Voting for the Assam Assembly Elections came to an end yesterday, with each alliance claiming that it would storm to power on May 2. To understand the ground reality better, we caught hold of INC’s tallest leader from the Barak Valley, former MP and Mahila Congress President Sushmita Dev for a quick chat. In an exclusive interview with political analyst Bishal Paul, she talked about her party’s strategy in the Barak Valley, the anti-CAA narrative, and much more.
1. With Upper Assam being the main focus of the Congress leadership, did you feel like a lone warrior fighting in the Barak Valley?
Not at all. That was always the plan. Of course, if a party wishes to win, they need to focus on tougher seats. I have 15 seats in the Barak Valley, so I cannot form the government alone, but I need to block BJP in this region. I think it was a great opportunity for me to lead the party from the front.
2. What would you then say was your biggest challenge this election?
This election, the biggest challenge was to fight against the kind of money that the BJP has and the power misuse they’re capable of. That was primarily the biggest challenge. They have the government both at the centre and the state while we’re in the Opposition. We don’t have access to the kind of resources that they do. They’re running a syndicate in Assam. So we had to fight a tough battle.
3. Initially, there were some reports that you were upset with seat-sharing with your ally AIUDF in the Barak Valley. How important is it for a party to retain their base, especially when allying with like-minded parties?
It’s simple. There is a basis on which an alliance takes place. You lose some and win some. It is natural in alliance to have a give and take relationship and that is how this alliance worked out.
4. It’s interesting you say that because, in 2019, there wasn’t an alliance, yet the AIUDF didn’t put up a candidate against you. In hindsight, do you think that it harmed your prospects?
Every election is different. Just because you have an alliance doesn’t mean you’re going to win. It is a strategic decision. While the AIUDF didn’t put up a candidate against me in 2019, let’s assume, there are sections of minority voters who do not like the Congress party. They didn’t know where to go. So there were multiple factors.
5. In that context, don’t you think that you or some of the other senior leaders of the party fighting the polls would have improved the prospects of winning more?
I can’t talk about the entire state, but in Barak Valley, there’s a generational change. Most of my candidates are in their 30s or 40s, fighting for the first time. So if I fought the polls, who would have managed it for them? If I go to a constituency, all my workers, my concentration, my energy and resources will go to that one constituency. Whereas now I could manage 10 constituencies out of 15 where my candidates are fighting. I think the party gain more this way than through me fighting elections.
6. What was the strategy behind picking these young candidates to fight the polls in the seats of Barak Valley?
This time, we only looked at winnability while giving the tickets. This is a do-or-die battle for us. If we don’t come to power for another five years, it’s going to be very demoralising for the party cadre. There are instances where you put the party above yourself. It can’t always be I, Me, Myself. But all’s well that ends well and I think we’re going to form the government.
7. Now that you’re confident of forming the government, how difficult was it to follow through an election fought so strongly on the anti-CAA stance?
I told Jitendra Singh that the CAA is perceived to be something that goes against the constitution. So, the Congress party cannot stand with something unconstitutional. But I asked him to give us a solution as per the Constitution of the country. On February 21, he, with Mukul Wasnik, said those on the 2014 voters list are citizens. Once they gave me that solution, it made sense. I think Bengalis would be happy if you tell them that if you’re on the voters’ list, you’re a citizen. I don’t know why people want to believe that the Bengalis are against the Constitution. They want a solution as per the Constitution, and that’s what the Congress party is doing. I didn’t say you need to pass CAA. I said you’ll have to give the people outside the NRC a solution as per the Constitution.
8. To conclude, as per your analysis, how many seats do you think the Mahajot will win in the Barak Valley?
In Barak Valley, the Mahajot will win at least 11-12 seats. The BJP will go down to 3.