|Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi in New Delhi on Monday. Picture by UB Photos
New Delhi, July 7: Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi did a Manmohan Singh today, indicating that he may not be at the helm of the party in the 2016 Assembly elections.
Amid internal wrangling of the Congress in Assam, with Gogoi on one side and his cabinet minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on the other, the chief minister’s fate has been hanging in the balance.
Former Prime Minister Singh had indicated months before the elections that he would not be leading the party in 2014. Similarly, Gogoi also indicated a change of leadership in Assam. Only in Gogoi’s case, there are two years to go before the Assembly elections and uncertainty over his chair has been lingering for months now.
Unwilling to answer questions on “politics”, Gogoi told reporters when asked whether he would lead the Congress in the 2016 elections: “It is not important whether A or B leads (the party). The Congress will win. I am not hankering after the chief minister’s chair.” He said he would not speak about politics and left it to the party high command to take a decision.
As a third-time chief minister, Gogoi could have been expected to lead the party to another battle with a hitherto weak Opposition. However, a recent analysis by senior leader Mallikarjun Kharge had reportedly recommended removal of Gogoi and replacement by another senior leader as chief minister. Assam PCC chief Bhubaneswar Kalita, Pradyut Bordoloi and Biswa Sarma are among the probables.
There have been sustained attacks from a sizeable number of dissenters, led by Biswa Sarma. What started with shadow boxing was reduced to washing of dirty linen in public, a development that did not escape the party high command’s notice.
“It is high time the high command takes a decision. The internal fighting has taken a toll on administration and this figured in an executive committee resolution at a meeting of the party on July 3 at Rajiv Bhawan (in Guwahati),” a senior Congress leader said.
A four-member committee, chaired by former defence minister A.K. Antony, recently analysed the poll debacle in Assam. However, the crux of his report does not focus on factionalism, but the debacle.
In a recent meeting, party leaders raised questions on the reported “arrogance” of some ministers. Asked about it, Gogoi said: “You can find out who was arrogant and who was not working.”
Gogoi called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi here today to speak of pending projects and seek financial assistance for a “problematic state like Assam”.
He said he did not find it difficult to deal with the new Prime Minister. “He appeared to be sympathetic (to Assam’s demands),” he added.
Gogoi raised the issues of rail and air connectivity and told Modi that as Assam is dealing with insurgency, the Centre needs to assist the state financially.
The chief minister said the BJP wave had started to decline. “In one-and-a-half months, it is not up but down,” he said.
On the Lower Subansiri hydroelectric project, Gogoi said the state BJP unit was at divergence with the Centre over its future. The state leaders had recently rushed to Delhi to oppose the project that the government was apparently ready to proceed with. The state unit reminded the Centre that they had been opposing big dam projects tooth and nail since 2010.
Asked what the Prime Minister thought of the project, Gogoi said, “I have not been able to read his mind but he seemed quite favourable.”
On the state BJP’s allegation that the power ministry’s views were misled by the state chief secretary’s report, Gogoi said, “The chief secretary never gave any go-ahead.” He said he was “not opposing the project” but “the downstream areas should not be adversely affected” by dams in Arunachal Pradesh.
Blaming the BJP for not having a consistent stand on issues, he added, “Entry-free visa (for Bangladeshis) is the Centre’s proposal and the BJP says Tarun Gogoi is playing cheap politics.”
Ahead of external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj’s goodwill visit to Dhaka this month, Gogoi had spilled the beans on an internal proposal for visa relaxation for Bangladeshis. Gogoi’s statement had put the BJP’s state unit in a fix over its stand on the issue. The state BJP’s radical stand on influx was moderated by the Centre’s view that is more or less in consonance with the previous UPA administration.