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Gaurav Gogoi Interview: 'Modi Toured Manipur For Polls Last Year, Invisible Now'

On 'Badi Badi Baatein', Congress MP Gaurav Gogoi talks Manipur, the no-confidence motion, Parliament unrest & more.

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"The Prime Minister, who has so visibly travelled to the Northeast on so many different occasions, who makes a lot of hue and cry that no other Prime Minister before him or no other government has visited the Northeast as much as possible, seems to be a Prime Minister that only visits for government inaugurations, inaugurating roads and highways and railway stations. But when there is crisis, he is nowhere to be found," said Gaurav Gogoi, the Congress Lok Sabha MP from Assam in a conversation with The Quint.

One of the youngest MPs of the Congress and also the Deputy leader of the party in the Lok Sabha, Gogoi moved the no-confidence motion against the Narendra Modi government on 26 July on behalf of the Indian National Democratic Inclusive Alliance (INDIA).

Gogoi was also a part of a 20-member panel that visited Manipur on 29 and 30 July, a visit that Gogoi said was aimed at "assuring the people of Manipur that the PM must have forgotten them, but the INDIA alliance hasn't."

Even as the government has agreed to hold a discussion on the continuing violence in Manipur, the logjam in the Parliament's ongoing Monsoon Session has continued with the Opposition demanding that PM Modi makes a statement in the House.

In a conversation with The Quint on 'Badi Badi Baatein', Gogoi talks the government's alleged failure to control the Manipur unrest, insurgency in the northeast, and the need for sensitive governance to understand the northeastern states.

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Welcome to our show 'Badi Badi Baatein'. This term means a lot of things in a lot of situations. In the current political context of India, what does this mean to you?

Well, as someone from the Northeast, I am I feel abandoned and isolated because even though I'm not from Manipur, I feel for Manipur. 

My own state has seen insurgency, the entire region has seen insurgency. And because of insurgency, we have been very divided as people and we have not developed as much as we would have liked when compared to the rest of the country. And therefore, the attitude and the indifference of the Prime Minister and his government. His continued support for a government in the state of Manipur, which have miserably failed...

It's been one of the bloodiest conflicts in the history of Manipur. So, I do feel it and I can say for my fellow brothers and sisters in Manipur as well, that we feel abandoned and isolated both from the from polity to a section because from the media as well. And then, what rubs more salt to the wounds is that it's been a week of Parliament. You thought that this would be an issue that all parties on day one would issue a statement of solidarity. 

The Prime Minister for someone who has been so visible in the past, who has so visibly travelled to the Northeast on so many different occasions, who makes a lot of hue and cry that no other Prime Minister before him or no other government has visited the Northeast as much as possible, seems to be a Prime Minister and a government that only visits for government inaugurations, inaugurating roads and highways and railway stations. But when there is crisis, he is nowhere to be found.

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You have moved a No Confidence Motion in the Lok Sabha. It has been accepted, but no discussion has happened yet. Now, the question being asked is 'why'? The government clearly has the numbers. So, what does the India alliance aim to achieve from this no-confidence motion?

Well, the question first is why the need for a No Confidence Motion. As I said, there's a state of internal civil war in Manipur.

All political parties on day one should have risen together, passed a resolution saying that we are sorry for what has happened in Manipur. We express our solidarity with those who have been victims of violence. We appeal to everyone to lay down their arms and come forward and let us start the process of dialogue and reconciliation. And we could have passed a resolution and the Prime Minister himself could have spoken on this. In fact, this is exactly what has happened in the past when there has been a conflict in the Northeast.

And it's ironical that the prime Minister chooses to make a statement outside Parliament, but even that he does not want to repeat inside Parliament. He expressed solidarity with the women, but he doesn't want to say that inside Parliament.

India is known to the world as a country of parliamentary traditions. So, in order to preserve that tradition, we pressed with the demand for a vote of no confidence, knowing very well what the numbers are. 

But if through the vote of no confidence, the Prime Minister comes upholds the traditions of Indian parliamentary democracy, sends a message of solidarity, announces a strong plan, a roadmap for reconciliation in Manipur, I think we would have achieved success even though the motion might be defeated by greater numbers.

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You spoke about the state of women in Manipur. The BJP has been speaking about incidents in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. Union Minister for Women and Child Development Smriti Irani also raised it in the Parliament and asked if the Opposition has the guts to raise these issues. How do you see these parallels being drawn?

Well, whenever women are assaulted in any part of India, we're all concerned whether that's Rajasthan or Madhya Pradesh or Delhi.

It does not matter or which state or which political party is ruling that state. But what is happening in Manipur is two months of orchestrated violence, two months of lawlessness where mobs are on the rampage, burning down homes, burning down churches, assaulting women of the other community. That kind of two months of lawlessness is nowhere to be found.

And if the BJP wants to talk about women, yes, let us have a talk about what happened in the Bilkis Bano case, where the assaulters have walked away scot free. What has happened to the wrestlers who protested for two months and yet the government still gives support to its own Member of Parliament, Brij Bhushan Singh. He's still a member of the party. So, we can have a debate on the safety of women.

But to equate what is happening in Manipur, with the state of women across India is an effort by the BJP to escape from the first and most basic question as to why it took the prime minister 78 days to utter his first statement on Manipur. Was it just because the video became viral? 

Did you not get reports of how women were being assaulted over the past two months when he was busy touring America? Or when he was busy campaigning in Karnataka?  Did the reports not reach the office of the prime minister? 

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As somebody from the Northeast, how would you explain the situation of Manipur going so out of hand? Because the violence began almost over 80 days ago now. What kind of failures went into Manipur being what it is today? At what level did those failures take place and could this have been stopped earlier?

You see, Manipur and the Northeast have seen clashes between communities in the past as well. And therefore, it is always a sensitive government, both at the state and the Centre, who have their eyes and ears to the ground to see that the tensions between two communities do not fray and do not turn violent. It is that sensitivity which has been lacking over the past two and a half years, especially from the state government. They have managed to only preserve their own political agenda. They are working as per a political design.

The chief minister is a key stakeholder in this current conflict. And I think that it is blind support that the Prime Minister has given to the chief minister toimplement his political design, irrespective of what does that what that does to the integrity of Manipur, irrespective of what that does to the law and order situation of Manipur, irrespective of what that does to the human rights and self-respect and dignity of women in Manipur.

The fact that the Chief Minister has been allowed by the Prime Minister and the BJP leadership to implement his political design, I think that has led to what we are seeing. Had it been the Congress era, the chief minister would have been asked to resign much earlier. If the people demanded elections, we would have gone for elections because we've done that in the past. There have been many such instances. But it's just the ideology of the BJP and RSS to get power at any cost, even if it means sacrificing the domestic security in Manipur, our domestic security in the Northeast and the integrity. I think that's essentially the main reason for where we are. Manipur has not seen this scale of violence, this level of devastation for the past 23 years. The last time Manipur has seen this level of violence is back in 1998.

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The Kukis are demanding separate administration. There are a lot of complex demands. Do you think it is viable? What should the state government do?

See, they are complex demands. There are many demands. The demand from the Kuki community is one. There are other demands from the Meitei community. What is required right now is a dialogue, a process of dialogue and reconciliation. We have to win the faith of the people. We have to regain the trust of the people. I think only after we get the faith of the people back in the state administration, back in the process of politics and back in the process of democracy, can we address all the concerns.

But right now, there is a complete lack of faith in the state. So even if there is a demand made by the community, who is going to address that? Because there's a complete breakdown in the relationship between the people and the state, whether that's the state government of Manipur or the Union government of India.

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What according to you can be the immediate remedies that need to be put in place to solve the Manipur situation?

Well, as I said, the chief minister has, due to his decisions, caused the loss of so many lives under his reign. Ordinary mobs have stormed police stations and have sophisticated weapons. To win back the people trust, the BJP must and should ask the chief minister to resign. Secondly, how did this happen? In which other incident in modern India's history do you remember mobs storming police stations and looting weapons? Where does it happen? You tell me, has it happened in Rajasthan? Has it happened in Chhattisgarh?

A retired Supreme Court judge must have an inquiry to find out how did the law and order collapse when there is a significant presence of the Indian armed forces? How is it possible that so many police stations got looted? Not once, but many times. And thirdly, you have to win the trust of the people so that we can go back to living the way we were, not as two communities living in different parts of Manipur but as one India, as one Manipur. And these are the people who just voted for Prime Minister Modi in an election a year and a half ago.

And Prime Minister Modi at that time campaigned so much and promised so much. He cannot afford to be invisible at the time of crisis. He must come forward, be visible. If it requires an all-party delegation, and if he wants to lead an all-party peace delegation, we will be a part of it. We will support the idea. So, it is important for the prime minister to take personal initiative in restoring peace and normalcy in Manipur.

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Coming the INDIA alliance - how do the constituents of the alliance plan to coordinate? Is there going to be a joint strategy? Is the Congress party willing to make any compromise that is required for the alliance when it comes to the 2024 elections?

I'm quite pleased as to how the alliance is shaping up. In a short span of time, we have achieved huge milestones, the way we have coordinated with each other in the Parliament is another huge milestone. 

And the fact that after this we are meeting in Maharashtra, where the BJP have tried through the ED, Income Tax department. and CBI to break the Shiv Sena, to break the NCP. The BJP might have taken on Ajit Pawar, might have taken Eknath Shinde but the support of the Shiv Sena lies with Uddhav Thackeray, the support of the NCP lies with Sharad Pawar.

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Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has been attacking the alliance name INDIA. He recently said that those who are against Bharat have exploited the name INDIA. How do you respond to these comments?

Well, he's clearly following the diktat of the Prime Minister, who was the first one to attack the INDIA alliance and continues to attack the INDIA alliance. And we see this as a long series of attempts from the prime minister to divert the issue. So, of course, he talks about Chhattisgarh, talks about Rajasthan, talks about West Bengal - those attempts of diversion did not succeed. So, now they are talking about the INDIA alliance. 

Have the courage to face the scrutiny of the Opposition, have the courage to have the media ask you questions as to why you still have not visited Manipur. When Rahul Gandhi has already gone and met the victims of violence, why can't you? You talk about the suffering of women. Have you met a single woman victim from Manipur?

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As the son of one of the tallest leaders of the country, you must have seen politics growing up and various political scenarios through the years. How do you assess the current political discourse in India?

Well, I think democracy is at risk. Universities are being targeted by the political establishment just because of an ideology, I think that's very dangerous. When students, just because of their ideology, are being sent to jail in frivolous cases, I think that's a risk to democracy. When think tanks are targeted, when media channels are being bought, I think it's a very significant risk to democracy. 

When institutions that are supposed to protect the integrity of the Constitution, whether that's the Election Commission or the law enforcement agencies, when they are also completely forgetting their constitutional obligations, I think there is a significant risk to democracy.

And we see its fruits. We see the result in Manipur where there's been a complete collapse because of selfish political reasons. So, in India, we are at the crossroads and it's for the people of India to decide what they want the future of India to be.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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