The Telegraph
Saturday , May 31 , 2014
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Efforts on for Gogoi, Sarma handshake

Guwahati, May 30: The AICC has stepped up efforts to bring about a rapprochement between the two warring groups within the Assam Congress Legislature Party.

Having heard the legislators belonging to the dissident group led by cabinet minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Wednesday, a three-member AICC team, headed by Ghulam Nabi Azad, met a team of five legislators backing Gogoi in New Delhi this evening in the “greater interest” of the party.

The five-legislator team, led by senior MLA Anjan Dutta and comprising cabinet ministers Pradyut Bordoloi and Rakibul Hussain and first-time legislators Debabrata Saikia and Sushanta Borgohain, were informed about the meeting late last evening. They left this morning.

Party insiders said the meeting went along expected lines. Having heard the Sarma camp, they had to hear the other side to come up with a compromise acceptable to both sides,” one of them said.

With party top brass Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi having thrown their weight behind Gogoi, who had offered to resign owning moral responsibility for the party’s debacle, the AICC is now trying to find a way out of a mess created by it in the first place.

With the legislators of Sarma camp, who returned yesterday, publicly saying they were not seeking Gogoi’s ouster but were trying to impress upon the high command to take steps to strengthen the party before the 2016 Assembly polls, it has become clear that the AICC is in no mood to replace the longest-serving chief minister of Assam at the moment.

However, any formula will have to be discussed with Gogoi, who, it is understood, will prefer to step aside if the settlement brokered by the AICC does not give him a free hand to run the government.

The government’s image has taken a beating following public diatribe by members of the Sarma camp.

The situation took a turn for the worse when Sarma publicly criticised Gogoi last Friday, making the presence of both in the same government untenable.

Sources said the AICC team is trying to come up with a face-saver for Sarma who had gone to the extent of saying that he would not serve under Gogoi.

The infighting within the CLP has also taken a toll on the party. During the first stock-taking meeting convened by the Assam PCC, district Congress presidents mainly blamed dissidence for the party’s poor show in the polls.

The Congress won just three of the 14 Lok Sabha seats in Assam — it had fielded candidates in 13 seats — down from seven in the 2009. Its vote share also took a huge hit.

“Had Sarma not said anything publicly against Gogoi, the stalemate would have been amicably resolved. Now one person has to go and that person is certainly not Gogoi. The party is also not ready to let go of Sarma as he has his backers in the Congress,” a party insider said.

“Assam is an important state as far as the party’s interest in the Northeast is concerned. The AICC is in a catch-22 situation,” he added.

Gogoi is unusually silent on the issue, making it difficult for his detractors to know his mind.