to fight together, they may stand in one place when the situation demands, so one should not read beyond that.
Understanding with ULFA in upper Assam
The ULFA can always make appeal depending upon their mood and how they access the political parties. It is up to them who to support and for what reason they will support. Our party has a definite agenda and we will work based on our agenda for the welfare of the people.
Congress preparations for Lok Sabha elections 2019
Our grassroots level organisation has been strengthened and wherever necessary new people are put in place by revamping and reorganising the structure. Internal assessment is being done by various groups and the high command. We are having training programmes like Shakti and the Lok Sampark Abhiyan for our workers. Apart from these activities assessment for the probable names are going on for the seats. I hope the party will soon call for applications and after that selection will take place. There is always an internal survey by the high command that is done by independent sources and that is not known to state-level workers. It’s done in a secret manner and based on those findings the selection is decided. Definitely, the party has no scarcity of talents and many new faces will be provided.
Is there infighting within the state Congress?
There is no infighting. Everyone is a leader in his full right. Sometimes the followers make noise, and that should not be regarded as infighting within the leaders. The followers try to seek more prominence for the leaders they follow. That is natural in a political party with so many leaders. But ultimately our leader is Rahul Gandhi and we all follow him and whatever the high command decides we abide by it.
Are you planning to move to the parliament? What if the high command decides?
I don’t have any personal ambition as such, be it in the state or in national politics. I am trying to do whatever responsibility I have been given and am doing it honestly. I will not seek anything for myself and only want to propagate my party in a better way. Of course, it is only the high command that decides what role one should play.
Will we see more new faces and women candidates?
Definitely, there will be new faces because this is what our president Rahul Gandhi has also promised. Our party has been demanding fifty percent reservation for women. As of now we have only one (Sushimta Dev) and we hope to see more fresh faces this time.