Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel has been campaigning in poll-bound Assam as Congress party’s election observer. The Congress, which was in power for 15 years in the state till 2016, is contesting the three-phase polls as part of a ‘Mahajot’ grand alliance with the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), Bodoland People’s Front, the Anchalik Gana Morcha, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the CPI and the CPI-ML.
Ahead of the first phase of polling in 47 seats across 22 districts on March 27, Baghel is confident that the ‘Mahajot’ will emerge victorious in Assam. In an interview with MoneyControl, the 59-year-old leader said that a ‘desperate’ Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was indulging in ‘triple speak’ with its different stands on the Citizenship Amendment Act in the three poll-bound states of Assam, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu. Excerpts:
The campaigning for the first phase of election has ended. Most of the seats are in upper Assam, which used to be a Congress bastion before 2016. Do you think your party will reclaim its old bastion?
Of the 47 seats going to polls in upper and northern Assam in the first phase, Congress has fielded candidates on 43 seats. At the other four seats, Mahajot alliance partners will contest. Every seat is important for us. We have put in efforts to win all the seats. I am not sure about the numbers, but I can say with confidence that we will win a majority of the seats in the first phase. As for all the three phases, the alliance will sweep the polls with a three-fourths majority and form the government.
What is the reason for your confidence?
Because people have realized that the BJP has cheated them. BJP didn’t fulfil the promises. People are looking for a change because they are not happy with the government. Tables will turn this time. People will punish the BJP for cheating them.
There has to be some weak point?
As for the first phase, we will win most of the seats.
Amit Shah has set up a target of 100-plus seats for NDA in Assam?
If you remember, Amit Shahji went to Chhattisgarh in 2018 and said BJP will win 65-plus seats in the 90-member house. As it turned out, we won 68. Similarly, the 100-plus seat prediction in Assam will hold good for the Congress-led alliance.
There were reports that you have got your team from Chhattisgarh. What is the strategy?
There are Congress workers across the state. We reached out to all of them. Spoke about issues on candidates. We found that there are differences. All workers are fighting together. Workers from Chhattisgarh have worked in 93 seats, which Congress is contesting. We believe in working on the ground. There was disillusionment among leaders in the beginning, but that doesn’t exist any longer. Our karyakartas (workers) have been travelling across the state. The aim is to reach out to every household and inform them about what Congress has promised.
What are the issues that the Congress is fighting elections on?
We are talking about the five-point guarantee that we promised. The five guarantees include five lakh government jobs in five years, steps to scrap the CAA, free electricity up to 200 units for all households, Rs 2,000 per month to all homemakers and enhancing the daily wage of tea garden workers from Rs 167 at present to Rs 365.
Is CAA an issue on the ground?
There is strong anti-CAA sentiment across Assam. There was an agitation for a year and Assam was the most affected. People know that their identity is at stake if the CAA is implemented. That is why we have promised that we won’t implement the CAA, if voted to power.
Does Congress miss former chief minister Tarun Gogoi?Obviously. He was a tall leader. He led the government for 15 years and played a key role in the peace process. But that is how life is. He is not with us. We will miss him.
BJP has promised a ‘corrected National Register of Citizens’ in its Assam manifesto but is silent on the Citizenship Amendment Act?
The BJP is desperate. They do not know what to do. In West Bengal they say they will implement CAA-NRC in the first cabinet. In Assam, the Prime Minister, the Home Minister, all ministers and Yogi Adityanath do not speak about it. In Tamil Nadu, BJP’s alliance partner AIADMK promises that it will urge the BJP-ruled Centre to reconsider CAA. So, clearly they have three stands on an issue in three states. I call it ‘triple speak’. This is historic. I am sure BJP will lose all the four states and the Union territory that are going to polls.
There are internal issues, such as G-23 rebel leaders, within the Congress?
There is no G-23 now, you see. Everyone is busy with elections. All of them are senior leaders. If they have any grievances, it can be resolved through dialogue.You can check other dates related to the elections here.