“Politics is Electoral Politics”

Apart from what has been a largely inconsequential unit of the party in Assam, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), with high-profile North-east leader PA Sangma as one of its leaders, has found support in Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Nagaland and Sikkim, states with comparatively negligible levels of illegal infiltration from Bangladesh, to form the North-east People’s Alliance, a “forum” the NCP claims will look into the problems of the region. The only problem: the forum now plans to push forward plans that would determine the fortunes of all the other states in the region, and perhaps beyond. Newsfile speaks to NCP leader PA Sangma. Excerpts from a telephonic interview:

Q. Why are you trying to set up the forum now? Don’t you think this could have been done soon after the NCP was formed?
Ans: We didn’t have the time… And the party was very young…

Q. Will the NCP go in for seat adjustments with regional parties in the North-east in the elections next year?
Ans: This is only a forum, we are discussing illegal infiltration in the North-east, insurgency and unemployment …There is large-scale infiltration in Assam, Meghalaya and Nagaland …

Q. But if it does succeed, would you not be looking at some sort of an alliance with north-eastern parties?
Ans: Maybe

Q. So you are doing this with an eye on the elections next year …
Ans: Well, politics is electoral politics …

Q. Coming to infiltration, you have mentioned Assam, Meghalaya and Nagaland. But given the fact that land in most hill areas is protected by local laws, doesn’t the illegal migrants problem in the North-east become more of a plains problem where such laws do not exist?
Ans: The Nagaland chief minister has said that there is infiltration in that state as well. In Meghalaya, many illegal Bangladeshis have married Khasi women and are operating businesses in their wives’ names. Their children have also been given the benefits meant for tribal children …

Q. So what is your solution to the problem in Meghalaya?
Ans: We will not allow benefits to such children unless both the child’s parents are tribals …

Q. But what about people who already enjoy such privileges?
Ans: What has happened so far has happened. But no more.

Q. And what if an Assamese or a Bengali, both Indians, has to marry a Khasi and his children take up their mother’s community and are thus given the benefits under the matrilineal system?
Ans: Both the parents must be tribal

Q. And should the father be say a tribal Bodo?
Ans: Then we are okay with it …

Q. In effect aren’t you raking up the age-old Dkhar (tribal-non-tribal) issue to your benefit, indirectly compromising the interests of children of non-tribal fathers who have become a part of Khasi society?
Ans: We will accept what has happened in the past but not any more …

Q. Coming to the illegal migrants problem in Assam, you have in the past said that the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act, 1983¾the IMDT¾is no longer an issue because Assam had voted for the Congress in the last assembly elections. What is the NCP’s stand on the IMDT now that you are talking about the illegal migrants issue?
Ans: We want the Act repealed. But we must ensure that there is another law in place to ensure the safety of the minorities.

Q. Sarat Chandra Sinha, former Assam chief minister and senior leader of your party in the state, has said that he wants the IMDT to stay.
Ans: No. Mr Sinha is clear that the Act must be repealed

Q. He said this to us only a few months ago …
Ans: A few months is a very long time in politics. Right now, he is clear that the IMDT needs to be repealed. The executive body of the NCP in Assam has decided this as well …

Q. And what is your solution to the illegal Bangladeshi migrants problem in Assam?
Ans: We believe that the Bangladeshis who have come in so far should be made citizens of India. And we should issue national identity cards to all Indian citizens with 1971 as the cut-off year …

Q. That goes against the Assam Accord which says Bangladeshis who have entered the state illegally after March 23, 1971 have to be detected and deported …
Ans: We have taken this stand because we have succeeded in doing nothing about the illegal migrants so far. Assam’s mistake is that it has tried to deal with the past. It should forget the past and deal with the future …

Q. Assam has the IMDT, but Meghalaya doesn’t have any such problem. Why could you not detect foreigners in Meghalaya using the Foreigners Act?
Ans: I agree, we have failed in using the Foreigners Act in Meghalaya …Which is why we should issue citizens’ identity cards …

Q. You keep mentioning citizens’ identity cards. But on what basis would you decide on who is an Indian citizen and who is not, with the IMDT in place …?
Ans: You cannot ask me all the hows and whys and wheres on the phone.