The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Factionalism plagues most political parties in India, but Congressmen seem particularly vulnerable to its lure. In their zeal to bargain for bigger shares of power, a group of Congress legislators mounted a campaign against Assam’s chief minister, Mr Tarun Gogoi, that could have plunged the party’s government in a crisis. The party high command’s decision to send Ms Mohsina Kidwai, general secretary of the All India Congress Committee in charge of Assam, to Guwahati on a rescue mission could not be dismissed as a panic reaction. The Congress leadership had enough reason to be worried in view of the recent collapse of its government in neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh where its legislators deserted the party en bloc. Mr Gogoi may have been able to weather this storm but he needs to seriously tackle the factional problem in order to maintain his authority over the party and the government. The importance of political stability in Assam is not just a question of the survival of the Congress government or the party’s prospects in next year’s Lok Sabha elections. Signs of instability could be ominous for a state bedevilled by several ethnic and tribal militancies. Congressmen need to assure the people that they care more for peace and stability in the state than for their own personal or group interests.

Ironically, the party legislators’ destabilization games coincided with a rare signal of hope for the state. Within days of Mr Gogoi successfully meeting the factional challenge within the party, the World Bank’s country director for India, Mr Michael F. Carter, held out hopes of a long-cherished, Rs 500-crore loan for the state. Mr Carter was unusually liberal in praising the Gogoi government for “considerably” improving law and order in the state and judiciously implementing the first phase of a Bank-aided agricultural infrastructure project. Even his critics agree that Mr Gogoi has succeeded in effecting this change of perception because of a holistic approach to the state’s problems. Many of the problems, such as an acute financial crisis, corruption and administrative sluggishness, remain as knotty as before. But the hope of the Bank loan is a signal of a change in the right direction. A spell of political uncertainty at this stage would not only put the Bank loan under a cloud but also ruin the state’s changing image. The people of Assam will be the real losers in such an eventuality.

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