Congress dissidents want Gogoi to quit as Assam CM, challenges high command
A section of legislators has served an ultimatum on the party's high command: remove Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi by 19 July or stay prepared for our next move.
This one should leave the Congress high command worried. After a disastrous show in the general election and slackening faith in the leadership abilities of the top bosses comes the news of rebellion in a state considered to be the last surviving bastion of the party in the East. A section of legislators has served an ultimatum on the party's high command: remove Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi by 19 July or be prepared for our next move. The authority of the central leadership is under challenge and there's not much it can do.
"Something will happen on Monday if the high command does not act by 19 July. I am not going to say what will happen. This time we are dead serious. We narrated our side of the story to senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge on 24 June. But he did nothing. We gave the high command enough time to take a decision," Pradan Baruah, Congress MLA from Jonai constituency in Assam, told Firstpost.
On being prodded a little, the legislator gave a hint of what the dissidents would do next but denied that these are anti-party activities. "If nothing happens we will be forced to select a new leader on our own. How can the high command ignore the view of the majority? The high command should give us some leeway. There are 54 Congress MLAs who do not want Gogoi to continue as chief minister. The party must give us some freedom within the organisation," Baruah said.
Rumours are rife that the breakaway group may even stake claim to form a new government if the Gogoi government falls. Regional outfit Asom Gana Parishad has already announced support for the group if such a situation arises. Its leader Lachit Bordoloi told reporters in Guwahati, "If they leave the Congress and form a new government on their own we are ready to help them. Then it would be a regional group and we ourselves being a regional party will be happy to extend our support to them."
The AIUDF aired similar views. The AGP has nine MLAs while AIUDF 18. The Bodoland People's Front, which recently moved out of the government, may also support the dissident group in the Assembly if the need arises. It has 12 legislators.
There is talk of even the BJP extending support to the rebel group in such a situation though it is denying this possibility for now. "There is no such proposal. At this point of time I will call it a hypothetical question. We don't believe that the Gogoi government will fall. But I cannot tell you about the future. Anything can happen. So far we have not received any kind of communication from the dissident Congress group," said BJP spokesperson Rupam Goswami.
The challenge to the leadership of Tarun Gogoi — a choice of the party high command — from his ministerial colleague Himanta Biswa Sarma, has been brewing over the last two years and it appears to have come to a flash point now. After taking hard positions no side can back out now. Sarma's camp claims to have the support of 54 of the party's 77 legislators in the 126-member assembly.
The trouble between the chief minister and his once right hand man and the party's second-in-command Sarma erupted after Gogoi launched his son Gaurav in 2011. Gaurav is now a Lok Sabha MP from Assam's Kaliabor seat. There was already a murmur of unhappiness within the party when Gaurav was offered the Congress ticket from the Kaliabor seat.
The rift widened after the molestation of a teenage girl outside a bar in Guwahati in July 2012. The incident was filmed by then News Live reporter Gaurav Jyoti Neog and was aired unedited later, sending shock waves across the country. The incident had put intense pressure on Gogoi as the state government was heavily criticised on national television for days for failing to protect women. News Live is a regional news channel based in Guwahati owned by Sarma's wife Riniki Bhuyan Sarma.
When contacted, Gaurav said: "This is (the action of dissidents) nothing but pressure tactics. This whole thing has no logic. Why has my joining politics become such a big issue? We are in regular touch with Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi and have spoken to AK Antony and Kharge. We are seeking quick resolution of the matter." Asked whether he is aware of any possible disciplinary action on the dissidents, or of a plan B and if they are ready to extend any olive branch, he said, "I can't comment on the disciplinary action part. There is no plan B as we are not expecting the present chief minister to step down. We are always open to discussion if they are willing."
The Gogoi camp appears unfazed at the latest development. "If the group withdraws support as threatened there would be a crisis in the government. Like them, the state leadership is also waiting for the high command to take a decision. They are in complete knowledge of the situation. Even if Tarun Gogoi is replaced this will set a bad precedent of indiscipline in the party. And if the group moves out of the party then also the party will suffer. We already have minimal presence in Lower Assam and this episode has eroded our base even in Upper Assam. We are not expecting good results in 2016 Assembly polls in Upper Assam," Congress spokesperson Kishor Bhattacharyya told Firstpost.
The party is now hoping that this ultimatum will also wither away like the previous ones.
"We still feel that it is a pressure tactic from the group. So far they have given some six-seven deadlines and even threatened to meet the governor. But they did none of that. They must realise that the people of Assam are not appreciating this kind of a political and governance inertia in the state," he said.
Assam Minister for Industries and Commerce, Power (Electricity) and Public Enterprises Pradyut Bordoloi and a Gogoi loyalist, accused the dissidents of not being real Congress people. "Had they been so they would not have done what they threaten to do. They are not well-wishers of the party. We don't care even if they leave the party. The Congress is strong enough. And I believe these are all the machinations of the BJP. These dissidents are the Trojan Horse of the BJP," Bordoloi.
Known to be shrewd in his moves, Sarma is keeping mum. When asked about the 19 July threat, he told reporters at Amguri in Assam on the sidelines of a college function, "I am not aware of any such move. It is for the person who can end the problem to decide if he wants to end the matter quickly or wants to drag on." Everyone knows who this "other person" is but none knows when the uncertainty will end.
The developments reflect the weakening hold of the national high command on the state unit. The example set by the dissidents here could form the template for similar protests from disgruntled leaders in other state units. The Congress high command really has reason to worry.
She also added that the Congress was involving itself in absentee politics and what we required was a Congress-mukt Bharat
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