CAA won’t impact indigenous people, NDA will win at least 12 seats in Assam: Sonowal

Guwahati: Asserting that the Citizenship (Amendment) Act will not impact the indigenous people of Assam, Union Minister Sarbananda Sonowal on Wednesday said the ruling NDA will win at least 12 of the 14 Lok Sabha seats in the state in the upcoming elections.

In an interview to PTI, the Union Ports, Shipping, Waterways and Ayush Minister claimed that all sections of society, irrespective of caste, creed and religion, are happy with the NDA government as it has protected their interests over the last 10 years.

“CAA is a national law. Whatever the situation the opposition is creating with baseless provocative statements, this is not going to affect the concern of common and very knowledgeable citizens of Assam,” he said.

“The common people know that the law is not going to affect their interest and after the publication of the rules, they have come to the reality of the pros and cons of the act,” said Mr. Sonowal, who is the BJP candidate in the Dibrugarh seat.

“We are saying that don’t try to make any such statement to provoke the people with the most unreasonable figures. On earlier occasions, some leaders had made statements that millions of foreigners would come and destroy the identity of the people of Assam. No, it never happened and will never happen in the future also,” he added.

Sonowal, the former CM of Assam, said that he believes the Central law on citizenship is not going to affect the interest of the indigenous people here.

“All Assamese are now well-protected and well-guarded, because the BJP government in the last 10 years has given patta (land rights), land documents to those indigenous people who did not have any land holding earlier,” he said.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 or CAA seeks to provide Indian citizenship to Hindus, Jains, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsis who entered the country on or before December 31, 2014 from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Sonowal, a former president of the influential All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), said that the scrapped Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act, 1983 (IMDT) was a more dangerous and discriminatory law “imposed” by the Congress government to favour the illegal immigrants living in the State.

“If it was not repealed by the Supreme Court, then no suspected foreigner would have been detected ever. No institution or law enforcement agency could ever question him,” he said.

Asked how many people are estimated to be given citizenship under the CAA in Assam, the Union Minister said a portal has been launched and the exact figure will be visible when people start applying.

On the upcoming Lok Sabha elections,  Sonowal said, “We are expecting over 12 seats for the NDA. The situation that has emerged so far and from whatever the people are discussing among themselves, this figure is very much possible.” In the 14 seats, the BJP has fielded 11 candidates, its ally the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) nominated two and the United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL) declared one candidate.

The BJP has nine MPs from the State in the current Lok Sabha, while its allies the AGP and the UPPL have no representation. The Congress holds three seats and the AIUDF one, while another is an Independent candidate.

Asked how his campaigning was going in Dibrugarh, Mr. Sonowal said, “Very nice. People are very happy. All sections of people are coming forward to encourage me and my party.” At present a Rajya Sabha MP, Mr. Sonowal was an AGP MLA from 2001 to 2004. He got elected to Lok Sabha as an AGP MP in 2004 from Dibrugarh. After switching over to BJP, he won the Lakhimpur Lok Sabha seat in 2014.

When asked how it felt to return to his home constituency, Mr. Sonowal said, “It’s a very nice feeling, because I always have received love and cordial treatment from the people here.” In the Dibrugarh seats, Mr. Sonowal has replaced Union Minister of State for Petroleum and Natural Gas Rameswar Teli, a two-time MP. Asked about the denial of ticket to Teli and if there is any resentment from him, Mr. Sonowal said it was a party decision.

“He (Teli) is a senior leader of the party. He has always with dignity been rendering service to the party and the nation. He is a very honest, good and accepted leader,” he said.

On Opposition candidate in the seat, Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP) president Lurinjyoti Gogoi, he said, “I have full respect for all the Opposition candidates.” Mr. Gogoi is a candidate of the United Opposition Forum Assam (UOFA), formed in the State with 16 parties in line with the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA), and this is his first Lok Sabha election.

Asked if he would be interested in becoming the CM of Assam again, Mr. Sonowal said: “It is for the party to decide, not the individual. It is not the willingness of a member of the party. I am a member and worker of the BJP party. It’s not the question of individual interest, it’s the question of the party’s interest and the interest of the nation.

“Nation first, party second and self last. This is the principled line. This is the party with a value, the party with a difference. That’s what we have to stand for all the time.” Mr. Sonowal headed the first-ever BJP government in Assam from 2016 and led the party to a decisive victory in the 2021 Assembly polls.

Following the 2021 elections, Himanta Biswa Sarma was made the Chief Minister of the State. A few months later, Mr. Sonowal was sent to the Centre as a Rajya Sabha MP.