Manzar Imam: While being questioned by sports journalists, the new sports & youth affairs minister, Sarbananda Sonowal, besides talking about sports, also spoke about the Bangladeshi issue. How do you see the Bangladeshi issue?
Maulana Badruddin Ajmal: The Assam Accord was signed in 1971. It was unanimously decided at that time by political and non-political parties that whoever came one day before 25 March 1971 would be considered an Indian citizen and those who came later would be treated as foreigners. He was also part of the agreement then as leader of the AASU (All Assam Students Union). Later he joined AGP (Asom Gana Parishad), now he is in the BJP. Most political parties ask these people to vote and then they rake up the issue. Neither Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind nor AIUDF (it didn’t exist when the accord was signed), wants anyone who is proven to be Bangladeshi to stay in India. We are “dead against any Bangladeshis living in India.” But this has to be proved as per norms and law of the land. Thirty lakh hectares of land was eroded in flood, people have got dispersed. Ninety percent of those lands belonged to Muslims. These homeless people have not been rehabilitated, but governments ask them to come to vote during elections times. That means they are Indian citizens. You cannot pick up people and then throw them in front of animals, a treatment that they term as “push back” in the jungle. During 10 years of their own (AGP) government could not identify 1100 people. They had brought in the D (Doubtful) Voter system. Almost 95 percent of those against whom the issue was raised have been proven Indian citizens. Only four or five percent of people were left. And, they were left because they were poor and scattered throughout India who could not come to Assam or were informed later.
MI: The Meghalaya High Court has recently issued a verdict that those who came before 24 March 1971 should be considered Indian citizens. Do you have to say anything about it?
MBA: This is nothing new. This is what we have been saying. And, this is according to what the law of the land states.
MI: People have suffered losses during riots in Assam. How about compensating the homeless people?
MBA: We had demanded 10 lakh rupees each for the dead. The State government gave three lakh, three lakh was given by the Centre. The Manmohan Singh Government did not have authority. The Assam government has said that it would give another three lakh from Disaster Management scheme. So, our demand is almost met, but some of the compensation amount is yet to reach.
MI: How can this dispute be resolved forever?
MBA: It can never be resolved because politicians do not want that. They have not done anything to resolve it. They do so because want to keep alive their political prestige.
MI: How do you see the new government? Are you planning to take up the Bodo non-Bodo issue with it?
MBA: We welcome this government. In fact, we are not against any government. If they wish they should convene an all party meeting and discuss the issue to resolve it.
MI: The issue which earlier seemed to be a Bodo versus non-Bodo has virtually turned into a Bodo versus Muslims. What is the reason?
MBA: The Bodos along with Rabhas form just 29 percent in the BTAD (Bodoland Territorial Area Districts). Among the rest 71 percent non-Bodos, Muslims form a large number and the Bodos want to encroach upon the non-Bodo people’s land.
MI: Your party performed well in the elections. Tell us something about it. What were the issues you focused on? Did you raise the BTAD issue during elections?
MBA: The BTAD issue was never an election issue for us. Some people might have spoken about the Bangladeshi issue but during my election campaigns I never spoke about it. That’s one problem we have always wanted to resolve. But I never made it a political issue.
MI: You also fielded candidates from West Bengal. Why didn’t you ally with Trinamool Congress (TMC) while they were offering you seats?
MBA: The fact is that they (TMC) were offering us seats in exchange for those seats of Assam where our party had worked hard. So getting into an alliance in those conditions wasn’t feasible for us. Moreover, in exchange for our (safe) seats, they did not offer us any secure seats in West Bengal.
MI: There will be State elections. Are you going to test the political waters in some other states also?
MBA: We wish to strengthen our party in Assam. We don’t want to get into a situation where we end up being weak in our own state.
MI: What would be your approach towards the new government at the Centre?
MBA: We will have a positive attitude towards the new government. If it works for the development of the country, for the community, and for issues confronting the nation, we will support it. But if it does not, we will oppose it.
MI: In an interview to some media persons, Minorities Minister Najma Heptullah said that Muslims could not be considered as minorities because they constituted a large number and that that status belongs to Parsis.
MBA: While excluding Muslims from minority on the basis of religion you (Ms Heptulla) say this status should be given to Parsis. But when you say Parsis, you are already talking about a religious community. Therefore excluding Muslims from the list of minorities on the basis of religion cannot be justified while you are including another religious community in the same group. Moreover, the demand for reservation for Muslims is not due to religion but due to their social and economic status. We are not against Parsis. Everyone should get their right.
MI: Apart from being head of a political party, you are also an aalim and member of the Advisory Body of the famous Darul Uloom Deoband. As an aalim and leader of Muslims what is your message for Muslims under the present circumstances.
MBA: Don’t see just elections. They are done for garnering votes and every political party does different things to woo the voters. Watch the new government for a few months. Don’t react negatively. You have watched Congress for long. Now watch the present government carefully before taking any stand.