Tarun Gogoi is perceived to be a "soft" leader not given to asserting himself and at best, a stop gap arrangement till the elections are over in Assam. The Assam Pradesh Congress Committee president and Lok Sabha member, who has been in politics for three decades, is however unfazed by these perceptions. Right now, he says, his only job is to concentrate on getting the party back to power in insurgency-ridden Assam. Having led the Congress to two thumping wins in the 1998 and 1999 Lok Sabha elections, winning over 10 seats out of the 14 Lok Sabha constituencies, Gogoi is confident of a "hattrick". Excerpts from the interview.
The AGP and BJP have alleged that your party is taking help of the ULFA (United Liberation Front of Asom) to win the elections by terrorising your opponents?
The AGP has been levelling that charge against us for two years now. Prafulla Kumar Mahanta even made this charge in the Assembly. He had written to the Home Ministry and had claimed that an enquiry was being conducted by the Centre. But L.K. Advani announced at a Press conference in Guwahati in March that there was no such probe. And now, when we demanded that the government institute a CBI inquiry or a high-level judicial probe, they have remained silent. Now the Union Home Minister, and some of his senior colleagues like Murali Manohar Joshi and Jana Krishnamurthy are levelling the same charge without any proof. These are nothing but rantings of a frustrated alliance.
What is your opinion about the ULFA? Is it true that the rebel group wants the Congress to come to power?
We have never supported the ULFA. Nor have we sought its support. It is also not true that the ULFA wants us. The Congress has suffered more at the hands of ULFA than the AGP. We lost two candidates during the 1996 elections when the AGP had sought support of the militants.
What is your assessment of the ULFA's strength?
You don't need my assessment. Look at Mahanta. As Chief Minister, it was only a few weeks back that he said the ULFA's backbone has been broken. Now that same ULFA is back in action. And why should we support or seek support of the ULFA? We believe in the Indian Constitution.
Will you be able to solve the ULFA problem if you form the government?
We will try. We have an economic agenda. We are saying development first, peace will follow. Others say, development will follow peace.
What is your assessment of the election outcome?
The AGP is already finished. The people are fed up of the so-called regional party because it has failed to govern. There is rampant corruption, the state finances are in a mess, and the law and order situation is at its worst. It failed to give jobs to the increasing number of unemployed youth, government-owned industries and PSUs have closed down by the dozen. The people will pull it down even if we do not campaign.
How do you rate the AGP-BJP alliance?
It is an opportunistic alliance. What I do not understand is that how the BJP, supposed to be a national party, decided to ally with the AGP which supports the right to self-determination. It is a dangerous thing that has happened.
The AGP-BJP alliance had compelled you to change your strategy. Even the final list of candidates got delayed. How much are you worried that the AGP and BJP have joined hands?
The AGP-BJP alliance has come as a boon to the Congress. They have boosted the chances of our victory. Look at how dissensions have crippled both parties following the alliance. The BJP has finished its own chances. Earlier we thought we would have to fight a rising BJP. But now it has suddenly become weak after tying up with the AGP.
But there is serious dissidence in the Congress too. Look at Nagaon. Veteran leaders like Mukut Sharma and Rashidul Haque have quit.
Some people always complain when they do not get tickets. It is natural for every party to have some disgruntled elements. I don't think they will affect us.
The tribal All Bodo Students Union (ABSU), an ally of the AGP and BJP has accused the Congress of protecting illegal Bangladeshi migrants and even fielding people with doubtful origin as candidates. They are saying the Congress is not bothered about the indigenous people of the state. What do you say?
We have not fielded any candidate who is of doubtful origin.
How do you rate Prafulla Kumar Mahanta?
He is corrupt and inefficient. He was named by the CBI in the letters of credit scandal. It was the Governor who saved him by refusing the CBI permission to prosecute him.
What do you have to say about Governor S.K. Sinha?
Sinha is taking sides. He saved Mahanta in the LoC scandal. I have a strong suspicion that Sinha played a key role in bringing the AGP and BJP to an alliance.
Initially you projected yourself as the candidate for the Chief Minister's post. Then the party said no. Now again you are being named as the CM candidate. Why this flip-flop?
It is up to the party. Kamal Nath has already announced last week that I am the candidate.
Then why didn't you contest?
As APCC chief, I have to supervise all the 126 constituencies.