Guwahati, May 19: Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi assured a group of legislators this evening that he would effect a “major” ministerial reshuffle to tone up his government in the wake of the party’s debacle in the Lok Sabha elections.
According to senior Congress legislator Anjan Dutta, Gogoi said he would go to Delhi tomorrow afternoon to offer his resignation to party president Sonia Gandhi, owning moral responsibility for the debacle.
“If it is not accepted then, he assured us, he would bring in eight to 10 new faces in his council of ministers. We have asked him to include new faces in the ministry,” Dutta told The Telegraph after a two-hour meeting of party legislators supporting Gogoi from 5pm.
Dutta, a former minister, made it clear that they had full faith in Gogoi’s leadership and would impress, if required, upon the high command why it was needed more than ever at this juncture.
The meeting assumes significance because it came within hours of five ministers “skipping” a meeting called by Gogoi at the state secretariat. The 45-minute meeting “roughly” discussed the party’s setback in the Lok Sabha election and the third anniversary celebrations of the Congress-led government’s third term, which started in May 2011, power and industry minister Pradyut Bordoloi told reporters after the meeting. The Congress is in power since 2001.
The five ministers — Himanta Biswa Sarma, Gautam Roy, Siddique Ahmed, Ajit Singh and Ardhendu Kumar Dey — instead met a group of Congress MLAs at the official residence of senior legislator Sarat Borkataky within the secretariat compound.
Today’s developments only accentuate the deepening divide between the Gogoi and anti-Gogoi camp in the Assam Congress Legislature Party (CLP).
It was also clear from Dutta’s call that all ministers who have not been able to ensure lead of party candidate in their respective constituencies should also tender their resignation, owning moral responsibility.
“If the chief minister has to submit his resignation for the debacle, the same yardstick should be applied to his under-performing cabinet colleagues. The ministers who have no faith in the chief minister should also quit,” Dutta said, hinting at the party’s below par showing in the Assembly constituencies of 14 of the 19 ministers. The only ministers who could lead party candidates are Gogoi, Rakibul Hussain, Nazrul Hussain, Ajanta Neog and Basanta Das. The rest trailed, reflecting the overall resentment against the government and the Modi wave.
Legislators supporting Gogoi also asked the chief minister to crack down on party MLAs openly indulging in indiscipline and to snap ties with coalition partner Bodoland People’s Front, which allegedly was involved in the recent violence in Bodoland Territorial Areas District (BTAD). “The chief minister said he would have to discuss the BPF issue with the Assam PCC,” Dutta said.
Dutta had recently accused minister Siddique Ahmed of seeking 10 per cent commission in the schemes related to cooperation department. Denying the charge, Ahmed had hit back calling for the audit of Dutta’s wealth after he became minister.
Party insiders said the dissident group has hosted a dinner here tomorrow to mark the victory of Silchar MP Sushmita Dev.
“Nobody is sitting idle. Everything now depends on what decision the high command takes. It allowed things to drift for two years. More than the Modi wave, it was dissidence that undid the Congress. It could have won Mangaldoi, Tezpur, Jorhat and Karimganj had there been unity,” one of them said.
The dissidence within the Congress has dogged the party for over a year now with many within the party blaming it to be “the most important reason” for its poor show in the Lok Sabha election in Assam.
“If we had worked together, we could have defeated the Narendra Modi wave in Assam,” a source in the Congress said.
The Congress managed to win only three seats against its tally of seven in 2009 election. The BJP, which had won four in alliance with the AGP in 2009, bagged seven seats this time while the AIUDF won three seats and former Ulfa commander Hira Sarania won the Kokrajhar seat as an Independent.
Sources in the dissident camp said they had skipped the state secretariat meeting as they were unhappy with Gogoi’s leadership and the party’s debacle in the Lok Sabha election.
Other sources said the dissidents skipped the meeting to drive home the message that they wanted Gogoi to stick to his announcement to resign. Gogoi, who had announced that he would resign within a week of election results if the Congress won less than the 2009 tally, however, seems to be having second thoughts.
“We are sure that the high command will look into the failure of our leadership in the state for our debacle this time. Gogoi should also read the writing on the wall,” one of the dissident MLAs said.
Earlier, the state secretariat meeting decided to formally thank Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and party president Sonia Gandhi for the support they extended to Assam during the tenures of UPA-I and UPA-II government. “We got a positive response whenever we sought help regarding any development project,” Bordoloi said.