The Telegraph
Tuesday , May 13 , 2014
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Assam Congress split wide open

Sivasagar, May 12: Infighting within the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) in Assam has intensified with senior legislator Anjan Dutta seeking the resignation of ministers and parliamentary secretaries allegedly indulging in anti-party activities.

He, however, named only Siddique Ahmed, the border areas and cooperative minister.

Dutta, a former minister and dyed-in-the-wool Congressman, also said a 42-member team of the CLP would meet the Congress high command in New Delhi on May 22.

“We will submit a report to Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi about the Lok Sabha polls and request them to initiate action against the MLAs who did not support party candidates in the election,” he told reporters here today.

Without naming anyone except Ahmed, Dutta came down heavily on eight ministers in the Gogoi cabinet. “These ministers have been misleading the chief minister and are playing a double role. They have not spoken for the government at the time of crisis, fuelling doubts about their roles. They lobby against the chief minister in Delhi by spending government money,” he said. Dutta urged the disgruntled ministers to resign from the cabinet instead of criticising Gogoi.

He also accused Ahmed of resorting to gross corruption. “He has taken 10 per cent commission from the cooperative societies in lieu of providing government grants. He has also taken commission from officials and contractors to allot works under the border areas development department,” he alleged.

In the last CLP meeting in October last year, Gogoi had directly accused some ministers of demanding 10-20 per cent cut.

Reacting to the allegations, Ahmed told a section of the media that Dutta could not ask for his resignation and that Dutta’s wealth, before and after he became a minister, should be audited. “We will have to see how clean he is. Who has taken the remaining 90 per cent? They have gone mad to get into the state ministry,” Ahmed alleged.

Ahmed has been accused of working against the party candidate in Karimganj. A section of party legislators have also been accused of working against sitting Lakhimpur MP Ranee Narah despite intervention by Sonia Gandhi, sitting Diphu MP Biren Singh Engti and against Silchar candidate Sushmita Dev. Other constituencies that have been affected by the intra-party tiff are Diphu, Jorhat, Tezpur and Barpeta.

“It was not the Modi wave but our own people who worked against us just to see the back of Gogoi,” a PCC office-bearer said.

Throwing his weight behind embattled chief minister Tarun Gogoi, Dutta claimed the support of 42 legislators, including 10 ministers, 27 MLAs from the Gogoi camp and five from the anti-Gogoi camp. The Congress has 79 members in the 126-member Assembly of whom over 40 had signed for a change of government in the CLP meeting held in October but it was not pushed following a patch up because of the Lok Sabha polls.

Dutta said they would not allow Gogoi to resign even if the Congress was not able to garner most seats in the parliamentary polls. Gogoi had said he would quit if the party got less than seven seats this time. The Congress had won seven seats in 2009 and is targeting 12 this time. Exit polls showed Congress getting anything between two to five seats in Assam.

Dutta’s news meet created ripples in political circles, which has been abuzz about a major upheaval in the state Congress after declaration of Lok Sabha result on May 16.

The Gogoi camp seems to have hit back through Dutta, who, without being a minister or holding any influential government post, commands a following that transcends camps. He has been vocal about non-performance of ministers and police even in the Assembly.

The news meet indicates that Gogoi will not be pushed around. But Congress insiders said this is perhaps the last time that Dutta and other MLAs, who are not comfortable doing business with the anti-Gogoi camp led by cabinet minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, are backing Gogoi since the chief minister is not taking action against the dissidents, among others.

Dutta clarified that the news meet was not held on the instructions of Gogoi. “I have not met the chief minister for the past eight days and he has not directed us to organise the meet,” he said.

First-time MLAs Debabrata Saikia of Nazira and Sushanta Borgohain of Thowra were also present at the news meet.

The anti-Gogoi camp, which met at Sarma’s house in Guwahati after Dutta’s meet to finalise their strategies, had started hitting out at Gogoi over the BTAD violence, saying he had failed to deliver as the home minister. The first to go public was eight-term legislator Rameswar Dhanowar, who asked Gogoi to quit, owning moral responsibility for the violence and alienating people from the party by making light of serious issues. Other legislators of the camp also criticised Gogoi.

Parliamentary secretary Chandan Sarkar, seen as a member of the anti-Gogoi camp, described Dutta’s stand as unfortunate and alleged that he had divided the CLP by claiming the numbers the pro-Gogoi camp has. He also claimed that five of the 27 MLAs, who are said to have extended support to Gogoi, had denied taking any such stand.

A relaxed Sarma told reporters this afternoon that everyone should pray for a good poll result for the party.

A Congressman said Gogoi’s third term has been plagued by dissidence and law and order issues, taking a heavy toll on governance and development. Like the dissidents, those supporting Gogoi are also demanding the ouster of non-performing ministers. They, however, see themselves as legislators with grievances and not as dissidents.

A Congress insider said with Dutta’s press meet, the division in the CLP had become public. It will take proper shape once the results are out. A lot will depend on how the high command, which has been accused of allowing the differences to surface in 2012, responds to the unfolding situation.