Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi lights a ceremonial lamp at a programme in Dibrugarh University on Tuesday. (PTI)
New Delhi, July 1: Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi may have to go finally as the Congress high command has begun the exercise of choosing his successor. A decision is expected any day now.
Sources said senior leader Mallikarjun Kharge, who interacted with Congress legislators in Guwahati last week as a central observer, had submitted his report to Sonia Gandhi last night suggesting a change of guard in the state as 56 of the 77 MLAs had asked for a new leader.
Sonia had made it clear that she would go by the majority opinion, which now seems clearly hostile to the incumbent chief minister. But a serious problem that the central leadership is grappling with is the choice of the new leader as giving the reins to Himanta Biswa Sarma, the person who built the campaign against the veteran Gogoi, would mean incentivizing dissidence.
Though Sarma has developed strong networks in Delhi and several top party functionaries support him as the next chief minister, some important leaders have raised the issue of his “open rebellion” and wondered if rewarding him would send out a wrong message to the faction-ridden state units across the country.
While the party high command is confronting serious dissidence in states like Maharashtra and Haryana, trouble is also brewing in Karnataka where senior leaders are opposed to the style of functioning of chief minister Siddaramaiah.
In Haryana, the party leadership may back chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda as the dissidents have not succeeded in presenting a credible alternative. In Maharashtra, the survival of chief minister Prithviraj Chavan looks difficult as most MLAs are opposed to him and there are strong replacements available. But the man who led the rebellion, Narayan Rane, is not being considered for the chief minister’s post.
Both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi believe disunity among senior leaders is the biggest handicap faced by the Congress and hence want to avoid rewarding dissident leaders.
In Assam too, Sarma’s identification as the face of enduring opposition to Gogoi may prove to be his disadvantage. Another factor that can go against health and education minister Sarma is the importance Sonia gives to Gogoi’s opinion.
Gogoi, who has been very close to the family over the past several decades having worked with Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia, who was a member of the Lok Sabha for six terms, was a Union minister and has been the chief minister of Assam for 13 years, is still held in high esteem in party circles.
Apart from his inability to contain dissenting forces, the need to groom a new leadership before the next Assembly election has compelled the high command to look for a replacement of the 78-year-old loyalist. If Gogoi shows preference for somebody, the high command is bound to give weight to his advice.
Under consideration are the names of PCC president Bhubaneswar Kalita, agriculture and parliamentary affairs minister Nilamani Sen Deka and industry and commerce minister Pradyut Bordoloi. However, in Guwahati, the names doing the rounds were those of Kalita and Speaker Pranab Gogoi, an Ahom, the community Gogoi belongs to, adds our correspondent in Guwahati.
While Kalita enjoys a good rapport with most central leaders, Deka and Bordoloi are banking on the “compromise factor” as certain leaders are also blaming the PCC chief for the pathetic Lok Sabha results.
Some MLAs are said to have told Kharge that Kalita and Gogoi should share the responsibility for the rout.
Only three Congress candidates won from Assam and in case of two winners, the credit goes to family clout rather that the party’s appeal — the chief minister’s son Gaurav and former Union minister Santosh Mohan Dev’s daughter Sushmita. This kind of rejection of the Congress was not expected at least in Assam.
The Congress leadership is aware of the peril of losing the entire Northeast, if Assam slips out of its hands. Poaching can do wonders in the Northeast and the BJP is in a position to destabilise both Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya governments if the Congress clout diminishes with the loss of Assam.
The party is hence seriously working on a comprehensive survival strategy and the change of leadership is just the beginning.