Guwahati, May 22: The suspense over the continuance of chief minister Tarun Gogoi in the hot seat has ended, with the Congress high command asking him to carry on. But the challenges before him and the party have increased manifold in view of the near-revolt by dissidents in the party.
The recent surge in dissident activity could be only an indication of things to come with the anti-Gogoi camp now expected to work overtime to have him out.
The hint came when senior cabinet minister Gautam Roy went public with his views that Himanta Biswa Sarma would be the next chief minister within 15 days, even before Gogoi met Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
This was followed by the anti-Gogoi camp decision to meet governor J.B. Patnaik tomorrow evening, “as Gogoi has lost majority support”.
More than Gogoi or Sarma, party insiders blamed a section of senior AICC leaders, whose partisan attitude and indecisiveness created the mess that the party’s state unit now finds itself in.
“They tried to please both sides, not giving Gogoi a free hand to run the government or replacing him when murmurs of dissent against him started in 2012 and also not reining in the dissidents,” one of them said.
They alleged that this section of the AICC allowed the situation to drift, so much so that party MLAs started attacking the chief minister in public and the party suffered its worst Lok Sabha debacle in the state, down to three from seven seats in 2009.
From Rameswar Dhanowar, seniormost MLA, to one of the youngest, Sushmita Dev, everyone had a go at Gogoi from the rival camp.
Sources told The Telegraph that the party was on a self-destructive trip. This was clear from formal complaints submitted by four Lok Sabha candidates — Ranee Narah, Bijoy Krishna Handique, Manash Bora (all of whom lost) — and Biren Singh Engti (winner) against at least 17 to 20 MLAs who directly or indirectly worked against the party candidates.
The immediate challenge for Gogoi, the longest-serving chief minister in Assam, will be to carry out the much-awaited ministerial reshuffle, something which was touched upon by senior MLA Anjan Dutta, Gogoi’s staunchest supporter, soon after the chief minister’s meeting with Sonia Gandhi.
“Those dropped may switch sides. Either way, we are in for challenging times,” a party insider said.
Problems mounted for Gogoi when the Sarma camp turned the tables on him at the October 19 CLP meeting, with over 44 MLAs seeking a change in leadership owing to Gogoi’s “autocratic style of functioning”.
With Lok Sabha elections upon them and an emotional Gogoi “accepting” defeat, a patch-up was ensured at least till the polls. The demand for his resignation would have been made by the Sarma camp, which now claims the support of 45 of the 77 MLAs, even if the poll result had gone in favour of the Congress. The nationwide debacle only emboldened the anti-Gogoi camp to go all out to seek a change in state leadership.
Gogoi does not have the numbers but there is apprehension within the party that if he is unceremoniously dumped, the party could suffer more hiccups.
Sarma, on his part, told The Telegraph he has complete faith in the high command.