|PCC chief spokesperson Mehdi Alam Bora on Tuesday. Picture by UB Photos
Guwahati , July 22: The Congress high command has finally sent a strong message to dissidents in Assam by clearing embattled chief minister’s plea for accepting the resignation of cabinet minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and axing of two other ministers — Ardhendu Dey and Siddique Ahmed.
Gogoi’s office this evening announced that the three-term chief minister has not only accepted the resignation of Sarma submitted yesterday to governor J.B. Patnaik but has also dropped cabinet minister Dey and minister of state Ahmed (chart on Page 4).
The decision was along expected lines in the light of the chief minister and AICC’s statements since yesterday when the latter threw its weight behind Gogoi by saying a person cannot be judged by result of one election. The clamour for Gogoi’s ouster by the dissidents intensified after the party suffered its worst defeat in the Lok Sabha polls, winning three of the 13 seats it contested. Assam has 14 Lok Sabha seats.
Gogoi had earlier in the day said Sarma’s resignation would neither affect the functioning of the government nor hurt the ruling Congress. On Monday, Gogoi conveyed through a press note that he was “completely taken aback” by his one-time closest aide going to Raj Bhavan to submit his resignation, while refuting all allegations levelled by Sarma at a press meet. Several MLAs had accompanied Sarma to the Raj Bhavan.
Within hours of Gogoi’s statement, the Assam PCC, too, criticised Sarma for allegedly violating party discipline. The clearance from the dithering AICC came after 6.30pm and is the first decisive step to curb dissent in Assam festering since 2012.
There are now four vacancies in the Gogoi cabinet with transport minister Chandan Brahma quitting early this month after coalition partner BPF severed its ties with Congress after eight years.
The axing of Dey and Ahmed is being seen as a pre-emptive strike by Gogoi because there were reports about the duo putting in their papers like Sarma in the next few days. Dey had been publicly saying that Sarma was their leader. Ahmed entirely blamed the chief minister for violence in Bodoland Territorial Areas District. On July 10, Ahmed had said most CLP members were contemplating boycotting the budget session of Assam Assembly and, if required, they would stage dharna in front of AICC vice-president Rahul Gandhi to get Gogoi replaced. Gogoi responded by saying Ahmed had no Congress background and threatened to take action against him, taking the fight to the dissident camp.
Sarma tweeted soon after the AICC decision, saying he was grateful to the Congress president for accepting his resignation. He, however, said it was unfair to drop Ahmed and Dey from the ministry without being given showcause notices. He said dropping the duo could impact the party’s influence on the religious and linguistic minorities.
Dropping or including a minister is the prerogative of the chief minister, a Gogoi camper responded.
Hours before the announcement by the chief minister’s office, AICC secretary Bhupen Kumar Borah, who had requested the dissidents not to stick to their Monday ultimatum to the high command seeking a change of CLP leader, questioned the role of the 13 ministers who had sought action against Sarma for anti-party activities. “Why are they not seeking action against other ministers who had publicly criticised Gogoi?” Borah asked.
It is understood that Gogoi will be meeting the governor tomorrow and seek time for carrying out the much-awaited reshuffle which may see at least eight new faces in the council of ministers. The names of senior MLA Anjan Dutta, Abdul Muhib Mazumder, Chandan Sarkar and Borah are doing the rounds. Some from the dissident groups will also figure in the ministry as the AICC and Gogoi, after sending a strong message against rebels, will go for reconciliation.
Responding to queries by reporters at an official function at Rabindra Bhawan here this afternoon, Gogoi had hinted at reshuffling his ministry. “Why didn’t he (Himanta) come to meet me at 10pm on Sunday after our 8pm meeting to continue the discussion?” he asked.
Gogoi, however, refused to say anything on the demand for punitive action against Sarma. “Let the high command decide the matter,” he said.
“I have seen both good and bad days of the Congress. I had seen the situation when former Prime Minister late Indira Gandhi lost the elections. I had seen the worst days of the party in Assam. So, I am not afraid of any situation and will continue to do my job. The people will judge me. I do not need a certificate from any individual.”
After becoming a former minister, Sarma had said: “During the bad days of the party Gogoi spent most of his time in Delhi. I was in Assam working for the party and workers as a lawyer.”
After tendering his resignation, Sarma told reporters that it was not “physically, mentally and politically” viable to work under Gogoi at this juncture. He also alleged that Gogoi was “destroying the party and that he would continue to oppose his “anti-people policy”, including the ongoing eviction drive in Guwahati.
Making an oblique reference to Sarma, Gogoi categorically denied Sarma’s charge that he had proposed the “absurd” idea to reshuffle his ministry every four months. Sarma stuck to his claim.
At a press meet at Rajiv Bhawan here, the Assam PCC chief spokesperson Mehdi Alam Bora came down heavily on Sarma for tendering his resignation in the manner he did and making wild allegations against Gogoi.
“There cannot be any separate group (as claimed by Sarma) within the Congress Legislature Party in the Assembly. Sarma’s stand to play the role of a constructive Opposition by remaining with the CLP or the party is an absurd idea,” Bora said.
The PCC, however, was not clear about the disciplinary action against Sarma. “The Congress has an internal mechanism to take action against those who violate party discipline. Both the AICC and the PCC are currently observing the situation and appropriate action will be taken,” he said.