Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who assumed office earlier this week, says his top priority now is to contain the pandemic “in the next 15 days” as well as control the number of fatalities.
Talking about his development plan for Assam, Sarma, in an exclusive interview to CNN-News18, said the state would be “in a different league” at the end of five years.
Here are the excerpts from the interview.
Q: How do you look back at the last 5 years and look ahead at the next 5 years?
We worked tirelessly for the development of Assam in the last five years. Prime Minister Narendra Modi established a new era of development in the entire Northeast, which now does not feel isolated from the mainland. Rather, it feels to have come to the centrestage of India’s development.
In my view in the last 5 years, we have established a very extensive infrastructure. Now, we will take advantage of the experience of the last five years and carry forward the development process. With the ambition of making Northeast the real development power, I am sure that by the end of these five years, Assam will be in a different league among the states of India.
Q: What is the road map on NRC and CAA?
Rules for CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) have to be framed by the Government of India. As a state government, we have to wait for it. On CAA, I don’t see something coming up immediately because of the pandemic. But once the Act is passed, we will take a call on how to proceed.
Regarding NRC (National Register of Citizens), the call has to be taken by the Supreme Court. We have requested the SC for 20% re-verification along the Bangladesh border and 10% re-verification across the state. If that happens and we find any anomalies, then we will report to SC. It is not the issue where the state government could take a call.
Q: Won’t it spark turmoil in the state?
The perspective is different in Assam from the rest of the country. Everyone, including Muslims and even immigrants, support the NRC. When we brought the subject of re-verification, it was Mr (Badruddin) Ajmal’s party that welcomed the move on the very first day. So unlike Delhi’s perception, in Assam it is not perceived so.
People think through the NRC, we could bring a conclusion to foreign nationals. Regarding the CAA, there is some observation from some parts of our society. As of now, people are not discussing the CAA, they are more concerned about the pandemic.
Q: Will NRC and CAA be linked in Assam or will they be separate?
NRC and CAA in the context of Assam is totally different. When it comes to the NRC, all parties welcome it. The NRC is a document, which people thinks to be the only solution for foreign nationals. On the CAA front, other political parties are opposing, but the BJP would support it. With proper facts, I am confident that we can resolve the differences.
Q: What is the preparedness to counter Covid-19, and what is the vaccination plan?
We have managed very well from the first wave. Six percent of GDP is spent on health in Assam. Today Assam has already commissioned at least 14 PSA oxygen units. We have our own generation and are also helping other Northeastern states. We are in talks with Bhutan to get 50 metric tonnes of oxygen. We are getting some allocation from the Centre. We are able to supply adequately.
Q: Vaccination Drive in Assam
For those aged above 45 years, we are dependent on the central government. For the 18 to 44 age group, we have to procure vaccines. We have got 4 lakh vaccines. We can vaccinate 1 lakh people everyday. Initially, people were reluctant and there was a lot of (vaccine) wastage. Now it is being managed well. By the end of June 30, we will be able to vaccinate around 30% of our population. We are not playing any blame game. Vaccine supply will be more smooth by the end of the month.
Q: Do you agree with the likes of other CMs who are asking the Centre to source the vaccines?
Health is a state subject. We want the Centre to help us, but we must remember that health is a state subject. Rather than questioning the Centre, we must be grateful when they help us. The Centre is not under any legal obligation to help, morally they will help us. They need vaccines and help from the Centre and at the same time, want to defame Modi. This is not practical in a pandemic. Instead of telling people that Modi is not giving people, we have to explain how 100 crore vaccines could be produced by two companies.
This will spread panic. At least India could produce its own vaccines. If a CM after knowing the practical difficulties blame the PM and Centre, then they can’t manage a pandemic. We should work in the spirit of cooperative federalism.
Q: Opposition is writing letters?
From the day of authorisation of Covaxin till today, they change their version. They think this is the time to defame Modi. Modi is working 24×7 to protect us. Once the pandemic is over, people will question the Congress. I am very happy that the PM is not giving so much credential to these criticisms. History will question Rahul Gandhi, Congress and the opposition.
Q: Are people from Bengal still taking refuge in Assam?
From 3rd (May) evening, we started seeing migration. The number went up to 700. We gave them food and shelter and notified both the Bengal government and Centre.
Some BJP people visited the camp and asked them to go back but still a lot stayed back. The West Bengal Governor will visit the camp, I hope confidence will be generated and people will go back.
Q: Isn’t it unfortunate?
We have also defeated the Congress and UDF. We have registered no cases of political attack post election. I will be surprised if somebody talks about an attack. Even the defeated Congress MLA has come to meet me. I am sure people will take note of it and appreciate our democratic values.
Q: Is everything fine between you and Sarbanand Sonowal?
We work together as a team. We have breakfast together. I went to the constituency of Sonowal. All the plans and policies of Sonowal will be implemented. It is just division of responsibility. I will try to discharge my responsibility as best as I can.
Q: What is the thought process behind this?
I do not know what is the result of this decision. But in 2019, I requested my party to contest as an MP. The party asked me to be with the state. There is a reason behind the party’s decision. I am not aware of it. There is no iota of difference between me and Sonowal . You will see that the Assam BJP will be united. Sonowal is our leader and he will continue to be.
Q: What is your ambition?
I joined the Assam agitation when I was in Class 6. From then, I have tried to contribute to the progress of my state. Wherever I am put, I will do something for my state.
Q: What is the focus on cultural revival?
We want complete development and also do not want to sacrifice the soul of Assam. Our whole development process is completely human. That is the development model me and my party will follow.
Q: Priority for you as CM?
I want to contain the pandemic in the next 15 days and manage the number of deaths. In the next 3 to 4 months, I want to vaccinate the people. After this is done, I will take a vacation spanning at least a week.