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‘We strive for an Assam free of corruption, illegal foreigners’

| SARBANANDA SONOWAL
Published : Jun 7, 2016, 5:26 am IST
Updated : Jun 7, 2016, 5:26 am IST

On May 16, 2014, when the BJP won a huge mandate, Narendra Modi told a few of his senior colleagues that the party was at the crest of its popularity.

Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal (Photo: Sondeep Shankar)
 Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal (Photo: Sondeep Shankar)

On May 16, 2014, when the BJP won a huge mandate, Narendra Modi told a few of his senior colleagues that the party was at the crest of its popularity. From then on it will be a fight against unpopularity that could be fought only through hard work. Do you have similar feelings after the Assam victory

It is a very normal thing in politics. Challenges will be always there. There are so many long pending issues in the state, but we are ready to face them. The Congress could not provide the solutions. With hard work, dedication and disciplined service, we will be able to find solutions. It is a question of quality of service to the nation. In the last two years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already shown what he is capable of. That is what the people of Assam also seek from our party. Under the Congress government, people in Assam never saw good governance and quality administration. So the massive mandate in Assam is because of the quality of services rendered by the Narendra Modi government. The system of good governance, which was totally destroyed by the Congress government, is now on the path of revival. Under the BJP in Assam and with Mr Modi at the helm, people from all walks of life will get justice and an environment to live a life with dignity.

A Union minister or a chief minister Where does your preference lie and why The nature of responsibilities is the same in both the cases; only the geographical and other jurisdictions differ. As Union minister you look after the entire stretch of the country whereas as CM you are confined within a state. But then the level of commitment required remains the same, for ultimately it is about the cause of the country and the service of the people.

What will be your priorities now There are a host of issues. Many issues figure at the top of the priority list. Definitely there are issues of Assamese identity, illegal immigration, updation of the National Register of Citizens, sealing of the Indo-Bangladesh border on one hand, while issues like the millions of unemployed youth who are to be settled and given job opportunities are there. There are issues of the tea garden community, the farm sector and then the ecology and environmental issues, including flood and erosion. All these are top priorities.

Historically, border sealing has never been fully effective as human migration is supposed to be a natural process. We still talk about border fencing, but how realistic is this solution If you take a look at the border with Pakistan across Jammu and Kashmir or Punjab, there is no doubt that they have been successful. If we can erect fences and seal borders with Bangladesh on the same lines, definitely it will help curb the influx of illegal immigration, stop cattle smuggling, infiltration of extremists and the movement of weapons. So that way, I think it will be a tremendous protection for Assam. Also, there are so many modern scientific devices that can be used. For example, we can think of things like anti-rust wire mesh as it is very rainy and humid in the Northeast, it will last longer and offer qualitative guard along the border.

The official stand of the Bangladesh government is that there is not a single Bangladeshi in Assam. In such a scenario, how do you expect to solve the problem as we cannot deport them Our duty is to detect the illegal immigrant, find out their numbers in Assam, and once we detect them, their rights will be definitely curtailed. The deportation part will come later. The question of detection is our priority. Now they are enjoying all rights like bona fide Indian citizens do. Those who are staying in Assam without valid and relevant documents will be detected and their names will be deleted from the voters’ list. How realistic is the idea of issuing work permits to such people In the days to come, this idea is expected to assume importance... Once illegal immigrants are detected we will definitely look into the matter. As per the direction of the Supreme Court, we have already set up about 100 tribunals. So these tribunals will put in their best effort to determine the number of illegal immigrants. Once they are detected, the other initiatives will be taken up. The cut-off year to determine who is a foreigner and who is not in Assam still stands at 1971. Or will it be 1951 as was pointed out by a senior BJP leader while campaigning for the polls The party vision document says it is 1971 and the Assam Accord also says it is 1971, so 1971 it shall be.

Your first decision as CM — to close down illegal checkgates — has been received well. It also caught the imagination of the common man. Do you have other out-of-the box policies in mind Whoever has set up illegal checkgates, the money that is collected never goes to the state exchequer. Rather, it goes to some individual’s pockets. So that way, the state is losing its revenues. The earlier government may have allowed it, but we will never allow it. Also, it was the desire of the people of Assam to put an end to checkgates. But the checkgate that collects revenues for the Assam state exchequer will continue. Likewise, as per the declaration of Mr Modi, it has been already ordered that in Assam no personality tests or interviews for recruitment to third and fourth grade jobs will be conducted, just the written test will suffice.

Any other similar decisions in the offing We have already said the ideal we strive for is an Assam free of corruption, illegal foreigners and pollution. So there will be some decisions including those to maintain and preserve Assam’s greenery and natural beauty.

A question quite relevant in this context is the kind of measures to safeguard Assamese as a language as there has been a proliferation of English-medium schools even in far-flung areas while there are no takers for the Assamese vernacular medium schools Our target is to always promote the prevalent languages whatever languages are there in Assam. There are many languages besides Assamese, we will have to promote languages like Bengali, Hindi, Nepali, etc which are spoken in Assam. It is a very sensitive issue and we have to respect everybody’s language. The idea is to move together hand in hand for a strong Assam, The Brahmaputra Valley and the Barak Valley have to walk together in a spirit of unity.

How far is the granting of Scheduled Tribe status to six communities in Assam going to help in safeguarding the political future of the indigenous Assamese The government is already moving positively in this regard and as per our commitment, we have been very sincerely taking up this issue.

One of Assam’s biggest problems now is brain drain and the migration of youth from the state to work in other parts of the country... That is one of our key concerns. We have to develop the infrastructure of modern institutions throughout the state so that we can accommodate our own brilliant boys and girls and encourage them to educate themselves and work within the state and ensure that they do not move outside.