Guwahati, March 8: Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi late this evening ordered an end to the signature campaign showing support to him and asking party MLAs not to speak to the media on issues related to the government. This left the Congressmen stumped because the group collecting the signatures had in the morning extended its campaign till April 5.
“If any MLA or minister has anything to say they can directly contact the CM or the high command,” parliamentary affairs minister Nilamani Sen Deka told The Telegraph about Gogoi’s directives late this evening.
The development came within hours of Gogoi reaching Delhi. He is also said to have been unhappy with reports about the sacking of three parliamentary secretaries — Chandan Sarkar, Pradan Baruah and Abu Taher Bepari, though it was promptly denied by those collecting the signatures of MLAs and his press adviser.
It is not only Gogoi who appeared unfazed while attending the International Women's Day function at Rajiv Bhawan. Cabinet minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, the man said to be leading the disgruntled MLAs, is also in Delhi.
Party insiders attributed several reasons for the late evening decision: Criticism by some MLAs about the manner in which his “loyalists” were handling the campaign. Or having seen that most MLAs were in his favour, he thought of discontinuing the campaign to keep the doors open for amicable resolution of grievances the MLAs might be having against his government.
“The invitation to MLAs to meet him or the high command suggests this. It could also be because he did not order the campaign or the high command must have asked him to stop the campaign. There is also a feeling that vested groups may be politicising the insignificant dissidence for their own interest,” one of them said, adding that of the 24 MLAs who met at Sarkar’s residence, only 10 were for leadership change.
“Others just wanted to be heard by the CM,” he added.
However, few are buying the line that the camp would have started without his knowledge. “Had it been so, he would have stopped it yesterday itself,” he said. T
The Gogoi camp defended the campaign, saying it was carried out after it got a whiff of a move by the Himanta camp to approach the high command on March 16 against the functioning of the government.
Till date, 58 of the 79 Congress legislators have reposed faith in Gogoi’s leadership, according to the chief minister’s press adviser, Bharat Chandra Narah — more than enough to ensure the continuance of Gogoi in the hot seat.
The buzz emanating from the Himanta camp that all legislators and ministers are “absolutely” loyal to the chief minister suggests that the number will rise in the days to come and that they are ready to do business with Gogoi.
But in return, they would like to be treated with respect.
Gogoi’s “indifferent” style of functioning has been the main grouse of party MLAs and leaders since the rift came out in the open.
The day started with the internal crisis claiming its first casualty — associate Congress member Zabed Islam — a development that signalled an imminent crackdown on all those working to disturb the government
Islam, an Independent MLA from Mancachar in Dhubri district who was close to Himanta, had become an associate member of the Congress by extending his support to the party after his win. “But he was seen to be acting against the government and so disassociated him,” Narah said. Islam will, however, continue as an Independent legislator.
By evening, the internal revolt spilled onto the streets with Congress workers burning the effigies of Sarma and Tezpur MLA Rajen Borthakur in Tezpur this evening. The Gogoi camp said the chief minister has asked his supporters not to take to the streets.
The crisis is likely to linger for a few more days because cabinet minister Himanta Biswa Sarma will not give up easily. “A lot is at stake for him as well,” one of them said.
Sarma has questioned the rationale behind Narah releasing the letter written to him by AICC general secretary in-charge of Assam, Digvijaya Singh, to the chief minister. The letter had sought an explanation from Sarma as to why a private TV channel headed by his wife was allegedly working against the state government. Sources close to Sarma also questioned the need for carrying out signature campaigns every three months.
They also told The Telegraph that Sarma would “humbly” explain his position to Digvijaya Singh. “He will explain that he has no control over an independent news channel. He will also explain that he covered 7,000km by road and addressed as many as 120 rallies during the panchayat elections, more than any other minister, in the interest of the party and instead of rewarding him, people are complaining against him,” one of them said.
In an oblique reference to Narah, the sources said dissidence was the creation of people who had lost the last Assembly elections and were trying to make themselves relevant by entering the government through the back door. Narah, a very senior party hand, had lost the last election.