Interview/ Tarun Gogoi, Chief Minister, Assam
The second son of a tea estate doctor, Tarun Gogoi was born on 10 October 1934 at Rangajan, Jorhat in Assam. A former Union minister, Gogoi became the chief minister of Assam on 17 May 2001 and is now enjoying a second consecutive term.
Bappaditya Paul recently spoke to him at his official residence in Guwahati.
After Bimala Prashad Chaliha, you are now the longest standing chief minister of Assam. What are the achievements of your Congress government in the past seven and half years?
~ The achievement is the turnaround of Assam economy. When I took over the governance from the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), Assam’s economy was really in a bad shape ~ employees were not being paid salaries, developmental activities had stopped completely.
Today, the economy has been stabilised. Earlier the state budget used to be deficit every time, but now we are presenting surplus budget. The state government is not only paying the salaries on time, we are also paying dearness allowance equal to the Centre.
We have constructed almost 10,000 kms of roads so far, provided funds to all educational institutions ~ colleges Rs 10 lakh, three to five lakh to high schools, Rs 15-20 crore to universities and Rs 100-crore to the medical colleges.
Starting with zero, we now have 1,60000 SHGs working across the state and creating earning opportunities for the commons. Again, we are helping in farming mechanisation by distributing power tillers and tractors to the farmers.
With the Union government implementing the Sixth Pay Commission recommendations, the Assam employees too are expecting a hike in the salaries. Is there any such move?
~ The state government has already constituted a new pay commission and we hope to get the report may be in six months time. But keeping in mind the impending hike in state employee salaries, we want the Centre to share the additional burden that waits us. Without this, it would be very difficult to take the state salary close to that of the Central employees and this is the problem with other states as well.
But as an interim relief, we have declared a 15 percent DA to the state employees recently. Earlier we had announced a 10 percent DA and thus cumulatively, it now stands at 25 percent.
What are the future initiatives that the government contemplates?
~ We are setting up three more medical colleges in the state at Jorhat, Tezpur and Barpeta and the foundation stones for the same have already been laid. With these projects materialised, the total number of medical college in Assam would rise to six but we want one or two more.
Then, next year we are going make one-lakh government recruitments in various departments. Earlier, we made another one-lakh recruitments during the past few years.
But the IIM – Northeast slipped out of Assam and has now been set up in Shillong.
~ I tried my best and even the expert committee opined that the IIM should come up in Guwahati. But then there were some who felt that Assam already has too many higher education institutes like the IIT etc and other northeast states should also get a few.
There is this talk about upgrading the Gauhati University into a central university. What is the possibility?
~ There is no such proposal as of now. We already have two central universities in Assam.
But a world-class central university will come up in Guwahati and the Union government has already announced its decision to this effect.
What is the Assam government’s stand on the demand for inclusion of north Bengal in the North East Council (NEC)?
~ No, we are not in favour of this. With the inclusion of Sikkim, NEC is already overcrowded and now if north Bengal were included in the council, then we would be deprived of the allocation that we are enjoying now.
Then, once north Bengal is included in the NEC demand would crop up from other adjacent states as well and there is no end to it.
But we don’t mind if the Centre adopts some other special schemes for north Bengal or other backward areas of the country.
With the Ulfa turning 30 this year, the militancy in Assam seem to have become more vigorous than ever before and they are now targeting the common masses mostly?
~ Not only in Assam, the subversive activities have increased across India. Earlier there were no blasts in the North and South of the country, but now there are blasts at Hyderabad, Bagalore, Mumbai and even Delhi. No place is safe today; none can give hundred percent guarantee.
As far as Ulfa is concerned, its public support base is fast eroding and that is why it is now targeting the masses to create a fear psychosis. If they had public support, what was the need for triggering blasts every now and then, killing innocent people.
Why you think that the Ulfa is loosing popular support?
~ Because the people have realised, this (insurgency) is not the way to solve the problems of Assam. The problems can be solved by development and political will and not by mindless violence.
By its insurgency, the Ulfa has retarded the progress of the state and has made Assam more backward. If you go on killing people, who would come and invest money here to give employment to your youths. People of Assam have realised this.
There were times when a thousand people will gather at Ulfa’s one call, but now after 30-years of waging mindless terror, it has got none to back them.
You have been iterating time and again that the Ulfa has its base in Bangladesh and that the anti-Assam militancy is being bred in from there. Why not then the government exerting diplomatic pressure on Bangladesh?
~ Pressure is being created upon the Bangladesh government. We are categorically telling Bangladesh that it must flush out the Ulfa from its territory and extradite the arrested militant leaders to India.
The external affairs minister Mr Pranab Mukherjee has himself raised this matter several times but unfortunately the Bangaldesh government has not acted on this so far. Now, with the change of guard in Bangladesh, we hope that the new regime will realise the dangers of global terror and would dismantle all Ulfa camps from its soil.
But what if they do not concede now as well?
~ The Union government will decide on that. I am not the competent authority to comment on this, that’s beyond my jurisdiction.
Is the Assam government still open for a talk with the Ulfa?
~ Yes, we are. But the conditions are that the Ulfa must drop arms and the demand for independent Assam.
The insurgent group DHD (J) is hampering national projects like the Lumding-Silichar Broad Gauge rail route. What is the state doing?
~ Earlier they were creating much trouble. But now, we have provided sufficient security cover for the project to run smoothly. The Assam government is committed to the rail project.
Bangladeshi infiltration into Assam is being viewed as a national threat. What is your government doing?
~ The Bangladeshi infiltration into Assam has been blown out of proportion for political reasons. Is not there infiltration into West Bengal? Then why blame Assam only!
The 2001 population census put the population growth in Assam three percent less than the national average. If there were so much infiltration, then where the Bangladeshis must have gone.
But yes, I don’t say there is no infiltration in Assam, but it has witnessed a drastic fall in the past one decade. To stop the Bangladeshi infiltration completely, we have started upgrading the National Register of Citizens (NRC) 1950 and the task would be completed in four-five years time.
Again, we have constituted vigilance committees at the police state level to identify the Bangladeshi migrants quickly. Also, about 75 percent of the Bangladesh border has already been fenced.
More importantly, we are formulating a law that no foreigner can procure land in Assam without the state government’s prior approval. A bill on this will be tabled in the state Assembly in the next session itself.
Keeping in mind the coming Lok Sabha polls, do you support an alliance with the minority-backed Assam United Democratic Front (AUDF)?
~ No, I am not in favour of any alliance with the AUDF. If they want a merger (with the Congress), that can be considered.
After seven and half years reign, what are your major disappointments?
~ I lament not being able to put an end to insurgency and the bandh culture that plague Assam.
(This interview first appeared in The Statesman on 14 February 2009 and is now reposted on this site with some additions/ The interviewer is on the staff of The Statesman, India.)