DATELINE Guwahati /Wasbir Hussain
The Congress leadership, both in Assam and in Delhi, has filly gathered the courage to effect a ministerial reshuffle of the Tarun Gogoi Cabinet. The long awaited exercise is supposed to salvage the wilting fortunes of the Congress party in Assam ahead of the State elections next year. So, after months of procrastition and indecisiveness, Chief Minister Gogoi got the party high–command’s nod to carry out the reshuffle. He did so by dropping eight of his ministers and retaining six existing ones, besides himself. Four others from his 19–member Cabinet had earlier resigned or were dropped on various grounds, including indulging in dissident activity against the party and Government. These four berths are still vacant and will be filled up after the civic body polls in February.
In simple terms, Gogoi has inducted eight new ministers on Friday. But, these eight ‘new faces’ include such ageing leaders as Dr Bhumidhar Barman and Sarat Borkotoky. The other six new inductees also are not particularly known to be dymic leaders who can enthuse party workers or supporters outside their own Assembly constituencies, nor are they tested people in the art of governce. To top it all, except for one or two of the newly inducted ministers, the rest have failed to give the Congress candidates more votes than their rivals in the last Lok Sabha elections. The talking point in Assam now is this—if the eight ministers have been axed on grounds of non–performance, another eight, who have been inducted, do not have much of a success story to boast about. In the end, it looks like a no–win situation for the Congress in the State.
One needs to understand that if Gogoi has brought about the reshuffle now, in an election year, it is also because of the gging dissident activity within the Congress Legislature Party. The group led by former Health and Education Minister Himanta Biswa Sharma, who unsuccessfully fought for Gogoi’s ouster as Chief Minister, was touted as having had a strength of more than 40 legislators out of the 78 the Congress has in the State. The AICC did not pay heed to this group’s demands, forcing Himanta Biswa Sharma to quit the Gogoi Cabinet. The party did not take into account Sharma’s record as a master–strategist in party affairs and having been the lone Congress MLA to campaign for the party across Assam during elections, aside from the Chief Minister. The reshuffle came at a time when Sharma & Co. appeared to have resigned to their fate and wait for the polls in 2016 without undertaking any fresh move.
However, the reshuffle has led to a new variety of dissent within the Assam Congress, something that does not auger well for the beleaguered party, both in the State as well as tiolly. Influential party leader from Barak Valley, Gautam Roy, a six–time winner in Assembly polls, is among those sacked. His supporters took to the streets, enforced a bandh in Hailakandi and have demonstrated their anger at the party leadership. Clearly, there is already dissident activity in the Barak Valley, something that can give the Congress a bad time during the polls in view of the growing influence of opposition parties like the BJP and the AIUDF in the area.
The ‘change’ in the Assam Congress began with senior leader Anjan Dutta replacing Rajya Sabha MP Bhubaneswar Kalita as the Pradesh Congress president. Dutta was always thought to be close to Gogoi but, of late, he has emerged as a big power centre within the Assam Congress. One fails to understand as to why the PCC president had to announce the mes in Gogoi’s new team on Thursday, a day before the swearing–in ceremony. After all, a ministry reshuffle is a chief minister’s prerogative! The usually–shrieking local television media has already seen a motive in Dutta’s sudden activity and has accused him of teaming up with one of Gogoi’s close confidantes, Rokybul Hussain, to make a dash at the chief minister’s chair, should the Congress pull off a victory in 2016. Gogoi, of course, sought to brush off such suggestions by saying he was happy that Assam has an active Congress president in an election year.
Despite the odds, the Congress believes it had an advantage in 2016. That, of course, if the BJP fails to secure a clear majority of its own in the 126–member Assam Assembly. In that scerio, even if the BJP emerges the single largest party, it may not be easy for it to form the Government. That’s because, while the Congress may be easily able to forge an alliance with the AIUDF and others, the BJP may be denied the support of a large single block like the AIUDF. These, of course, are theoretical calculations and poll arithmetic is certainly a different ball game altogether.