The drama involving the successive offers of resignation by ministers that is unfolding in Assam now has its roots back in the past. Because success brings its claque of followers along with a gaggle of detractors, Tarun Gogoi —who, after being at the helm of the state for 13 years, is the longest serving chief minister of Assam — has been living with a dissident group within his party, the Congress, for the last two years. But the anti-Gogoi camp, led mainly by the health and education minister in Mr Gogoi’s cabinet, Himanta Biswa Sarma, got a shot in the arm with the dismal performance of the state Congress in the general elections. Although Mr Gogoi was quick to accept moral responsibility for the Congress’s poor show, the clamour for his resignation rose higher and higher until government functioning came to a standstill in the last few days. Mr Gogoi himself had offered to resign, but his proposal had been turned down by the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi. Now, with Mr Sarma offering to give up his ministerial berth, Mr Gogoi has a chance to turn the situation to his advantage. He will probably reshuffle his cabinet soon, replacing old party hands with new ones, accommodating the dissidents’ demands in consultation with the party high command in Delhi. The onus is on Mr Gogoi to bring about stability either by taking the dissidents along with him or by dealing with them with a stern hand.
Even if the drama ends on a happy note, the internal bickerings point to the larger crisis that has overwhelmed the Congress ever since the poll results were announced last month. On the face of the onslaught by the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Congress has been decimated all over the country, even in states which were once considered its strongholds. Assam is a case in point — the Congress won just three of the 14 Lok Sabha seats in the state while the BJP grabbed seven, the highest number ever reaped by the latter in Assam. The All India Congress Committee will probably continue with Mr Gogoi as the head of the Assam government— to say the truth, there is no alternative to him within the party at the moment — but uncomfortable questions regarding the party’s miserable performance will continue to nag. If Mr Gogoi is to reverse his and his party’s fortunes in the state, he must act, and act fast, not the least because the Assam assembly elections are just two years away.