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Himanta quits Gogoi cabinet

- ‘Physically, mentally, politically impossible to continue’

Guwahati, July 21: The power struggle in the Assam Congress appears to have entered its last leg with cabinet minister Himanta Biswa Sarma quitting the Tarun Gogoi ministry today, asserting that he would play the role of a “constructive Opposition” within and outside the Assembly.

That the CLP crisis has spiralled out of control was evident when 13 ministers of the Gogoi cabinet addressed a news meet at social welfare minister Akon Bora’s residence this evening, seeking action against Sarma.

Power minister Pradyut Bordoloi said Sarma has crossed the Laxmanrekha and that they would appeal to party president Sonia Gandhi to take “strong action” against him. An unfazed Sarma said if action against him can boost the party’s prospects in the 2016 Assembly polls, he was game. Taking a dig at Bordoloi, he asked the minister to concentrate on improving the power scenario in the state.

An equally unfazed Gogoi, CMO sources said, has forwarded a copy of Sarma’s resignation (which he received this evening from a messenger of Sarma) to the AICC. They said Gogoi, who had a talk with Sonia Gandhi, would accept Sarma’s resignation.

The Assam PCC and Gogoi have also requested the high command to act against the dissidents, 26 of whom accompanied Sarma to Raj Bhavan. The AICC has indicated that harsh decisions are in the pipeline (see chart).

The dissidents, however, have kept an escape route with Sarma asserting they won’t rock the state government, will never defy the party whip and abide by the directive of party president Sonia Gandhi. Assembly sources said no action can be taken against the MLAs as they only “accompanied” a colleague to Raj Bhavan this afternoon. But the journey was enough to send shivers down the Congress rank and file in Assam. The Sarma camp, sources said, while submitting his resignation had told Governor J.B. Patnaik that they would now play the role of a “constructive” opposition. “There was no talk about any no-confidence against Gogoi,” a senior MLA said.

Today’s developments were along expected lines after the AICC threw its weight behind Gogoi, something acknowledged by Sarma today. Things changed last night after a section within the Sarma camp remained adamant on going to Raj Bhavan as they had announced some big news today. Sarma had no option but to accept or lose the leadership of a sizeable number of MLAs, sources said.

Both camps now want decisive action because the bickering was taking a toll on the party’s image, government and the MLAs. “We want it to end soon. How long can you continue like this?” an MLA asked.

On an eventful day, after tendering his resignation to the governor, Sarma convened a news meet to declare that it was not “physically, mentally and politically” advisable to work under Gogoi at this juncture. He accused Gogoi of having an “evil design” to destroy the Congress and that he would continue to oppose Gogoi’s anti-people policy, including the ongoing eviction drive in the state capital. “I have no personal agenda to become the chief minister and thus oppose Tarun Gogoi’s leadership. Time for me to become chief minister is over. I am opposing Gogoi’s leadership in the greater interest of Assam. If Gogoi remains the chief minister, the number of seats that the Congress is expected win in 2016 Assembly elections in Assam will be reduced to a single digit,” Sarma, once Gogoi’s most trusted lieutenant and influential minister in the cabinet, said.

He narrated how they had forewarned the high comand about the party’s debacle in the Lok Sabha even before the Modi wave hit the country. He said the High Command assured them to look into the change after the Lok Sabha polls where the party won three of the 13 seats it contested but nothing came of it. There are 14 seats in Assam. Even Gogoi publicly announced that he would quit if the party got less than seven seats but that too didn’t materialised.

“After the results, we (dissidents) requested the high command to accept the resignation of Tarun Gogoi. The high command, however, responded that Gogoi had not submitted his resignation during his visits to Delhi after the poll results on May 16. We then requested the AICC to accept our demand to change Gogoi,” Sarma said.

The high command then sent senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge to assess the situation. Sarma claimed around 50 MLAs favoured a change of leadership before Kharge. “Since we are told that there is internal democracy within the Congress, we remained quiet and waited for the high command to respond to Kharge’s report on the leadership issue,” Sarma said. There is no news on the Kharge report but AICC office-bearers today asked whether anybody has even read the Kharge report.

Sarma alleged after Kharge’s visit to Assam, Gogoi started sending his “people” to tell the high command to select a chief minister on the basis of one’s community. He said he vehemently opposed Gogoi’s politics of selecting a chief minister on communal lines. “The chief minister played the communal card only to keep his chair,” Sarma alleged.

“The Congress high command, however, finally decided to retain Gogoi as chief minister. And I was asked by a senior and top AICC leader to work with Gogoi. I told the leader that a suitable administrative mechanism should be worked out before I start working with Gogoi again. For this purpose, I met Gogoi last evening. But the chief minister had no concrete plan and had an absurd idea of reshuffling the ministry every four months. Gogoi also offered some other strange ideas. At this I strongly felt that it was physically, mentally and politically not advisable to work under Gogoi,” Sarma said.

Gogoi refuted all the allegations in a press note.

He said more action would follow in the coming weeks, something the Gogoi can ignore only at their peril, sources said.

Sources said there would be one resignation a day from the dissident camp. The next to resign will be ministers Ardhendu Dey followed by Siddique Ahmed. They will be followed by parliamentary secretaries and then chairpersons.

Asserting there was no question of going back on his resignation, Sarma said his decision was “irrevocable” and that he will never return to the ministry as long as Gogoi is at the helm.

Asked why he continued despite resigning in the past, Sarma said, “I will reveal the reasons in due course. Today is different. I will remain within the party format and oppose the design to destroy the Congress in Assam...we will oppose both inside the House and in the party.”

Senior Assam Congress MLA Anjan Dutta, who was requested by AICC and PCC leaders to attend the evening meeting between Gogoi and Sarma (which got cancelled) will return to Delhi tomorrow for his meeting with Sonia Gandhi.


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