Bangladeshis not responsible for Assam violence: CM Tarun Gogoi

Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said Muslims are outnumbering Hindus in Assam not because of the increase in illegal migration from Bangladesh but because Muslims are illiterate and bear more children.

Speaking to Karan Thapar on Devil’s Advocate, the Chief Minister took full responsibility for the communal riots and said that there were multiple reasons behind it.

Here is an excerpt from the interview:

Speaking on Devil’s Advocate with Karan Thapar, the Assam Chief Minister said that his desire to be a part of the Presidential race stemmed from his desire to assert his rights as a citizen of India and as a tribal.

Below is an edited transcript of the interview:

Karan Thapar: Hello and welcome to a special Devil’s Advocate from Guwahati, an interview with the Chief Minister of Assam Tarun Gogoi.

Chief Minister let’s start with the recent troubles in your state. Why is Assam so prone to ethnic and communal violence? Is it the demography, is it the geography, is it politics or is it just lack of economic development?

Tarun Gogoi: Of course it is true that Assam is prone to all these clashes. I have seen 1960, 1972, 1983, all along and of course it is a complex state. And of course the reason is socio, economics, sometimes politics also; and economics may be one of the reasons.

Karan Thapar: You are suggesting that there are multiple reasons. The BJP however, says, and many of you opposition leaders in the state say, that the real reason is unrestrained illegal immigration from Bangladesh. You strongly deny that, in which case how do you account for the fact that between 1991 and 2001 the two censuses for which we have accurate data, the Muslim population of districts like Kokrajar, Dubri, Balbata, Narbari, have phenomenally increased?

Tarun Gogoi: You are absolutely right, the Muslim population has increased. But if you look at 2001 census the population growth of Assam is less than national average, almost 3 per cent. Then in 2011 also, in that provision also, growth of the population of Assam is less than national average. So, it is a clear indication that illegal migration has declined.

Karan Thapar: Well, has it because may have grown at a lower rate than the nation as a whole but within Assam the Muslim population in these districts has grown much faster then the Hindu one. Let me quote some of the figures – Kokrajhar, 19 per cent Muslim increased, 5 per cent Hindu, Dhubri, 29 per cent Muslim increased, 5 per cent Hindu, Bongaigaon, 31 per cent Muslim increased, 2 per cent Hindu. Clearly this phenomenal Muslim increase can’t be for natural reasons; it is to be because of immigration.

Tarun Gogoi:You see this is because of low literacy. Most of the Muslims are illiterate. Every family has six, seven, eight, nine, 10 members. Literacy is very low, it is because of illiteracy.

Karan Thapar: You seriously are saying that Muslims because they are illiterate are creating more children than Hindus.

Tarun Gogoi: Ya.

Karan Thapar: You really mean that?

Tarun Gogoi: Yes, because of illiteracy. For example, empowerment of women is also done for birth control.

Karan Thapar: This is a very controversial answer Chief Minister. People would say this is tantamount to saying that the illiterate breed more.

Tarun Gogoi: Yes. I believe it 100 per cent. Kerala has the same; the Muslim population growth is higher. Assam is highest, second highest is West Bengal.

Karan Thapar: And in every case you are saying illiteracy is the explanation, not as I’m suggesting illegal immigration from Bangladesh?

Tarun Gogoi: No, immigration has been there. Same case in the tea garden tribes, the birth rate is higher if you compare to Assamese people.

Karan Thapar: Let me quote to you what Hagarama Mohirali, head of the border territorial council has just said, “There are over two lakh illegal Bangladeshi immigrants in Bodo districts. You question that?

Tarun Gogoi: I do question. There are no two lakh migrants, I can challenge.

Karan Thapar: What are you estimates for illegal Bangladeshi immigrants?

Tarun Gogoi: I can tell you that even till today the pending cases in the tribunal are less than three lakh. Anybody can register a case. I tell you AGB can into power as you know, total case registered about 4.5 lakh. Out of them many have been disposed off also.

Karan Thapar: So, what is the figure that you believe is the figure for the illegal Bangladeshi immigrants?

Tarun Gogoi: It is very difficult but as it is today the pending case in the tribunal but among them also all are not…

Karan Thapar: So, you are absolutely certain that Mr Mohilari’s facts of the two lakh figures alone in the Bodo district is wrong?

Tarun Gogoi: No, no, he has never said it.

Karan Thapar: He said it, he said it clearly to ‘The Indian Express’ on August 6.

Tarun Gogoi: He might have said. I tell you, he told that in the camps there are five lakhs or something.

Karan Thapar: Let’s not get caught in the figure, the figure might be disputable. The point that I am making is that you strongly and vehemently continue to dispute that illegal Muslim immigration from Bangladesh is a fundamental cause of the troubles we have just seen in Assam.

Tarun Gogoi: I don’t disputed it, it’s a fact.

Karan Thapar: It’s a fact?

Tarun Gogoi: No, no, not the fact that..

Karan Thapar: The fact that migrant wasn’t the problem?

Tarun Gogoi: Yeah.

Karan Thapar: Alright, I’ll accept that but I’ll point out to you one thing that there are many in India who believe that the key problem in Assam is basically illegal immigration. You are saying that is the wrong understanding of the state.

Tarun Gogoi: You see outside Assam, even inside Assam, there is a wrong perception of Assam. A perception is that Assam is not a safe place, there is a lot of insurgency.

Karan Thapar: This is another wrong perception?

Tarun Gogoi: Yes and these are another wrong perceptions.

Karan Thapar: Alright, then let’s then come to what the analysts say is a second explanation for the troubles that you have in Assam. They say the very character of the Bodoland itself, an area where the Bodos because they are the single largest community have power but all the non-Bodos including the Muslims are probably greater in number and they feel unrepresented and they feel left out. And that is the fundamental cause of the bitterness that keeps erupting in violence since the creation of Bodoland.

Tarun Gogoi: Before that also there were clashes.

Karan Thapar: But the Bodoland has made it worst.

Tarun Gogoi: No, no, here earlier when there was no power they were watched. Before 1996 that time…

Karan Thapar: But I quote it to you that Bodos represent something like 20 per cent of the population of the Bodo Territorial Administrative Area, they comprise 30 out of 46 seats on the BTC, which is 65 per cent. Twenty per cent population, 65 per cent seats.

Tarun Gogoi: See, there is a case in the Sixth Schedule, there is about 35 per cent population. It is a true that Bodos are minority, Bodos are minority in the Bodoland, Bodoland Territorial Council.

Karan Thapar: As a result of which the rest of the population feels left out, they almost feel disfranchised. That is why you have this bitterness which keeps erupting periodically.

Tarun Gogoi: BTC, yes they are reservation but for the MLAs there is no reservation.

Karan Thapar: But BTC has local control. Let me quote to you what the President of the All Assam Minority Student Union Abdul Rahim Ahmed has said. He says, “Bodos engineered the recent trouble because they wants to push the Muslims out of the Bodoland, then they could push their numbers to 50 per cent and demand a separate state.”

Tarun Gogoi: They have been demanding separate state but to this group they entered into an agreement, agreeing to have a Sixth Schedule.

Karan Thapar: That was in 2003, but since then it is alleged that they are trying to push Muslims out so that they can push their numbers up and demand a separate state.

Tarun Gogoi: I tell you how the incident took place, August 19, one Muslim or one Bodo fellow sustained injury, second day four Bodos were killed by the Muslims.

Karan Thapar: Quite right.

Tarun Gogoi: Then how would you say how did it triggered.

Karan Thapar: Chief Minister, by collapsing from the causes of the problem to how this specific instance happened and actually when it comes to this specific instance, people turn around and say that one of the problems was that you mishandled it. They say that you sided with the Bodos which are your allies in the government, as a result of which you were A – slow to respond and B – when you did respond, you didn’t respond decisively.

Tarun Gogoi: No, these are wrong perceptions. Bodos are also accusing me that you are soft to the Muslims because you are looking for their votes. They are saying why did you not arrest those people who were responsible for killing four Bodos on the first day 19th.

Karan Thapar: Can I interrupt and tell you why people say that you were slow, because the first warning of trouble happened well before the July 19, well before July 6, they go back to May and June, when you had clashes over Eid gahas, when you had attacks on Muslims and Muslim property at that time. And your critics say that instead of heeding those warnings six to eight weeks earlier, you ignored them, you didn’t take preventive steps.

Tarun Gogoi: No, such incidents do take place everywhere, not only in Bodoland, you see Karbi Anglong, North Cachar hill, other places also. Such minor incidents do take place. Then July 6, it was also not by the Bodos, it was by KLO.

Karan Thapar: But Chief Minister all these incidents happening should have been a sign to you that there was trouble beginning. Surely it was a warning to take preventive action.

Tarun Gogoi: That way there is warning every where in Assam.

Karan Thapar: And the people say the reason you didn’t take preventive steps is because the Bodos are your allies, it is their support that is essential for you and therefore you said let me not take action, it will go against my government.

Tarun Gogoi: This is absolutely wrong, it is a false propaganda, I don’t depend on them. I have 78 members out of 126.

Karan Thapar: But the Bodos are still part of your government.

Tarun Gogoi: Of course they are part of my government but I don’t need their support. And if that was the case why did I arrest a Bodo MLA.

Karan Thapar: You may have arrested one single Bodo MLA, but look at what is happening to the 2,50,000 refugees living in camps. The vast majority of who are Muslim. Because the Bodos are creating obstruction in letting them go to their villages, they are now asked to prove if they are Indian citizens and fill up forms to show where they got their lands from. That is not only indefensible; it is a clear attempt to prevent the Muslims to go back. And once again your government is not preventing the Bodos from doing this.

Tarun Gogoi: No, we will prevent it also. We have already said those who are displaced, Indian citizens, from the Bodoland will be rehabilitated.

Karan Thapar: There is an interesting distinction you make because a moment ago when we began this interview, you said that illegal immigration from Bangladesh wasn’t a problem and now you are asking people to prove their citizenship. Why because they are all Indians why should they prove it, because if there is no illegal immigration issue?

Tarun Gogoi: You see, for rehabilitation they have to give some proof, otherwise how do you rehabilitate them. He must have had a house, a paddy field…

Karan Thapar: But Chief Minister, these are people who had their villages burned, their houses destroyed, they found shelter in refugee camps. Now in their own state, they have to prove that they Indian to go back. They have to prove that they have land to go back. Why can’t they just go back to the village they came from?

Tarun Gogoi: They are going, 240,000 have already have left…

Karan Thapar: But why are you creating the Bodos Territorial Council to lay down this condition before they can go back.

Tarun Gogoi: You see this is for their own safety because we want to take them into confidence.

Karan Thapar: So you are doing this for the safety of the Muslims not because you are under pressure from the Bodos.

Tarun Gogoi: No, because the land administration belongs to them.

Karan Thapar: Let me give you a final reason why people suspect that in fact you are siding with the Bodos and that is a very simple reason. The disarmament of the Bodos which was envisaged by the 2003 Bodo accord, nine years later still hasn’t happened. And people can’t understand because you have been Chief Minister right through that time. And once again they say the reason it has not happened is because Tarun Gogoi is soft and gentle towards the Bodos.

Tarun Gogoi: There is no question of being soft. We are having talks with them. Everybody has arms, even Assam.

Karan Thapar: So why have you not succeeded in removing these arms? Why have you not succeeded in disarming people?

Tarun Gogoi: I will tell you why… I’m not talking about Bodos, for example ULFA, KLF, so many groups have come forward to talk.

Karan Thapar: And they all have arms, so why haven’t you failed to disarm people?

Tarun Gogoi: I will tell you why. Take the example of the government of India, Army is there… Counterinsurgencies they (Army) can do anything, why they have not done. It is not as easy as it appears to be. I will give you an example, lot of people don’t know this, when they come for talks they don’t disclose their correct picture of the arms they are having.

Karan Thapar: Which means they are hoodwinking the government.

Tarun Gogoi: To some extend. I will tell you. That was raised by Chidambaram, for one group, not for Bodos. I said suppose 80 per cent of the group surrenders and only 20 per cent remains. That means we have weakened 80 per cent.

Karan Thapar: But 20 per cent remained and that 20 per cent was used by the Bodos, in some instances, when they were butchering Muslims. Just look at the figures of the 96 people killed 70 were Muslims, of the 450,000 made homeless, a vast majority were Muslims.

Tarun Gogoi: Why Army has not been able to do it?

Karan Thapar: You have raised a fundamental question about the Army. Why is it that the Army was unable to more effectively control the situation, after all there was a four-day gap between your calling the Army and their deployment, and during that period the situation sharply deteriorated?

Tarun Gogoi: I will tell you why. I don’t say Army alone, I’m also responsible. I’m head of a state definitely I’m also responsible. So there is responsibility of the Army, Assam Police, and CRPF, it is a combination of all; we call it a unified command.

Karan Thapar: So was there an absence of clear cut division in authority?

Tarun Gogoi: No, normally we have been in best of relation, that’s why we have been able to survive, sustain. Our unified command structure is the best in the whole country.

Karan Thapar: But if it is the best in the whole country, then why was a four-day delay there.

Tarun Gogoi: Because of the change in the procedure.

Karan Thapar: Who changed the procedure?

Tarun Gogoi: Ministry of Home or Ministry of Defence.

Karan Thapar: So the responsibility for the delay lies with the Ministry of Defence.

Tarun Gogoi: Because of change of procedure. The change of procedure has delayed the whole process.

Karan Thapar: But as a result of a change of procedure, which is clearly a bureaucratic thing, four days were lost, and lives were lost.

Tarun Gogoi: The Defence Minister himself admitted.

Karan Thapar: Did the Defence Minister also extend an apology to the people of Assam because as a result of a four-day delay, lives were lost, homes were lost, villages were burnet.

Tarun Gogoi: That time I had less force because the situation of Assam was improving.

Karan Thapar: And so they had withdrawn forces from Assam. Was that an irresponsible thing for them to do?

Tarun Gogoi: I’m not saying that, because there was a lot of pressure for the Naxalites and other left Left wing.

Karan Thapar: So they took their eye off Assam. They became a little complacent because you had three good years, and they took eye off the state.

Tarun Gogoi: No, they were in urgent need of CRPF.

Karan Thapar: But they forgot that Assam breaks into violence periodically every three, four years.

Tarun Gogoi: I was telling them this.

Karan Thapar: You were saying this to you and yet they overrode you, they overruled you.

Tarun Gogoi: They said it is not possible for them also, not that I didn’t take it up. But I don’t blame them.

Karan Thapar: You may not blame them but they disregarded the advice of a Chief Minister who has a eleven-year standing.

Tarun Gogoi: No, I didn’t say disregard.

Karan Thapar: They didn’t listen to you.

Tarun Gogoi: No, sometimes they can’t accommodate, otherwise they are nice to me. They are very cooperative… Then to rush back it takes more then seven hours to come back, unless you keep a reserve force.

Karan Thapar: So, they made two mistakes, one they became complacent because there had been no trouble for three years, and they disregarded the advice of a Chief Minister, then they wasted time coming back. And all of this was compounded by the fact that they changed procedures, so bureaucratic delay also compounded the situation.

Tarun Gogoi: You see, this is change of circumstances…

Karan Thapar: My last question to you Chief Minister, you have been Chief Minister of Assam for 11 years, for most of that time you have been Home Minister yourself, you have been head of the unified command, you boost this is the best unified command of the country. How much of the responsibility for failing to effectively tackle the trouble lies with you, after all you had the power and the experience to anticipate that trouble would happen, you had the experience to speedup rehabilitation? Neither was done.

Tarun Gogoi: Today I’m not the head of the unified command.

Karan Thapar: But how much of the responsibility for the delay you take?

Tarun Gogoi: I take 100 per cent responsibility.

Karan Thapar: So things have gone wrong, the blame is yours.

Tarun Gogoi: Yes. As a Chief Minister I take 100 per cent responsibility.

Karan Thapar: So when the critics say, Tarun Gogoi is responsible, you say yes.

Tarun Gogoi: Yes.

Karan Thapar: Alright Chief Minister, those are brave words. Let’s hope they don’t go against you. A pleasure talking to you.