In an exclusive tête-à-tête with Pratidin Time journalist Mrinal Talukdar, Congress MP Rahul Gandhi shares his vision for Assam and the benefits of Congress’s five-guarantee scheme amidst the ongoing electioneering in the state.
Mrinal Talukdar: There is a school of thought that in the first phase of the Assam Assembly Election this year Congress has done reasonably well? What is your take on it?
Rahul Gandhi: I would agree to it. Our performance seems to be good.
Mrinal Talukdar: So how much are you expecting?
Rahul Gandhi: I am not expecting anything. I don’t predict the future. It is not my capability. But, the mood (of the state) is positive (towards Congress) and we have fought the elections effectively. So, I am hopeful for a positive outcome.
Mrinal Talukdar: Congress’s entire election campaign in the state is based on the theme “Guarantee”. What exactly is this “Guarantee”?
Rahul Gandhi: We had this experience in Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan. We made a clear-cut commitment in these states that if we win the Assembly elections, we will implement these guarantees. We won’t make baseless promises. We have taken three to five issues and have assured that we will resolve it and we have delivered accordingly.
If you go to Chattisgarh you will see we had made two to three commitments. One was to do away with farmers’ debts and we did it within six hours after being voted to power. Likewise, we are implementing the same in Assam. During the process of developing the manifesto, our party has engaged with the tea garden workers and other people of the state and have asked what do they need? Based on that we have come up with the five most critical areas that needs attention and we guarantee them.
Mrinal Talukdar: One of the biggest guarantees that you have assured is to repeal or replace the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). It is a sentimental, emotional, and touchy subject for the people here. It is an anti-CAA posture. But, how is it possible to scrap a central law?
Rahul Gandhi: We will not allow CAA to come into Assam. The decision will be taken in the Assembly; we will pass it in the Assembly that CAA will not be applicable in Assam. We’re not going to allow it. It is simple. At the end of the state government will have to implement it. We will not implement it.
CAA is against Assamese language, culture and history. It is against the Assamese idea. We are not going to do it. This is not an anti-CAA posture; it is a pro-Assam posture. CAA is an attack on Assam. We won’t accept it. If Assam is India, then India is also Assam. There will be a relationship of respect, dignity, and equality. There wouldn’t be a relationship of supremacy. This is the difference between them (ruling BJP government) and us. For us, India is a union of states, ideas, languages, religions, and imaginations. Everything is equal for us. Assam may not be as large as Uttar Pradesh but there should be equality. One idea should not suppress another idea. And, this is the idea also behind implementing the five guarantees including CAA.
Mrinal Talukdar: So, this is the reason why Congress has fared well during the first phase of the Assam Assembly election?
Rahul Gandhi: There is a structural and foundational problem that has come up in both Assam and across the country. Primarily, there are three big issues – youth are unemployed and the economy that generates these jobs has become non-functional. So there is the idea behind the five-guarantees that we refuel and restart this jammed economy. Our guarantees will fill the pockets of the people. The economy is at a halt because people do not have money.
Mrinal Talukdar: You have simplistically said that you won’t let CAA come into Assam. It is a central Act and people will have to apply online. How will you stop it?
Rahul Gandhi: We will not allow it. We will not implement it.
Mrinal Talukdar: You have guaranteed 5 lakh jobs. Is it feasible? Assam has total government employees of five to six lakhs.
Rahul Gandhi: We have never said five lakh jobs will generate only from the public sector. There will be selective jobs that will come from both public and private sectors. The problem is the engine for job creation – the economy is shut down. Where will jobs come from then? So the first step would be to fill in the existing vacancies following which we will restart the economy. How do we restart the economy by creating a livelihood; by giving them money.
If you give money to people, they will buy something, that commodity is created by someone. In order to create that commodity, you need human resources and employment will be generated. Now, the economy is shut. The money goes to Gujarat, Delhi and the syndicate.
Mrinal Talukdar: What is this syndicate? We hear there is a huge syndicate in Assam, especially in Barak Valley.
Rahul Gandhi: Syndicate is this huge idea that people of Assam should not run Assam and only a few chosen should run the state ad we are totally against the idea.
Mrinal Talukdar: According to you, is it a huge problem?
Rahul Gandhi: Fundamental problem.
Mrinal Talukdar: Another guarantee that Congress has assured and I feel that should happen is the increase in the daily wages of tea garden workers from rupees 167 to 365. But how will it be possible and feasible without tweaking the Tea Plantation Labour Act, 1951, and affecting the tea industry?
Rahul Gandhi: We will not destroy the tea industry. We will implement 365/daily wages supporting the tea industry.
Mrinal Talukdar: But, how will it be possible without tweaking the Tea Plantation Labour Act, 1951? Both cannot happen simultaneously.
Rahul Gandhi: Please understand that we know economics, BJP doesn’t understand economics. If you see GST, demonetization, the current GDP; they (BJP) have destroyed the economy. They have finished our strengths; they don’t know how to run the economy. You’re emptying the pockets of people and you’re thinking the economy will function?
In 2004, we were in a similar situation, economic growth was required and we started MGNREGA. It was a direct injection of money in rural areas. This got the rural economy started. When people started purchasing goods, the urban economy was benefitted too as it produced those commodities. We were criticized by journalists or even economists. But two years later they admitted it worked like magic. Today there are studies conducted on MGNREGA in Harvard.
This is a win-win situation for the tea industry and its workers. Please understand how compound interest works – it works over time. It works when money makes money and right now that is clearly not happening. Moreover, you are filling the state with hate and conflict. We need peace here. You can resolve issues based on hate and differences. Congress will bring peace in Assam. A dialogue will then start with different stakeholders. We know how fundamental tea industry is to the state, it is the pride of the state. It has to work in balance and we understand the constraints on both ends.
The Prime Minister without the consultation of cabinet or finance ministry had imposed notebandi, look at the repercussions of it today. We will bring Assam together. We cannot offer rupees 365 daily wages without creating a balance. We are not here to destroy the tea industry. We are creating a positive cycle.
We listen to people. We engage in dialogues. These five guarantees have emerged out of the people of Assam.
Mrinal Talukdar: You have mentioned the word ‘hatred’. But the first phase of the Assam Assembly election has blatantly rejected this ‘hatred’ or its association with a single individual or community? But you are still emphasizing it.
Rahul Gandhi: Assam is a state of balancing. The way to balance Assam is to embrace everyone. It is to unite everyone. We need to understand the complexities of every aspect – language, land, water, culture. It is a total genius state… a mini India.
Mrinal Talukdar: There is very little mention of Clause 6 of the Assam Accord across Congress’s electioneering or even the manifesto. Its significance is less compared to that of CAA despite being a sentimental issue for the people? Are you hesitant to talk about it?
Rahul Gandhi: We are not hesitant to talk about it. We are fighting a campaign based on the central issues. The central issue in Assam today is how to get the economy started and how to get employment for the people here. Central issue is how we move ahead together. We are pushing the central issues because currently that is worrisome and bothersome for the people of the state.
Mrinal Talukdar: You are criticizing BJP for transfer of cash schemes but in Congress’s manifesto you’re suggesting the same only the amount varies How is it different then?
Rahul Gandhi: They don’t implement it but we are making a commitment that rupees 365 daily wages will be given to the tea workers.
Mrinal Talukdar: But you are directly flowing 2000 in the accounts of people. How will it solve the issue? Wouldn’t it be better to equip them and earn for themselves?
Rahul Gandhi: There is a fundamental problem in the economy currently. The economy is shut down right now. While BJP believes in investing in supply side, we believe for the immediate rolling of the economy cash should flow in the consumption side. If consumption begins only then can supply begin again. Also, there is growing economic divide and inequality in the country today. There is acquisition of wealth only in selective hands of people. There should be direct cash income support and we need to attack this inequality.
Mrinal Talukdar: Congress and its allies ‘Mahajut’ has faced a regional block. Post elections will Mahajut be able to eliminate the regional block?
Rahul Gandhi: Our aim has always been to defeat the BJP-RSS ideology. Any one whose core party values are based on brotherhood, unity, and non-violence, we are ready to support and form an alliance with them.
Mrinal Talukdar: In this election, the rival BJP has two strong faces for chief ministerial candidates – the present CM Sarbananda Sonowal and Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma. Assuming your party forms the government, the idea of the chief ministerial candidate in Congress is still vague and hazy.
Rahul Gandhi: They are not strong faces. They have huge problems. They are not assets, they’re liabilities. Congress on the other hand has hidden assets. At the right time it will be made to visible to everyone.
Mrinal Talukdar: What is your expectation of the second phase elections?
Rahul Gandhi: I feel BJP failed to have addressed the central problems in Assam. Central problem such as poor economy, unemployment, and growing hate among the people. I feel the people of Assam will reject BJP.
Mrinal Talukdar: Thank you for your time especially on the occasion of Holi.
Rahul Gandhi: It was good speaking to you. Thank you.