Guwahati, March 7: Senior Congress leaders today initiated a signature campaign reposing faith in chief minister Tarun Gogoi, a development which showed not everything was hunky dory within the ruling party.
Senior cabinet minister Pradyut Bordoloi and PCC leader Ripun Borah told The Telegraph that till 6pm, 57 of the 79 Congress legislators “voluntarily” signed the letter expressing solidarity with Gogoi and that everything was fine with the party and the government.
Veteran MLA Anjan Dutta said almost 80 to 85 per cent MLAs had supported Gogoi. Some legislators are out of station but have expressed their support while some left after the day’s proceedings, they added.
Those who have not signed the support letter includes health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and several MLAs who are said to be with him. The support letter will be sent to the AICC president Sonia Gandhi. Both Gogoi and PCC president Bhubaneswar Kalita, who arrived this evening, will be leaving for Delhi tomorrow, barring last-minute changes.
“It was an impromptu decision. We wanted to convey that we are with him (Gogoi) following reports about dissension in the media. We want to send the message that there is no dissension,” said parliamentary secretary Bhupen Borah, one of the five legislators being identified with the Gogoi camp, trying to downplay any kind of dissent.
Borah was, however, candid enough to admit that legislators had grievances and that there should be ministerial reshuffle from time to time in the greater interest of the state and party.
As to what would happen to those who had not signed, Borah said, “We will try to find out what they want, something which will allow us to fix the problem.”
Borah’s remarks, as well as that of another parliamentary secretary, Chandan Sarkar, at whose residence disgruntled legislators, including those from the Himanta Biswa Sarma camp, met last night, showed there was no threat to Gogoi’s continuance in the hot seat. But there appears to be an express need to tone up the government.
“We met but only to discuss our grievances — not to unseat the chief minister. Personally I, too, want a wholesale reshuffle of ministry, equal attention to all Assembly constituencies and a directive to officials and ministers to listen and act on our grievances. I have not signed the support letter because I have full faith in our chief minister,” Sarkar said.
He, however, said Himanta Biswa Sarma was being unnecessarily targeted for “imaginary” dissidence.
Their reactions to unfolding developments suggest that most legislators are not against Gogoi but want him to axe non-performing ministers and change his “casual” style of dealing with legislators. The very launch of the signature campaign for a man who has been at the helm of affairs since 2001 and has won three Assembly and panchayat elections on the trot also reflect that he has to swiftly get his act together.
Besides the signature campaign, the two other highlights of the day was the open demand by second-term MLA Rupjyoti Kurmi seeking Gogoi’s replacement.
Kurmi said he or his government had not done anything to help him check elephant depredation, among other grievances.
“I will not sign the support letter even if the high command asks me to do so. I have suffered a lot from the indifference of the government towards my constituency. He (Gogoi) only responds to some legislators and parliamentary secretaries,” Kurmi, who is from Gogoi’s home district, Jorhat, said.
The second development that created as much flutter was a letter by AICC general secretary in-charge of Assam Digvijaya Singh, which not only congratulated Gogoi on the success of the party in the recently concluded panchayat elections but also asked health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma to explain the role of a private TV channel for reports against the Congress government.
Sarma is seen to be backing the anti-Gogoi camp after the fallout with him in the run-up to the last year’s presidential elections. Sarma was present in the Assembly but did not interact with the media.
PCC insiders rued the developments but said whatever the eventual outcome, the anti-Gogoi campaign led by Sarma would only help the party and the government emerge stronger.
“Today’s signature campaign has brought the rift out in the open. The leadership should take note of it and try to fix it instead of letting things drift,” one of them said.
Sources said as of now only 13 legislators have not signed and said “tomorrow is another day”.
A meeting of minority leaders this evening expressed unhappiness over the unfolding events, as these were not good for the government and the party. They also opposed any move for a tie-up with the AIUDF as mooted by the high command.
Even the tea community leaders met last evening.
Most within the party said they were confused as there was no clarity about what the unhappy legislators wanted.
First-time legislator Pallav Lochan Das, seen to be part of the Himanta camp, told The Telegraph this evening that he had never indulged in any anti-party or anti-Gogoi activities. “But don’t we have any right to meet and discuss our problems? Most of us have, however, raised problems faced by us both within and outside the Assembly just like senior legislator Anjan Dutta, who has voiced his grievances against the performance of some ministers and departments. We are not against the chief minister. There is no no-confidence against the chief minister to collect our signature,” he said.
The chief minister’s press adviser, Bharat Narah, and his wife and Union minister of state Ranee Narah threw a dinner for party legislators at a resort here this evening to celebrate the former’s appointment. The move, insiders said, was aimed at gauging the mood of party legislators in a “relaxed” atmosphere.
Thirty-four persons had turned up at the dinner. The PCC president was also expected to attend, after he met Gogoi at his residence.
Gogoi, however, remained unfazed.
During his reply to the debate on the governor’s address in the Assembly, he admitted that a section was trying to unsettle him. But he said they would not succeed, as Sonia Gandhi liked him.
Outside the House, when reporters asked him about a section of Congress legislators indulging in dissident activities, Gogoi only said, “Let them do whatever they like.”