NEW DELHI:fter eight consecutive electoral losses in Assam, the Congress has been on the decline. The Sunday Guardian talked to Bhupen Kumar Borah, who is the Assam Pradesh Congress committee president. Excerpts:
Q: Congress drew a blank on 26 seats in the Karbi Anglong Council elections, what went wrong?
A: In the last two decades, whoever has been ruling in Dispur, the Karbi Anglong people have supported them. When we were in power for 15 years, we won three consecutive elections in Karbi Anglong. There has been one setback though that we came up with zero seats. We also wanted to make a pre-poll alliance with regional parties, but there was a situation where they had demands that we disapproved of because of the principles of the party.
Q: This was Congress’ eighth consecutive electoral defeat in Assam, have people found other parties as alternatives to Congress in the state?
A: In our regime, when the Congress was in power at the Centre and the state, Congress leaders would tell people if they do not support the Congress, people would suffer due to lack of funds. That was the lesson given by Congress leaders in Assam, this is the problem we had created which has boomeranged on us. Since 2014, we have been losing one after the other election, but now we are securing our ground. We are now concentrating on membership drives.
Q: Who would you hold responsible for the past eight electoral losses?
A: I can talk about now, as APCC president, I cannot exclude myself from the blame. There are two problems going on in Assam, one is leaders are leaving the party. In the last two years, two ex-APCC presidents have left. Now, people think Bhupen Borah will also leave the party. I will not leave the party, I will die as a Congressman. The problem is the trust deficit; when I go on the ground, people ask me questions, and say, “If I vote for Congress, would you guarantee me that the candidate will remain with Congress?” This is the basic question everywhere. For that, now we are organising Youth Congress and Mahila Congress, and these people will strengthen the party now.
Q: Many party leaders say Himanta Biswa Sarma is on the neck of Congress, what would you say about that?
A: There are many leaders in BJP now who have come from Congress. Bhubaneshwar Kalita, a frontline leader, was the president of the Assam Congress for 10 years, but then he left. Now that he is in BJP, he can still connect with anyone in Congress and influence leaders to leave the party. This is also true that it had become easy to join BJP. Take for example leaders who were in Congress for a minimum of 20 years; even they left the party.
Q: Do you think more people will be joining the BJP?
A: I don’t think so. There is a problem emerging in BJP now. Because they have taken so many leaders from outside, there is an internal tussle between the old BJP and the new BJP. That is one of the reasons why neither Congress leaders will join nor would BJP be complacent in inducting leaders from outside. Union Minister Rajen Gohain has said that the old BJP is being neglected. Now, there is no scope in BJP and the party may not welcome any newcomers.
Q: Congress leaders in Assam believe lack of faith in the central leadership is the cause for a steep decline of the party in the state?
A: There was some difference of opinion in the leadership of Ripon Bora, but when I became president, immediately in the presence of Rahul Gandhi, we were authorised to take decisions on important policy matters. They have given us independence regarding policy matters. Now, the Assam Congress leadership will take decisions; we cannot blame anyone because they have authorised us to devise our strategies.
Q: Ripun Bora recently said that you have taken a weak stand against the BJP.
A: When chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma’s corruption case came out, we were the only party that protested by wearing PPT kits, but Trinamool Congress and Aam Aadmi Party got more limelight because the deputy Chief Minister of Delhi addressed the issue in Delhi and then TMC did a press conference in West Bengal headquarters. Because of the two press briefings in the media, they got highlighted, but in Assam, inside the Assembly or outside Assembly, we were fighting solidly; Ripun Bora may have doubt, but the public doesn’t have doubt in us.