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PM Modi is more than a Prime Minister; an institution in himself: Himanta Biswa Sarma
In a tete-a-tete with Chief Minister of Assam Himanta Biswa Sarma, Dr Jagdeesh Chandra, CEO and Editor-in-Chief, Bharat24-Vision of New India and First India & CMD, First India News finds out how under Prime Minister Narendra Modi the administration has taken a turn for the better, how the current leaders and public representatives are given the best treatment ever, how PM and Home Minister speak with CMs and leaders without delay. Sarma also spills the beans on how Congress is a feudal party, where even Chief Ministers are made to eat from a plate from which the Gandhi family’s dogs eat. Excerpts... (Part-I)
- Dr Jagdeesh Chandra: At the onset, let us pray for the peace for souls of those deceased in the Odisha train incident. We pray that the Almighty gives courage to their families. Look at the leadership of Prime Minister that he reached on site to take a stock of the situation. Our heartfelt prayers with the families.
Himanta Biswa Sarma: It is an extremely sad incident and everyone is pained with the tragedy. It is such a major train accident and we all stand united with the people and families that have lost their dear ones in this accident. Representing the Assam government, I have contacted the Odisha government, that what ever help we can provide in this tragic incident, they can tell us and we are ready to do everything possible. Everyone is doing their best and Prime Minister Narendra Modi was also there. It is such a painful and tragic day that we can not say anything.
- You started from student politics and then moved to advocacy. Did you ever thought at any moment that you will come into politics and reach such heights and become Chief Minister?
I belong to a middle class family and my father was a government servant. I used to take part in student agitations and was a part of Student Union in College and University. I had this in my heart that I will enter politics but owing to the situation of my family and my own, it never came in my mind that I will ever become a Chief Minister. But as I got more involved in politics, I will not lie, by 2008-09, I started believing that I can become CM or in a position to influence the future of the State. So when I started in 1996, I did not even think on these grounds and used to think that even if I become an MLA, that would be a huge deal for me. But by 2008-09, I had definitely started getting this belief in my heart.
- So what has your political journey been till now?
I contested my first election at the age of 27 years in 1996 and I lost my first election. I contested against main leader of Asom Gana Parishad, who even signed the Assam accord, Bhrigu Kumar Phukan, and I lost by 6 or 7,000 votes. In 2001, I won by 12,000 votes and in 2006, I won by 42,000 votes. In 2011, I won by 68,000 votes and in 2016, I won by 78,000 votes and this year, I won by 1,3000 votes. So from loss to victory, this has been my story.
- In the Congress rule, you had worked with two Chief Ministers. What was the difference in working of both the CMs?
See, Saikia Sahib brought me in politics and when Saikia Sahib was CM, I got a chance to contest. He passed away during that time in the middle of elections. So I did not get a chance to work under him as a Minister or MLA. But in five years, I literally spent my nights and days around him. So the relation that I had with him was administrative and not political in nature. With Gogoi Sahib I worked for 14 years, and with him, I did not share a personal connection but administrative and political connect was definitely there. With Saikia Sahib, I had more of a personal connect like the one shared by a father and a son. With Gogoi Sahib, I had more of a professional connect like the one shared by CM and MLAs. So, with him, I was an MLA and then I became a Minister and then I got close to him. So that was an evolution, from not knowing him, to becoming close. This was because the relation between Saikia Sahib and Gogoi Sahib were not too good. So when I was with Saikia Sahib, I never met Gogoi Sahib. So from not knowing someone and then to establish a close rapport with them, that took almost ten years.
- So then what is the basic difference between the two governments of Congress and BJP according to you?
There are a handful of things that I have realised. Congress is essentially a feudal party. Gandhi family is the ‘Supreme’ in the party and to maintain this supremacy, they give further concession to the State people, perhaps one or two leaders, and then these leaders would give power to lower leaders. So, it is as if there is a ‘Sultan’ and then there would be a ‘Paragana,’ so, Congress is structured like that. Feudalism at its peak and there is nothing other than feudalism that you can actually see or observe there. Even today if you see, in the name of regional ‘Kshtraps,’ there is regional feudalism and in the name of Gandhi family, there is national feudalism. But the environment in BJP is, in totality, the environment of middleclass family. There is not an extremely formal relation with anyone and who so ever comes, the talks would start with taking news of the person’s family and their well being and perhaps share food during such talks. And this is more like a family. So this is the fundamental difference. Then there is policy difference and difference of ideology is known to all. But in totality, the difference is that in Congress you have to live in a feudal system and in BJP you can think that you are a part of a greater family.
- You said that in former PM Manmohan Singh’s time you would call the PMO and the reply would come by evening. But in current PMO, if you message, PM calls up soon after. What change is this?
See, when I worked with Gogoi Sahib and Saikia Sahib, I saw that to take appointment from Prime Minister, or you speak with the Prime Minister or the Prime Minister calls you up; these three things used to become headlines of Assamese newspapers. Because it was considered a big news at that time that a CM has spoken with PM. When I also started, for the first few days, when I used to speak with PM or if PM would call, for that I started a system of press release because I thought that I would perhaps get a chance to meet PM once in six months, or perhaps I would some day get a chance to speak on the phone or else I may not get that too. But as I moved forward, I saw the times of Covid as CM and even dealt a long time as a Health Minister, this phone is literally an issue of everyday. If there is any issue, you will be phoned immediately. In fact, even Home Minister too calls up, at times fifteen times a day, if there are floods or any other law and order issue or anything else. And even you too in return make the same number of calls. And when ever you go to meet PM, it takes forty five minutes or one hour and during this you talk in detail. When former CMs used to go to meet Manmohan Singh ji, I used to stand out of the office in waiting. They would go, stay there for five minutes, and they would return. We used to ask if they have met and we were told yes it was a good meeting. So five minutes with PM, according to them, were very useful time. That is why I said the other day that when there is this administration, Modiji has changed the dynamics. Now there is accessibility, there is response, and from the sense of equity and justice, you are given the honour and treated with regard, that regard is given to my State.
- I heard you were recently in Delhi for three days and did you meet Prime Minister Modi on all three days?
All three days, I had the chance to meet Prime Minister. At times, it also happens that like in our national working committee meet we may meet him a dozen times in one day itself. You may meet him for breakfast or lunch etc. So meeting PM is now no longer a problem and not just for me, but for many other people. When I go to meet him, our party people would be there in the room. So I think that during Congress rule, the leaders at that level never had the good luck of meeting the PM.
- I heard that it was due to Rahul Gandhi’s attitude that you left Congress?
See, first and foremost, at that time, such incident happened and right from their behaviour till the incident, several such things happened, but, in totality, by 2014, the situations worsened so much that Congress High Command had to send an observer to Assam to find out who has what number of MLAs in their side. This aspect is there in Ghulam Nabi ji’s biography as well. About 55-60 legislators were with me and only a dozen MLAs were with Gogoi Sahib and in a way, it was sure that I was to be the CM. And if I was not to be the CM, then there was an option that the then Speaker of Assam Assembly would be there and we suggested that if you do not wish to make me the Chief Minister, then that leader could be made CM since the State needs a ‘Sense’ because after about 15 years, the State is witnessing a fatigue and Congress will not be able to win. That did not happen. Even then, I stayed in Congress for one and a half years. I resigned from Gogoi S ahib’s Cabinet, but continued to stay in Congress, thinking perhaps the matter will get solved somehow. But when we did not get any response and in between several incidents kept on happening, then it came to me that time has come to leave Congress.
- So is that episode with dog true? Did that happen?
I think whosoever goes to meet him (Rahul Gandhi), they all see this. It was not a incident specific to me, rather it was a general incident. In fact, I met an Editor of a major news channel the very day and he told me that the same behaviour was met to him one week prior to the day it happened with me. That happening kept on continuing for a long time, but it ended after I exposed it. But otherwise, it is a day- to- day affair, nothing to do with me as an individual, but that is the environment in their house that the dog eats from that plate and even the CM also eats from the same plate. I did not eat, but Gogoi Sahib, our State President and others eat from that plate itself. So, obviously it pains.
TO BE CONTINUED…
During the show #JCwithHimanta trended top All-India on Twitter