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Congress on sticky turf in Assembly
Himanta keeps his word, needles govt

Guwahati, Aug. 4: He came in with the Question Hour having just entered the last quarter, but by the time he left about 30 minutes into Zero Hour that followed, former minister Himanta Biswa Sarma left few in doubt that he would keep the government on its toes during the budget session of the Assam Assembly that got under way today.

That is what he had promised on the day he put in his papers before governor J.B. Patnaik, saying he and other legislators who had raised the banner of revolt against chief minister Tarun Gogoi would play the role of “constructive Opposition” inside the House.

Six minutes into Zero Hour, Sarma rose from his new seat in the first row reserved for former ministers and sought a clarification from the government on media reports of alleged attempts by two Congress legislators, including one associated with the government, to have Speaker Pranab Gogoi removed. Pranab Gogoi’s was a name proposed by the Sarma-led dissidents earlier as replacement for Tarun Gogoi.

Pranab Gogoi had by then taken leave of the House since it was a matter concerning him, asking Deputy Speaker Bhimananda Tanti to take charge.

Sarma said the reported move of the two legislators was an insult to the Speaker and wanted to know the government’s stand on it. He invoked the country’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who had described the Speaker as one who represented the dignity of the House.

The next few minutes saw parliamentary affairs minister Nilamoni Sen Deka, who sought to defend the government saying the news report was false, in some discomfiture as Sarma asked whether he had the “courage” to move a privilege motion against the particular newspaper.

Sarma wanted the government to distance itself from the two legislators. Deka finally — rising for the third time — said the government had nothing to do with what the two legislators had reportedly said.

Former minister Ardhendu Dey, who was dropped because of his dissident activity, said later that Sarma had only done what he had said he would do.

“This will continue, but we are not going to try and hit every loose delivery for a six because sometimes one can get caught. We will do it selectively and the Speaker issue was one such opportunity which Sarma took up,” he told The Telegraph.

Congress insiders said Sarma was sending a message to his backers in the CLP and the party that he remained committed to getting Gogoi ousted. “Though most MLAs back him, not all are ready to go against the high command. However, there is a section which remains loyal to him even now and he wants to retain this group,” one of them said.

This group includes Jayanta Malla Baruah, Rajen Borthakur, Zabed Islam and Kamalakhya Dey Purkayastha, who today questioned the government on several issues, forcing forest minister Rakibul Hussain to make a statement before Sarma rose.

Dey also felt that raising today’s issue under Rule 301 of rules of procedure and conduct of business in the Assembly would have allowed a debate. “I told him (Sarma) later,” he said.

There was no debate on the issue today, but Sarma did have the Opposition thumping the desks, much in the manner treasury benches have thumped theirs in the past when he would take the attack to the former while defending the government.

But that was then.