With only one year left for his term to end, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has reshuffled his ministry, inducting eight new faces. Though six earlier ministers have maged to get berths in the new ministry, there is a strong likelihood that their portfolios will be different this time. So practically it will be a new ministry with which the ruling Congress has begun a countdown to 2016. It is clear that development of the state was the last thing on Tarun Gogoi’s mind when he at long last set about revamping his ministry. The two–year dissidence which brought governce to a standstill, has set the state so far back that the loss seems impossible to make up any time soon. The new ministry does not inspire confidence that it is capable to jump–start the stalled development process. Neither does it have enough time to make up the deficit even if it wants to. The anti–Gogoi faction in the Congress legislature party has been demanding new ministers to be inducted solely on grounds of proven efficiency, so that its government begins to get things moving again on the ground and reconnects with the people. But the Chief Minister seems to have turned a deaf ear to this demand as the new entrants to his ministry do not exactly have the image of movers and doers. In fact, some of them have long–standing allegations of usurping public money and other shady wheeling–dealings. As for efficiency being a yardstick, one needs to look no further than Khorsing Engti. Despite doing practically nothing for the Animal Husbandry department he led earlier, Engti is back again as a minister. Gogoi also continues to repose complete faith in Rockybul Hussain, despite his failure to prevent rhino killings. As for eighty–plus Bhumidhar Barman who was earlier kept out of the ministry due to infirmity, another innings as minister beckons against all expectations. Bismita Gogoi, Sukur Ali and Sumitra Patir, who hardly distinguished themselves as MLAs, are now ministers.
As the jockeying for plum portfolios hots up in Dispur, there is much speculation about Tarun Gogoi’s true motives, the underlying objectives and strategy behind reshuffling his ministry. Ostensibly this much delayed exercise gained momentum after Anjan Dutta took over reins as Pradesh Congress President. The impression has grown that Dutta had much say about who will be in or out of the Gogoi ministry, and it was he who divulged the constitution of the new ministry to the press. But the finger points to the Chief Minister, that he micro–maged the entire exercise to ride back to power for the fourth time. Tarun Gogoi is too wily a politician to believe that the conditions of 2011, when the Congress beat the anti–incumbency factor to score a hattrick with a brute majority, will be replicated in 2016. At most, only 45 to 50 seats will likely be the Congress tally if the present trend continues. If the AIUDF, presently the largest opposition party with 27 seats, emerges as an even stronger force in the next Assembly elections, it will surely not align with the BJP and aliete its votebank. With Bhumidhar Barman and Sukur Ali in the ministry, will Gogoi get down in earnest to build bridges with the AIUDF? If the AGP acts as a spoiler, there is a strong likelihood that the Congress will again make it past the post due to vote splitting. The induction of Etowa Munda is significant, considering the challenge hitherto posed to Gogoi’s authority by the group aligned to Paban Singh Ghatowar. Is Gogoi now striking back with a vengeance to divide the tea lobby by backing Munda? With Anjan Dutta ensconced at Rajiv Bhawan, Gogoi may seek to repair the erosion in the Congress votebanks in large parts of upper Assam. Meanwhile Dutta has given enough indications that the Congress intends to profit as a dark horse in BTAD as the BPF and AIUDF slug it out.
A very interesting pattern in the new ministry is the retention of Ajanta Neog, Rockybul Hussain and zrul Islam, along with the induction of Bismita Gogoi. Their constituencies fall within the Koliabor Lok Sabha constituency held by Gaurav Gogoi. So is there a conscious attempt to build up Gaurav Gogoi further through this ministry reshuffle? This suspicion is strengthened considering that there is no young, strong leader with mass appeal in this ministry who may later emerge as an alterte power centre. There is thus a strong whiff of cynical political expediency in this entire ministry making exercise even as the people of Assam cry out for some modicum of effective governce. With multi–cornered fights likely in most Assembly constituencies, the political landscape of Assam resembles a chessboard. With his revamped ministry, Tarun Gogoi has likely played his opening gambit to neutralise BJP’s ‘Mission 84’. After two years of dissidence laying waste the entire state administrative machinery, a further year of drift, misgovernce and lack of development looms large as the shadow fight in the political are culmites in the battle of the ballot. How people of the state hold political parties accountable and make them perform is the question uppermost in the minds of concerned citizens.