New Delhi, July 1: Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi may have to go finally. The Congress high command has begun the exercise of choosing his successor and a decision is expected any day.
Sources said senior leader Mallikarjun Kharge, who interacted with state Congress legislators last week as central observer, submitted his report to Sonia Gandhi last night suggesting a change of guard as 56 of the 77 MLAs had asked for a new leader.
Sonia had made it clear she would go by the majority opinion. Assembly elections are due in Assam in 2016 and the high command also needs to groom a new leadership before that.
A problem the leadership is now grappling with is the choice of the new leader, as giving the reins to Himanta Biswa Sarma, who built the campaign against Gogoi, would mean rewarding dissidence.
Sarma has developed strong networks in Delhi and several top party functionaries support him as the next chief minister. But some important leaders have raised the issue of his “open rebellion” and wondered if rewarding him would send a wrong message to the faction-ridden state units across the country.
While the high command is confronting serious dissidence in states like Maharashtra and Haryana, trouble is brewing even in Karnataka, where senior leaders are opposed to the style of functioning of chief minister Siddaramaiah.
In Haryana, the leadership may still back chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, as the dissidents have not succeeded in presenting a credible alternative, but the survival of Prithviraj Chavan looks difficult in Maharashtra as most MLAs are opposed to him. There are also strong replacements available.
But in Maharashtra, too, 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 the Congress faces and hence try their best to avoid rewarding dissidents.
Another factor that can go against Sarma, the face of dissidence in Assam, is the importance Sonia often gives to the opinion of the outgoing chief minister. Gogoi, who has been close to the family over the past several decades, having worked with Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia as a six-term Lok Sabha member, Union minister and chief minister for 13 years, is still held in high esteem in party circles.
If the 78-year-old loyalist shows a preference for somebody else, the high command is bound to give weight to that advice. The names of PCC president Bhubaneswar Kalita, minister for agriculture and parliamentary affairs Nilamani Sen Deka and minister for industry and commerce Pradyut Bordoloi are also in consideration.
The Congress leadership is alive to the peril of losing the entire Northeast if Assam slips out of its hands. The BJP is in a position to destabilise the governments in both Arunachal and Meghalaya if the Congress clout diminishes with the loss of Assam. The party is, therefore, working on a comprehensive survival strategy. The change of leadership is just the beginning.