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2013: A cold war that yielded no clear winner

- Rift between Biswa Sarma and Gogoi widens but both camps back off in view of Lok Sabha polls
Himanta Biswa Sarma,Tarun Gogoi

Dec. 27: On the last day of the recently concluded session of the Assam Assembly, senior cabinet minister Himanta Biswa Sarma was heard saying to a group of acquaintances outside the House: “Nice to see my photograph on the front page after a long time.”

He was referring to Raijor Batori, a government mouthpiece.

It was an innocuous remark but the significance was not lost on those around him or those closely following the rift between him and three-time chief minister Tarun Gogoi that surfaced last year.

Having been all but sidelined within the government for his efforts to dislodge Gogoi, life for Sarma in 2013 had become an endless round of planning and lobbying to retain his influence within the government as well as the CLP.

His efforts seemed to have paid off when he managed to outwit Gogoi and his team at the CLP meeting in October by getting 44 of the 79 Congress MLAs to sign for a change within the government.

Having made his point, Sarma did not force the issue as there was pressure from both within and outside to “cool off” because of the impending Lok Sabha elections. Gogoi’s health, age and his standing within the party and public were other factors which saw the Sarma camp not only exercise restraint but also provide the media with an all-is-well-within-the-CLP photo-op: Sarma leaving the venue with Gogoi in the latter’s vehicle.

The usually combative Gogoi, who broke down towards the end of the CLP at the unexpected turn of events, had said, “All is well within the CLP. The members had expressed their grievances in a dignified manner. We will aim at winning all the 14 Lok Sabha seats from the state.”

Though the last has not been heard on the apparently suspended row between Gogoi and Sarma, 2013 shattered the aura of invincibility around Gogoi, which he had so meticulously built.

Sarma has no such worries. He is not only discharging his duty as minister freely but has also managed to keep his CLP team intact. The relief at having got the better of Gogoi in the numbers game is evident from his views on 2013.

“I was in trouble at the start of 2013 but the year has ended on a satisfying note for me personally and politically. The problem within the CLP has been resolved amicably. Many issues have been resolved to the satisfaction of the CLP in the last two months. I must admit here that majority in the CLP sided with me, putting their careers at stake when I was in trouble initially,” Sarma told The Telegraph.

“I also did well as an independent observer for Mizoram Assembly polls despite the anti-Congress mood. I also managed to provincialise 65,000 schoolteachers’ jobs. I thank those who stood by me and believed in me.”

Gogoi, in contrast, let himself down. His responses to the unfolding challenges appeared to be dictated more by his personal likes and dislikes. He could not fortify his position after the party’s massive win in the panchayat elections, engrossed as he was in the futile exercise of neutralising Sarma. His public remarks and administrative decisions often came under the scanner. Law and order issues also compounded his troubles.

Gogoi may still have the last laugh by helping the party win big in the Lok Sabha elections but even his ardent supporters say life will not remain the way he has known since 2001. Year 2013 may not have made Sarma but it has triggered the unmaking of Gogoi.