Congress leader Digvijaya Singh, who is the party General Secretary in-charge of Assam has made it clear that there was no question of holding state Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi responsible for the failure to stem the violence. Speaking to IBN18 Editor-in-Chief Rajdeep Sardesai, Digvijaya said the state government is trying its utmost to bring peace to the area.
Here is the full text of the interview:
Rajdeep Sardesai: Mr Digvijaya Singh, the Congress general secretary in-charge of Assam. Appreciate your joining us Mr Digvijaya Singh.
Mr Digvijaya Singh I had Tarun Gogoi, Chief Minister of Assam, on the channel two days ago. He said then that he took full responsibility for the violence in Kokrajhar. Please tell me sir what does full responsibility mean. Should he at least not offer to step down if his government is unable to provide protection to its citizens?
Digvijaya Singh: Rajdeep you must understand that Assam is not an easy state to govern. It's got the ethnic diversity that no other state has got and there has been ethnic conflict history in Assam over the last three decades. So, therefore I think you can't really sort of judge the performance of the Chief Minister or the Assam government on one incident. But the fact remains that it is a very unfortunate incident and we have to bring peace first. We have stop violence and simultaneously we have to provide shelter, food, medicine etc at the relief camps.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Mr Digvijaya Singh, I am sorry but the reason why I raised the accountability question is because when the Gujarat violence took place, the Congress demanded Narendra Modi'resignation. Now, the BJP says that what holds for a Narendra Modi, should hold also for a Tarun Gogoi. It almost seems that they are drawing a parallel now between Gujarat and Assam.
Digvijaya Singh: Rajdeep, you yourself travelled extensively during the Gujarat riots. That was a state-sponsored, I would say, progrom and I think the communal violence was state-sponsored. Here (Assam) it is certainly not state-sponsored. The state government is trying its utmost to bring peace to the area and you just can't compare Gujarat with Assam.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Sir, but the state government was caught unaware. This problem has been simmering for weeks now, it has a long history but clearly the state administration was caught unawares. Mr Gogoi now goes to Kokrajhar five days after the violence began, more than 40 people are dead, more than 1.7 lakhs are in the relief camps. Clearly the government may have acted too little and too late and to that extent has to take responsibility sir.
Digvijaya Singh: The Chief Minister if he goes immediately then the whole administration's attention is diverted and in such cases it is always left to the administration and reinforcement of the administration so that they can immediately act and bring peace in the area. So, visit of the Chief Minister or a VVIP or any VIP has to be at the right moment when peace is being restored, at the same time it has to be controlled from the head office so that it can be a coordinated effort of the Government of India, the Army, then paramilitary forces and the state forces.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Sir, would you not concede that there has been a failure of the state machinery as I said that the trouble has been brewing for weeks. Since, the end of May, now it explodes and the state is caught unaware. Somewhere, the state machinery obviously was caught napping. To that extent, would you concede that the state machinery failed. Eventually, the Army had to be brought in and some say it was brought in 24 hours too late.
Digvijaya Singh: When any incident takes place, it is always the state administration and the district administration which tries to control the situation. We have to give them sufficient time to make an effort so that the situation is under control. The Army cannot be brought in every incident. So, it has to be a decision because we don't want the Army to move in where civil administration is capable of handling the situation. Therefore, you can't blame the State government.
Rajdeep Sardesai: The same answer tomorrow could be given by the BJP in the context of Gujarat that it took time for the state administration to react. There the blame was put by the Congress on an individual.
Digvijaya Singh: Rajdeep, is there an incident where the collector, the SP or the DGP are helping the people who are doing communal violence. In Gujarat, there was a specific instance of the whole administration allowing the goons, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the RSS to go berserk against the Muslims. This was not so in the case of Assam.
Rajdeep Sardesai: So, you don't accept the parallel being drawn that Gogoi is a three-time Chief Minister and therefore very valuable to the Congress much like Modi was for the BJP; which is why you don't even want to countenance the thought that here could be a Chief Minister who has failed to control violence and therefore at least offer to step down.
Digvijaya Singh: Why don't you also go in the history of ethnic conflict between the Bodos and the Muslims. This is the fourth incident in the last two decades. So, I think you can't just judge the performance of the Chief Minister on one instance. Modi sponsored the communal violence. Mr Tarun Gogoi has tried his best, the whole administration, the district administration tried to bring about peace by controlling the situation immediately. So, there can't be any comparison between the two.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Mr Digvijaya Singh, you mentioned of course that the Muslims and the Bodos have a long history of conflict. But a key element of conflict in the recent years has been that of illegal immigration or illegal migrants, many of them from Bangladesh. Has the Congress really done enough to check this? Your critics will say you see this as a vote bank and therefore have not done enough to control illegal migration. The demographics of Assam have changed - particularly in districts like Kokrajhar.
Digvijaya Singh: Rajdeep, again I would take you back to the issue of illegal migration which the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) had raised, All Assam Students Union (AASU) had raised in the early 90s and late 80s. Now, after that they came into power, Assam agreement was sign and 71 year of cut-off was decided but during AGP regime also they could not identify illegal migrants of more than 2200-2300 people. Then, as far as our government is concerned, we have made a determined effort to identify. There are courts that have been set up and all these cases of illegal migrants are being taken up at the district level.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Sorry to interrupt. Would you concede that the Muslim population which has grown over the years has bred resentment among the local indigenous population. This has created the basis for almost permanent social and economic conflict. It needs resolution.
Digvijaya Singh: Rajdeep, I am sorry to say that you are ignorant of the fact that the growth of Muslim population in Assam is as much as in the other states in the country.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Sir, in percentage terms it has grown. The demographics of Assam have changed. Why not acknowledge that and say it has created basis for a conflict.
Digvijaya Singh: Let me finish. The issue is the growth of Muslim population, which was there in 1991. 2001 the census didn't take place. But from 1991-2011 the growth of Muslim population is consistent to the other regions of this country. There has not been a very great jump between the Muslim population growth in Assam as compared to the other states.
Rajdeep Sardesai: But sir, would you concede the attempts to integrate and bring about in a multi-ethnic society like Assam have failed in the past. The accords including the Bodo, accord have their chain of grievance and this is something which the state government has been unable to address. Which is why what has happened in the last few days could well recur again and again unless you are able to find a more permanent solution.
Digvijaya Singh: Mr Rajdeep Sardesai, I pity your ignorance about the Assam history. The kind of ethnic conflict that have taken place during the AGP regime is nothing compared to the ethnic peace prevailing in the state since 2001.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Sir, I am not comparing one to the other. Sir, I am saying there is a long history, I concede that. But the thing is that what we have seen in the last few days and you yourself have…it keeps happening after every few years. This is not such first Bodo-Muslim clash. Obviously, on the ground issues of displacement, of migration are creating the basis of social and economic tension.
Digvijaya Singh: See, you must understand that in Assam there is a char area because of the flood of the rivers every year some area goes under submergence and new area comes up. So, there is a conflict of land which the government has been trying to sort out. We have got people in the districts who have been trying to sort out the land issues but the issue is that in our government we have the Bodoland People's Front (BPF) people are the ministers - it's a coalition. Then we also have Muslim ministers also in the Congress government and there has been a complete harmony between the two. What also has happened is because of the council in the Bodoland areas, so there have been some areas of conflict between the Bodos and the non-Bodos in the administration of the areas. You must also realise that because of the six-schedule and the Bodo councils have got immense powers within the system because the development projects are taken up by these people. So, the basic administration of these areas is not with the state government but with the tribal councils.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Sir, I admit that it is a complex issue and it does not have black and white answer as some are suggesting but I am going to ask you one last time: to those who will keep looking at the those figures, will look at the number of people who have been displaced this tragedy and then compare it to the previous incidents across the country, particularly I come back to Gujarat 2002, I want your one final response because that is something which has now become politicise. We have heard it from the BJP, we have heard it from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and their supporters that Assam is Congress's Gujarat. I want your final answer to that.
Digvijaya Singh: First of all the BJP, the RSS, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) do accept the fact of the communal violence in Gujarat. I am very grateful to them. As far as, Assam is concerned the state administration has done its best to bring about peace as soon as possible. What happened in Gujarat was in the state capital, what has happened in Assam is in the remote areas of Assam and during the monsoon it is inaccessible also. So you can't compare the state-sponsored communal violence in the city of Ahmedabad in the urban areas to remote areas of Assam where the state administration has gone out of its way to bring about peace.
Rajdeep Sardesai: But sir there are all Indian citizens. At the end of the day 1.7 lakh Assamese are living today in relief camps from all communities…sir at the end of the day our people deserve the same dignity, their homes have been burnt, their lives have been lost. So, we have to be empathetic. You can't beyond a point compare one situation to the other.
Digvijaya Singh: This is what I am saying you can't compare which you are comparing where I have objected. The point I am trying to make is we have got relief camps of Muslims, we have got relief camps of non-Bodos which has Hindus also. We have got relief camps for Bodos also. We are not making any discrimination between the two or any others.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Mr Digvijaya Singh, Congress General Secretary of Assam, you have made it very clear that as far as you are concerned the state administration has not failed in dealing with what you are calling a very complex issue on that ground there in Kokrajhar. Appreciate your joining us.