Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Monday said that peace and tranquility have been restored at the border with Mizoram adding that there cannot be an overnight resolution of the decades-old border dispute between the states as it is a very complex issue. Six Assam police personnel were killed in a violent clash between the police forces of Assam and Mizoram last month over the border dispute between the two states following a fresh escalation of tension.
On a four-day visit to Delhi, Sarma spoke to CNN-News18 over various issues ranging from the border dispute with Mizoram to the population and cattle policy in the state, to Olympic medalist Lovlina Borgohain’s reception. Read excerpts from the interview:
Q. What led to the July 26 incident, when clashes erupted at the Assam-Mizoram border?
The issue has been going on from November. It is about the inner line forest which Assam feels constitutionally belongs to us. This problem has been going on between Mizoram and us and we were not able to solve it among us. Things went out of hand on July 26.
Q. What would you say about the history of violence in Assam?
For those who are aware about the region know that this is not new and this has also happened between Assam and Nagaland in the year 2014. Both police forces confronted each other. There is a history to it and has happened every four to five years. Casualties have included both police and civilians. In such clashes, Assam has lost 180 citizens since 1985. It is not unheard of but it is not spoken about.
Q. Did the situation pan out as a Twitter war between the two chief ministers?
It was not a battle of Twitter as it appeared on that day. The Mizoram CM and I spoke at least 12 times and also calls were made to us by the Union home minister. Twitter was only part of the story because if somebody uploaded something then there has to be a response, it was not that we are only tweeting. The situation did not go out of hand completely because there was a constant conversation between the Assam and Mizoram chief ministers and also conversation with Home Minister Amit Shah.
Q. The Congress has alleged that you forgot that you were the chief of the North-East Democratic Alliance (NEDA).
This was an ongoing tension and there have been various meetings at the level of the home secretary and also MoUs were signed between various states. There was an economic blockade for which I intervened in the past too. NEDA is a political platform. Even when the Congress was in power, states fought then too. It is about borders and every state tries to protect its borders. So, I don’t know where the discussion about NEDA comes from.
Q. Your critics have said the situation went out of control in a day after the home minister’s visit.
When we fought among us, the spirit of the north east was killed. We share common geographical borders and we shouldn’t fight. We have a lot of common things including law and order, and infrastructure. I will not say anything that will actually flair up the situation. The spirit of north-east must prevail. The Congress party did the division of territory without understanding its historical facts or its constitutional requirements. They divided us in a way so that we never stay united. Congress has played with the people of north east. It will take time to resolve the issues but I am sure under the leadership of PM Narendra Modi and Amit Shah it will be done.
The incident on July 26 was nothing to celebrate but it was most unfortunate. We have now decided to let the past be past. Mizoram has condoled the death of our policemen and we have accepted the condolences. In the interest of the people, it is best for all of us not to do too much post-mortem of the incident.
Q. What is the way forward for Assam?
The meetings were prescheduled. Even when the home minister came, he told us to hold meetings before the 75th year of Indian independence and resolve them all. We spoke on July 24 and 25 and also slotted various meetings. But the tension that was brewing reached its climax on that unfortunate day. It was neither planned nor intended by either of us. I have, therefore, left the entire matter to the Central government so that they can decide what further steps need to be taken. Now the Union home ministry has advised us not to make fresh deployment at the border, so I’m hopeful the situation is likely to settle down.
Q. Can the court give a long-term solution for the northeastern states?
The border disputes between Assam-Nagaland and Assam-Arunachal Pradesh are already before the Supreme Court. The SC has given a status quo, which means that we can’t established polling booth on either side, and that has resulted in a peaceful situation in these two states. The Supreme Court has a constitutional obligation in such disputed matters. But sometimes the Supreme Court, sometimes the Central government and sometimes we, as states, need to find a solution because we belong to the same country and we cannot be seen constantly fighting with each other other.
Q. What is the situation on ground like currently?
As of today, more than 400 vehicles have gone to Mizoram from Assam. I sent my ministers as my own initiative, given the fact that Mizoram ministers could not come to Guwahati. Mizoram also reciprocated and, somehow, we managed to salvage the situation, but it would not have been possible without the help of the home ministry, especially home minister Amit Shah, who has had a big role to play. I hope that soon we are able to find a long-term solution.
Q. AIUDF MP Badruddin Ajmal has alleged that all the neighbouring states have taken Assam’s land in the past 6-7 month and they should leave it. What would you say about his comments?
When there are clashes or a situation like this, everybody sees a role for themselves. I don’t want to indulge in that blame game but I trust that such a situation will never come again.
Q. What do you have to say about the bill on population control policy in the state?
In Assam, even the Congress party in the assembly has brought a private members’ resolution bill in a way to support our population control policy. We spoke about incentive and disincentive which is balanced.
Q. Doesn’t the population control policy go against certain communities?
In some places, the population is nicely balanced. It is only a problem of a few districts, so I do not think that you need a blanket bill. It’s not a negative bill. Along with population control, our focus is on women empowerment, their financial independence, rejecting child marriage. There is no larger debate as people have accepted the way we have brought about this. policy…
Q. Your cattle policy is irking people. What would you like to say?
Eating of beef has resulted in several communal conflicts in Assam. I made an appeal to the Muslim brothers, “Why do you need to eat beef in the same place where the Hindus worship the same cattle?” By and large I will pilot the bill on 13. I have seen the amendments moved by the Opposition. There is no large amendment. In fact, some MLAs from the Congress have told us to go for complete ban of eating beef in the state. We may not have unanimity on this but there is no large opposition to these policies that we brought in in. Many Muslim organisations have also said that the bill is the need of the hour.
Q. There has been a lockjam in the Monsoon Session of Parliament with protests over Pegasus.
Congress is a political party with a long tradition and not used to sitting in the Opposition and their leaders do not want to apply themselves to study in detail and reply effectively. I’m not seen a good debate in the last five years or a single good speech from any Congress leader.
Q. Should any government snoop?
The government has already clarified that we have not done anything wrong. My point is very simple, that since 2014 I have not heard a single good speech from the Opposition and they want to come up with a shortcut to draw media attention. They’ve made it a habit. There are so many devices within the Parliament to discuss, issues including Pegasus. Why have you not used that? Why have you not come out to debate? Your job as a parliamentarian is to discuss and debate and if you are so confident, you even have the tool to move a no-confidence motion against the government. Why are you only obstructing? I have been in the Congress party for long to understand that Congress does not have a good speaker since most of the senior leaders have lost the election. Thus, they construct one or the other issue just before the start of Parliament and then continue to disrupt.
Q. What do you have to say about Trinamool Congress trying to expand its base in Tripura?
I do not think Mamata Banerjee will be having any impact in the Northeast. Her politics around issues like Khela Hobe is only restricted to certain sections among the Bengalis. After any chief minister wins an election, they get a lot of glamour and this is a part of the temporary glamour and the fact is that she’s been elected to govern West Bengal. But later people will ask ‘how can a lady or a politician who has lost her own election (in Nandigram constituency) can make others win. She will be asked, ;if you have lost your own election, how will you ensure our win’.
Q. The CAA rules are yet to be notified. What do you have to say about that?
The issue to focus right now will be Covid-19, so we do not want to focus on other issues. The CAA and NRC are part of a political agenda and we are not in a hurry. These things can wait but the pandemic has to be addressed immediately.
Q. What about the Naga accord?
People are talking about the Naga accord, but it is a complicated issue and the results cannot be seen overnight. We have seen how long the Bodo Accord took. It was initiated by (senior BJP leader Lal Krishna) Advani in 2002-2003 and it took shape in 2020. The Union Home Ministry is working on the issue. At some point in time, we will have that accord, but I do not think that Covid is the reason for the delay.
Q. What are your views on ULFA and Paresh Baruah?
We are in touch and some of my friends are talking to Paresh Barua, but the thing is that he wants to discuss only the issue of sovereignty, But no government can talk on this as you have taken oath on sovereignty and need to protect it. So I have requested my friends to find out some other issues on which you can come to the talking table so that we can go ahead with the talks as per the Constitution of India. Barua argues that the Constitution has been amended many times, which I agree with, but the basic fabric of the Constitution remains the same. However, he has declared a unilateral ceasefire and I hope that he continues with that. Let us see how it goes.
Q. How do you plan to welcome Lovlina Borgohain?
Keeping the Covid-19 situation in mind, we will give her a civic reception. She’s coming back to Assam on 12 August, but because of the pandemic we will have to keep the situation in control.
Q. Any rewards planned for her?
Normally, we have a sports policy in place, but this is an exceptional situation, Assam has never won an Olympic medal in the last 125 years of its existence. So it is a huge sense of satisfaction. I am sure that the people of Assam will effectively welcome its daughter.
Q. What’s your agenda for Assam?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants Northeast to be the new growth engine of the country, so we are working for progress in the field of agriculture industry. When you talk about Assam, it is also about bringing harmony and peace within Assam which is a land of many tribes and many ethnicities. In the last three months, we have made a lot of progress and hope that at the end of five years, we will see a resurgent Assam.
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