Come 2016 and Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi fancies his chances of leading the Congress yet again in the assembly electoral battle. With a hat-trick of wins under his belt and claiming to be completely hale and hearty, Gogoi recently patted himself on the back that the Congress has been ‘ruling the State for 15 years without any hitch’. It is another matter that the Congress government has miserably failed in delivering on its promises, leaving the State drifting without any roadmap for development. What may come as a spoiler for Tarun Gogoi is a worried party high command pinning its faith on Pawan Singh Ghatowar to lead its election campaign committee in Assam. This may be a move to repair the erosion in the Congress vote-bank among tea tribes, which allowed the BJP to wrest the Jorhat, Dibrugarh and Tezpur Lok Sabha seats from the Congress in the general elections last year. However, if Ghatowar mages to deliver, his claim will be difficult for the party to ignore for he has made no secret of his chief ministerial ambitions in the past, and was also known to be close to the Himanta Biswa-led dissident faction for some time. It will be foolhardy to believe the people of Assam can again be distracted with issues that have little to do with socio-economic progress, but some political leaders are trying hard.
As the Congress gets ready to show the door to nine more rebel MLAs itching to follow Himanta Biswa Sarma into the BJP, out-of-favour Congressmen like Ardhendu Dey and Devanda Konwar are in an unenviable position. Despite the demise of Bijoy Krish Handique and with Tarun Gogoi clearly grooming son Gaurav for a bigger role, Konwar has been frustrated in his comeback efforts as a tall enough Ahom leader. Thus it is that Konwar is ‘hundred percent certain to join the AIUDF’, as well as serve as Chief Minister if considered for the top job. Meanwhile, Ardhendu Dey has been singing paeans in praise of AIUDF supremo Badruddin Ajmal, seeing in him the next Chief Minister of Assam. Along the way, Dey has subtly projected himself as a Hindu Bengali leader by pleading for the cause of Bengali Hindu refugees whom ‘the Assamese society must learn to accept’. With seven Congress leaders from Barak now ensconced as ministers and parliamentary secretaries and the duo of Chandan Sarkar-Gautam Roy serving as highly vocal representatives of the Bengali Hindu electorate, Congressmen like Ardhendu Dey must now flirt with the AIUDF to keep themselves in contention. The AIUDF leadership is reportedly making its calculations of Bengali Hindu voters domiting in some eight Barak constituencies, and having significant numbers in at least eight Brahmaputra valley constituencies including Hojai, Lumding and Golokganj.
As the Congress tries to keep its flock of legislators happy with as many as 62 of its 68 MLAs (excluding Himanta Biswa loyalists) figuring in plum positions like ministers, parliamentary secretaries and chairpersons, APCC president Anjan Dutta has again spoken about the arithmetic favouring the party. He believes that of the 68 seats Congress effectively has under its control, an outright win ‘as of today’ is certain in 23 seats, while the party can win 25 more seats where is position is at least ‘half good’. For 20 other seats, the Congress is making specific gameplans. If it wins 10 seats from other parties, the Congress tally can go up to 80, claims Dutta. Only time will tell how the APCC president’s numbers stand up in the hurly-burly of voting. But the Assam BJP leadership is supposedly making its own calculations to keep about one-third of 126 seats open for newly inducted leaders. This strategy is likely to factor in not only Himanta Biswa Sarma and his followers, but also leaders from the regiol bloc like former AASU leaders Sankar Prasad Roy and Tapan Gogoi. Whether they will be followed by tribal leaders in the coming days remains to be seen, with the BJP government at the Centre already playing the card of Scheduled Tribe status to six ethnic communities. As ST modalities are tweaked and queries posed, New Delhi and Dispur are now trading charges of buying time and playing one-upmanship. In the meantime, the newly floated ‘United Peoples Front’ of nine ethnic-tribal organisations is threatening to carve out its own political space independent of the Congress and the BJP. In his characteristic manner, Bodoland People’s Front president Hagrama Mohilary has said that the UPF forum will align itself with the party that wins the most votes and gives it the highest priority.