Will Tarun Gogoi be able to find his feet back in Assam?
In the past 13 years as Assam’s longest serving chief minister, Gogoi has never accepted the ineffectiveness of his political formula till the Narendra Modi wave swept across the country and Congress tally in Assam this Lok Sabha election came down to three from seven in 2009—its worst ever Lok Sabha poll performance in the state.
by Nandita Sengupta
Guwahati: Tarun Gogoi had braved threats from the dreaded Ulfa militants and steered Congress back to power against Prafulla Kumar Mahanta-led Asom Gana Parishad in 2001. In the past 13 years as Assam’s longest serving chief minister, Gogoi has never accepted the ineffectiveness of his political formula till the Narendra Modi wave swept across the country and Congress tally in Assam this Lok Sabha election came down to three from seven in 2009—its worst ever Lok Sabha poll performance in the state.
“Now I realise that Modi wave succeeded to influence our voters. I take moral responsibility for the defeat,” Gogoi had admitted soon after the results were announced on May 16. Assam has 14 Lok Sabha seats and BJP this time won seven while both Congress and the All India United Democratic Front registered victories in three seats each. Former Ulfa “commander” Hira Sarania won the Kokrajhar Lok Sabha seat as an independent. AGP, which had came to power like the AAP in Delhi and ruled the state twice--between 1985 to 1990 and 1996 to 2001, drew a blank this time.
The eighty-year-old Gogoi now, however, is in trouble not only because of the Modi wave but the intra-party dissidents questioning the former’s leadership to beat the BJP heat. “We have no confidence in his (Gogoi) leadership. Any other leader nominated by Sonia Gandhi will be accepted to us,” Gogoi’s cabinet colleague and health minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma, leading the anti-Gogoi camp openly announced today in Guwahati.
This “open revolt” came a day after Sonia Gandhi asked Gogoi to continue as chief minister even as the former offered to resign taking moral responsibility for the party’s poor show.
The crisis for Gogoi — seen as one of the most successful Congress chief ministers like Sheila Dixit — deepened to such an extent that the camp, claiming the support of 45 MLAs on Friday (May 22) even threatened to go to Governor J B Patnaik and submit their no-confidence letter. The embarrassment, however, was temporarily saved by the AICC, which decided to send an observer soon to talk to all the 78 Congress MLAs (Assam has 126 assembly seats) before taking a final call on Gogoi’s fate as chief minister. “If the AICC does not listen to us and change the chief minister, we will bring in a no-confidence motion and topple the government,” one of the anti-Gogoi MLAs said.
Born in the tea-rich district of Jorhat, Gogoi’s active political career had begun in 1971 and was elected to the Lok Sabha for the fourth time, although not at a stretch. He was inducted as food minister by PV Narasimha Rao and had served as a union minister of state till 1995. The country was on the wheels of economic liberalization, and Gogoi taking hold of one of the least-noticed portfolios came to the limelight by paving the way for the entry of the cola giants, Coca Cola and Pepsi, to India against a backdrop of strong and vehement opposition.
Ulfa, which had launched an armed struggle in 1979 for “sovereign Assam” wrecked havoc in Assam and resorted to killings and abduction across the state. Just before the 1996 assembly election, the Ulfa started targeting Congress leaders and the setback for the party came when chief minister Hiteswar Saikia died on the eve of assembly election. AGP had stormed back to power and Congress’ support base looked shaky. The “high command,” in their search for a strong leader appointed Gogoi as the party’s state president in 1997, about a year after AGP won the assembly election for the second time.
Gogoi’s leadership soon bore fruits for Congress with the party winning 10 of the 14 seats in 1998 general election. The same was repeated during the 1999 Lok Sabha poll while its tally had gone down to nine and seven in 2004 and 2009 elections respectively. The Congress bounced back to the state’s power in 2001 and Gogoi was elected as the Chief Minister for the first time. Congress bagged 71 of the 126 assembly seats. In the 2006, Congress tally although went down to 53, however, again formed the government with Bodoland Peoples’ Party as its ally. Gogoi was elected as chief minister for the third time in 2011 when Congress bagged 78 seats despite the threat of anti-incumbency.
Just when Gogoi became Assam’s longest serving chief minister after Bimala Prasad Chaliha (Congress) came Modi wave and the “dissidence” openly declaring “no-confidence” on Gogoi’s leadership.
Gogoi, however, continues to enjoy strong backing from senior cabinet ministers such as Rakibul Hussain (forest and environment), Pradyut Bordoloi (power and industry) and Ajanta Neog (PWD). Senior MLAs and former ministers such as Anjan Dutta and Ripun Bora too are with Gogoi camp and have been demanding action against dissident leaders like Himanta Biswa Sarma.
The question now doing the rounds in Assa’s political circles—will the AICC go with the veteran Gogoi or the anti-Gogoi camp led by young Sarma, when Congress goes to the 2016 assembly polls with the “strong Modi wave” in mind?
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