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Gogoi takes fight to dissident camp

Guwahati, July 11: Chief minister Tarun Gogoi, who has maintained silence on some party legislators’ move to unseat him, today talked tough, accusing the group of trying to “coerce” the high command into taking a decision in their favour.

Gogoi picked on his ministerial colleague Siddique Ahmed, who had yesterday claimed that a section of the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) was contemplating boycotting the budget session of Assam Assembly from August 4. Ahmed, minister for cooperation and border areas, had said that if required they would stage a dharna in front of AICC vice-president Rahul Gandhi in Delhi, demanding Gogoi’s removal from the chief minister’s post. Parliamentary secretary Mansing Rongpi and minister Ardhendu Dey had also publicly criticised Gogoi’s leadership.

At a news conference on the NDA government’s maiden budget here this afternoon, Gogoi said, “He (Ahmed) has no Congress background and, therefore, is talking like this. The same man had helped the AIUDF in the Lok Sabha election and is now talking of staging a dharna in front of Rahul Gandhi. I do not mind what decision they (the dissidents) take but let the high command decide on the issue of leadership. No Congressman has the right to question the high command, whose decision may go in our favour or against us. But they (dissidents) are trying to coerce the high command in their favour.” He threatened to take action against Ahmed but refused to elaborate on it.

The tough talk reflected the three-time chief minister’s resolve to take the fight to the dissident camp despite not enjoying a majority support in the CLP.

The development assumes significance, as Gogoi has been steadfast in not taking queries on the dissidents since May as the issue was being handled by the high command. The most he had said on the issue was that he would abide by the high command’s decision.

The dissidents seemed to have got emboldened by senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge’s report to AICC president Sonia Gandhi to “look beyond” Gogoi as most CLP members wanted a change of guard. Dissidence against Gogoi had started in 2012.

The party high command has, however, not been able to take a call on the CLP leadership “for want of an alternative” to Gogoi though the dissidents are backing their leader, cabinet minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. In fact, a few days ago a development council chief had claimed after a meeting with Rahul Gandhi that the AICC vice-president was with Gogoi.

Congress insiders said the development indicated that Gogoi would use the dissidents’ public attack against him to expose their lack of belief in the Congress culture and ethos, something “held dear” by the leadership.

“He will try to expose that they (the dissidents) can go to any extent to get their demands met. Therefore, striking any deal with them would not be in the party’s interests. The dissidents, by publicly seeking his ouster, may be harming only their cause. The AICC should take a call on the CLP leadership issue at the earliest to stop the party from becoming a joke in Assam. After all, the dissidence was a creation of a section of AICC leaders,” a party insider said.

Ahmed responded to Gogoi’s thrust by daring him to prove that he had worked against the Congress nominee in Karimganj Lok Sabha seat, Lalit Mohan Suklabaidya (who lost), and that he did not have a Congress background.

He said the dissidents had not yet taken any decision on boycotting the Assembly session but were firm on a change of CLP leadership or else it would be difficult for the Congress to retain power in 2016.

“I only conveyed the mind of the majority MLAs against him (Gogoi). I did not say I will boycott the Assembly or stage a dharna in front of Rahul Gandhi,” he said.

Ahmed’s response indicates the “irreconcilable differences” between the Gogoi and the Sarma camps in the CLP.