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The Rediff Special
'If some people shake hands with the extremists, how can we tolerate it?'
Assam Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta on insurgency, the Tata Tea controversy, and more.
In 18 months, how successful have you been in tackling the law-and-order problem in Assam?
When we formed the government, the situation was the worst. There was no coordination between the administration, the army, the paramilitary and police. Now, with the formation of the unified headquarters, there is good coordination. There is a lot of improvement. We are at least able to control the insurgents. And the law and order situation has improved.
Our main problem is that the insurgent groups take shelter in Bhutan and Bangladesh. As a sate government, we are not able to take up this matter with foreign countries. It is up to the central government to convince these countries, including Myanmar, not to give shelter to extremist groups from the North-East.
Are you taking any initiative to bring ULFA to the negotiating table?
No, this depends upon them. You know that their top leaders all live in foreign countries and are backed completely by the ISI. The ball is in their court now. If they want they can come forward to negotiate with the government. We want that this problem is solved both politically and administratively.
You had always maintained that an army operation was not the solution. What made you change your stance?
No, we are not changing our stance. In the election manifesto we told the people that we don't want to keep the army always. If we can form the government, we may ask the army to go to the barracks. But, simultaneously, we also gave the assurance to the people that the life and property of the Indian citizens who are residing here will be protected by our government. As the situation got bad, the government could not keep mum.
The problem is so complicated that it's better if the solution is political. But that is very difficult now, as they are taking shelter in foreign countries and are controlled by foreign agencies.
But your new-found aggression is being resented by many.
(Pause) We are trying to motivate the people and a large number of people are coming forward to oppose the insurgents and support our efforts to bring peace to Assam.
There is talk of a governmental crackdown on democratic institutions and democratic forms of protests as well.
We have not tried to crack down or disturb any democratic institution. The government policy is now to curb militancy. So if some people or organisations are going to shake hands with the extremists, how can we tolerate it?
But don't many AGP ministers have links with ULFA?
Not correct. Not a single minister has links with ULFA. But the Congress is trying to level the charges to malign us, to destabilise the government.
So the AGP did not take ULFA's help for the last election?
No, the AGP did not take any help from ULFA. But in the rural areas, there was a lot of pressure exerted on our party workers by the extremists.
The tea community is particularly aggrieved at being branded 'anti-national'...
No, it is not our intention to brand anybody as anti-national. But the policy adopted by a few companies like Tata Tea is...
It is their duty to help the state government to curb militancy. In spite of that they are helping them. Not only helping, they also initiate dialogue with them in Bangkok, Delhi, Calcutta. They are not discussing with them to bring peace in the region. They discuss with them about the demands raised by the extremist groups who are completely in the grip of foreign agencies. So what is your comment? It is going to be considered as anti-national or not?
Wasn't it the responsibility of the state administration to provide them protection?
But they did not approach the state machinery with their problem after we came to power. Those who have asked for protection, we have provided them. How can you allow anyone to compromise with the enemy? National security cannot be compromised.
Peace purchased by paying money is never permanent. So they must co-operate with us. Now a large number of business houses, including the tea companies, have assured the government that they will co-operate with us.
How much attention are you giving to development?
Economic progress and social development are very important, also to curb militancy. We are trying our level best. But the Congress destroyed our economy. And a lot of powers are now with the central government, so we are demanding decentralisation of some of them. The flood problem has to be tackled first.
Do you feel that regional governments are the model for the future governance of India?
Yes. That will benefit the states, and it will help the central government to understand the regional problems better. With the United Front, it's okay. If you allow the Congress to run the country, they try to divide the people in different groups for their own benefit, not for the benefit of the country. Who created Bhindranwale? Who created the LTTE? People must know about it.
Do you feel that you've lived up to the expectations of the people?
People expect more from us in a short while. We have a lot of problems to solve. It is very difficult to deliver the goods to the people immediately. We are trying our best. We hope for the best.
-- Interviewed by Sumit Das Gupta/Guwahati. Kind courtesy: Sunday magazine.
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