Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Sunday said that the Bharatiya Janata Party does not need votes of the “Miya” people of char, or riverine sandbar areas, for the next 10 years till they set aside practices such as child marriage, PTI reported.

While the term “Miya” is used by Muslims across South Asia to mean “gentleman”, the word is seen in Assam as an ethnic slur to describe Muslims of Bengali origin.

“When elections come, I myself will request them not to vote for us,” Sarma told reporters. “When you will follow family planning, stop child marriage and shed fundamentalism, then you vote for us. To complete these, it will take 10 years. We will seek votes after 10 years, not now.”

Sarma said that those voting in favour of him and the BJP should not have more than two or three children, must send their daughters to schools, cannot indulge in child marriage and leave fundamentalism to adopt Sufism. “When these conditions are fulfilled, I will go with you to ‘char’ to seek votes,” Sarma said.

Since February, Sarma’s government has arrested 5,000 persons as part of a crackdown on child marriages. The police have been filing cases under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act against men who have married girls below 14 years of age, and under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act against those who married girls aged 14 to 18.

On September 10, Sarma had said that the state police will arrest another 2,000 to 3,000 men in the next 10 days as part of its campaign against child marriage.

On Sunday, Sarma added that “Miya” people can shout slogans in support of the Bharatiya Janata Party without voting for it.

“BJP will do public welfare and they will support us, but they don’t need to vote for us,” the chief minister said, according to PTI. “There is no harm in supporting us. Let them shout ‘zindabad’ for Himanta Biswa Sarma, Narendra Modi and BJP”.

In July, Sarma was criticised for blaming the “Miya” people for inflated vegetable prices in part of Assam. “The price of the vegetables sold by the farmers in the rural areas is not high,” Sarma had said. “But the prices of the same vegetables increase manifold when sold in Guwahati. This is being done by the Miya traders”.