Editor's note: Within the span of 15 years, the Congress party in Assam has transformed itself from a fortress of invincibility to a heap of ruins. This four-part series will examine what ails the party in Assam and if there is a possibility of a spark that rekindles hope for the party to relive its glory days. This is the fourth and last part of the series.
For the 84-year-old Tarun Gogoi, who traversed the corridors of Parliament or the Assembly in Assam for many a year now, ups and downs in politics are no longer surprising. A former chief minister of Assam for three consecutive terms from 2001 to 2016, Gogoi has seen the Congress rise to the pinnacle and fall to the nadir at different phases in his long career.
The state's longest-serving chief minister so far, when he took charge in Dispur, Assam's capital complex, for the first time in May 2001, the Congress had 71 MLAs of its own in the 126-seat Assembly. In 2006, the number came down to 53 MLAs but in 2011, it rose to 78. The total vote share that the Congress got in these elections is 39.75 percent in 2001, 31.08 percent in 2006 and 39.39 percent in 2011 while the BJP got 9.35 percent, 11.98 percent and 11.47 percent respectively.
However, the story changed dramatically in 2016 with BJP winning 60 seats and Congress a meagre 26. Probably the only solace for the Congress was it was marginally ahead of the BJP in terms of vote share with 31 percent as opposed to 29.5 percent of its rival.
Despite this drubbing besides twice in Lok Sabha Elections within a span of five years, Gogoi has set an ambitious target for the Congress of winning 80 seats in the next Assembly poll in 2021. Whether the party succeeds in reaching its target is a different story altogether, but the foremost priority now is to revive Congress in Assam as a cohesive fighting unit. In an exclusive tête-à-tête with Firstpost, this is what Gogoi has to say about it. Edited excerpts:
Is there a possibility of you taking over the charge of the Congress in Assam, especially after Sonia Gandhi's return as Congress president?
No, I am not going to take over the charge of the Congress in Assam. I am with the party but I won't take the responsibility of being the state president. Moreover, there is no talk of change in the state leadership change for now. Who knows what will happen in the future.
It is now commonly said that the Congress is finding itself in such a bad shape in Assam because of your spat with your then minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. What do you say about that?
It is not the correct interpretation. It is not just happening in Assam but all over India. Himanta Biswa Sarma was with us in 2014 but despite that, we lost the election. In fact, Himanta then went to the extent of saying that 'blood of Muslims flows through the pipes in Gujarat'. He campaigned for us in 2014 but still, we lost. Himanta left Congress after 2014 (August 2015).
People are leaving Congress in hordes including very senior leaders like Bhubaneswar Kalita. How will your party manage?
Haven't people left Congress before? Even Devakanta Barua who was president of the Indian National Congress had left the party. It is an ongoing trend in the Congress that people leave when the party is not doing well. Simultaneously new people come in. How did people like Bhubaneswar Kalita come in? The old people go out and the new ones come in. Even we are not going to stay forever. The senior people will have to go out at some stage so that new people can come in.
Assam is going for the Assembly polls in two years. Do you think the Congress will be able to put up a good fight?
The Congress will put up a good fight. Why not? Had the BJP government done good things then it would have been a different matter. But they have not been able to do good things and won't be able to do it. BJP will not always win elections in the name of Narendra Modi. If they give facilities to people, bring down prices, make good roads, healthcare is improved, the drinking water facilities for people are improved then it is a different thing.
But the reality is the roads are in bad condition, roads are in poor shape, floods have created havoc, electricity is erratic, do you still think people will still vote for them(BJP)? Yes, people are supporting the BJP now but even they have a limit to their patience.
What do you have to say about the infighting in the Congress?
This whole infighting thing has been blown out of proportions. If someone leaves the party it cannot be termed as infighting. These are small wrangles here and there. Don't these small differences come up within a family also? These differences just get more publicity. We hold so many meetings, do they ever come out in the media? We are now regularly meeting to prepare our party for the upcoming civic polls in 2020. But no one reports this kind of news. However, if someone criticises someone else in the meeting, that will get huge publicity and grab headlines. This has become routine now.
Isn't a fact that BJP has actually outrun Congress in the publicity game?
Yes, the BJP is better than us when it comes to publicity. The BJP is alive only on publicity and money. The BJP has a huge amount of money. No doubt, they are a lot ahead than us when it comes to money and publicity. Their publicity is way more than the actual work on the ground.
They show it in such a way as if every household now has a toilet, every household now has electricity connection. But the truth is even in towns the power situation is not good. Leave aside rest of the places in Assam, even Guwahati doesn't have a 24x7 power supply. Moreover, what is the use of an electricity connection if there is no supply of power. People will also be able to pay bills when the tariffs are high.
Lakhs of people are also losing jobs across India. Where is the development of the people? Earnings have gone down for the people. In such a scenario for how long will people vote for them in the name of Modi? If the hardships of the people don't go down despite the promise of 'Parivartan' what is the point in voting for them?
Haven't the prime minister assured of jobs, cutting down inflation, promised Rs 15 lakh for every bank account? People believed him and voted for him. Still there a few who vote for him. I am not saying that the BJP government has not done anything. But more than what they have done, the propaganda is much more. For example, earlier a non-subsidised LPG cylinder would cost Rs 400, now it is priced at Rs 1,000. Someone is given an LPG connection but how will they pay Rs 1,000 to purchase a refill? People will understand these things gradually.
The idea of updating the National Register of Citizens of India was from your government. Still, the BJP managed to snatch it from you and take ownership. Why couldn't you prevent it?
Yes, it was my idea. The BJP has failed to make a good NRC. If you can't even prepare a proper NRC how do you hope to identify illegal foreigners and make the state free of illegal immigrants? When the NRC comes out on 31 August, it will be proved that they have failed to prepare a correct NRC. Many doubtful citizens will find entry while many bona fide citizens will find their names missing. This NRC document is going to be waste paper.
How is Congress going to motivate workers at the booth level who are a demoralised lot now?
Who said our workers are demoralised? People still come for our meetings. Had our workers been demoralised they wouldn't have come to the meetings. When we hoisted the flag this time on Independence Day (at Rajiv Bhawan, Assam Congress headquarters in Guwahati), the number of attendees did not go down but went up instead. Resignation by some 10-20 odd people doesn't mean the workers are demoralised. I don't think there is any demoralisation among workers.
Congress played a crucial role in consolidating the Scheduled Tribes in Assam by facilitating various types of Autonomous Councils for them. How has the BJP managed to take away those from the Congress?
Many of them have corruption charges against them, many of them have been promised more funds, but where have they given money? They have all been lured. At one point of time, BJP was actively against these leaders from the Autonomous Councils citing corruption. Be it against the Thengal Kachari in Titabor or the council in Karbi Anglong, BJP brought the highest number of corruption charges against them. The BJP did scathing criticism of Himanta Biswa Sarma and Gautam Roy for corruption when they were with us. Now the BJP has embraced them. When they were with us they were corrupt and today when they are with them they have become clean. BJP has invited all criminals to join the party assuring protection. Those people who are likely to be jailed will obviously go to those places where they are secure. Let them go. We are not scared of that.
It is often said that your son and Kaliabor MP Gaurav Gogoi is a good speaker in Parliament, but not a grassroots politician.
If he is not a grassroots politician, how has he won the election? He didn't win because of me. Had he won because of me, he wouldn't have won for the second time. In fact, he got more votes than last time. A limited section of the voters might have voted for him for what he says in Parliament. But most voters in a rural constituency won't even know what he said in Parliament. In today's date, if you are not a grassroots politician you cannot win. Gaurav is not even from the ruling party. Being from the Opposition party, had he been not a grassroots politician, he wouldn't have won. All these noises against him are just propaganda.
Updated Date: Aug 22, 2019 13:04:22 IST