'In 2019, BJP will sweep Northeast'
In an exclusive interview with Millennium Post, Himanta Biswa Sarma, convener of North-East Democratic Alliance, discusses the growth of BJP in Northeast
Himanta Biswa Sarma, the convener of North-East Democratic Alliance, who also holds several important portfolios in the Assam Cabinet, is credited for the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) unprecedented rise in Northeast India. In an exclusive interview with Millennium Post, Sarma speaks about his journey from Congress to BJP and his expectations from the decisive leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who could bring monumental change in the next ten years with his focus on development. He foresees several more victorious mandates in the impending 2019 Lok Sabha elections for BJP, which could also witness a complete sweep of the lotus party across the Northeast.
In the last few years, the country has witnessed a massive saffron uprising in the Northeast. What role did your participation play in this growth of BJP?
I believe, the saffron brigade began surging from the day Prime Minister Narendra Modi was announced as the Prime Ministerial candidate for BJP. In 2014, for the first time in Assam, BJP was able to secure seven Lok Sabha seats. This aside, the party was also able to secure one seat from Arunachal Pradesh. In Nagaland, too, one of our pre-election allies won one seat and, collectively, we secured a total of nine seats.
Besides, the first major victory in the Assam Assembly elections also motivated a certain kind of political re-alignment in this entire region. Many former Congress leaders began joining BJP, and the party also began collaborating with the various regional stakeholders. Further, for the very first time, several developmental projects were undertaken in this region –especially in road and rail connectivity. For the first time, Tripura was connected to Delhi through the Rajdhani Express. Thereafter, Arunachal Pradesh was connected to mainland India through the railways. This is just the beginning as several more developmental initiatives are being strictly undertaken.
I think, by accumulating all these—political re-alignments, joining hands with regional political parties, along with PM Modi's charisma and undertaking a massive number of developmental projects – together they have resulted in the fact that today BJP or its partners are ruling in seven out of the eight Northeastern states.
What factor do you believe played the most significant role in the political realignment in the Northeast?
In the Northeast, there are two kinds of political theories: people who believe in regionalism and, then, there are the people who believe in nationalism. There were many who believed in nationalism and did not have faith in Congress – they had no alternative, but to opt for BJP.
You were in Congress for 23 long years and now you are a prominent face in BJP. How was your journey and how difficult was it for you to adjust to the new pattern of leadership?
BJP is a party of middle-class people. In this party, nobody asks for your family background and there is no place to seek for your loyalty to a family or dynasty. Thus, I think, for any free-thinking person and, for that matter, for any person who has self-esteem, there would be no difficulty in adjusting to BJP. Moreover, those who have joined BJP from Congress are mostly 'first generation' politicians. They do not have any foundational political family background. They do not adhere to the politics of a 'family dynasty'. There is no personal interest here, and, they are all guided by ideology. But, those who will join Congress from BJP will definitely have an adjustment problem. Because, suddenly from being 'loyal to the nation', one has to become 'loyal to the family.' The reason why I joined BJP is really a long story with a long history but it is sufficient to say that you can compromise upon your self-esteem for a short period of time, but not in the long run.
How do you foresee NDA's future in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections – particularly today, when the opposition is talking about a one-on-one fight?
In the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, I have no hesitation in stating that BJP will sweep through the entire Northeast. In the eastern region also, BJP will gain massive support – whether it is in Odisha or Bengal. As far as the number is concerned, as the country's politics is emerging, I think, this time, the people will give a larger mandate than in 2014. Because, now, the people of India want a decisive leadership for at least the next ten years. As far as a one-on-one fight is concerned, I think that it is the reflection of the political desperation of Congress. When the party cannot go into a direct fight with BJP, it has no option but to take the support of the other power corridors. In the last 60-70 years, Congress has never been as weak as it is today. In Karnataka also, Congress is heading for a defeat and, in Mizoram too, they will lose the elections scheduled for the end of this year. They will only be left with Punjab and Puducherry. This is a clear admission that BJP is the strongest party in the country today.
The Supreme Court has given a strict timeline to the Assam government regarding the Nation Register Citizen – what is the current status on this front as the Bengali population in the state is facing an uncertain future on the issue of their citizenship? How do you address this concern?
By May 31, Assam government will finish the process of NRC and, by June 31, it has to further complete the concluding processes. I think many of these concerns are based on rumours because nobody has delved into the NRC draft. Now, what will be the final numbers and who will be omitted— this is all under process right now. The matter will finally be cleared when the list will be published under the instruction of the Supreme Court. I think, only at that point in time, will we be able to assess the situation.
Being a Finance Minister of one of the Northeastern states, how would you see PM Modi's policy to propel the Act East policy after 26 long years?
If you see from the economic point of view, prior to the partition of Bengal, our region's per capita income was higher than the country's. Oil was discovered first in the Northeast. We have the oldest oil refinery here and we also have tea plantations and forest resources. But, during the partition, this region was largely disconnected from the mainland. Before the partition, through Bangladesh, one could reach Kolkata in 24 hours, which would to take 48 hours in the post-partition era. Therefore, neither the inward movement of goods nor the outward movement was commercially viable. It also increased the costs associated. Generally, this entire region was economically affected. Now, road connection with Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Myanmar would make export far more commercially viable. Otherwise, it is geographically complex. It is important to give proper shape to the land and water connectivity. I believe this special attention would make this region a centre of trading activities. The East Asian countries can easily reach the Northeast. Trans-Asian highways should be operative and there should be more access to Bangladesh's ports. After 26 years, everything has started with a fresh, new prospect.
The Naga Accord, signed in 2015, demands a major section of the land of Assam, Manipur, and Arunachal Pradesh. What is your government's stand regarding this?
We have always insisted that the territorial integrity of each Northeastern state should be maintained. While we welcome the peace accord, at the same time, we also believe that none of the territorial boundaries should be altered. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, later both Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and MoS Home, Kiren Rijiju also promised that territorial integrity will be protected. It is now a 'dead issue' and I hope a Naga solution will be finalised without disturbing any other state.
(Simontini Bhattacharjee is Special Correspondent with Millennium Post)