DATELINE Guwahati /Wasbir Hussain
During the past 15 years, starting 2001, the Opposition in Assam was weak to the extent that it failed to perform its primary role within and outside the State Assembly—that of a watchdog on the Government’s functioning. The Congress had a field day, winning the next two elections, in 2006 and 2011. That the Congress was routed this time, the moment a viable and strong Opposition emerged on the scene in the form of the BJP, indicates the fact that the Tarun Gogoi government had failed to meet the expectations of the people of Assam. For the record, the Congress and its one-time ally, the BPF, together had a strength of 90 in the 126-member Assembly at one stage.
This time, too, the ruling alliance comprising the BJP, AGP and the BPF together enjoys a strength of 86 in the 126-member Assembly. This means, the tally is almost the same as that of the Congress-BPF alliance at one point in the past 15 years—that of 90. The Congress, which now is the main Opposition party has 26 members and the AIUDF 13. The question arises—will Assam have a weak opposition yet again? Indications are that the Opposition is going to be weak and may not be able to work in tandem because the Congress and the AIUDF actually battled each other during the polls after having failed to reach a pact on a possible alliance.
I find the Congress strategy peculiar—when the party is strong with a majority, it obviously elects its strongest man or woman as the Legislature Party leader. But when the party is down, it goes for someone whose leadership capabilities are untested! It should be otherwise because when the party is down it requires someone proven or strong to get it back on track. Having clutched on to his position as CLP leader for 15 years, Tarun Gogoi this time refused to hold that post outright obviously because his party got a battering. What about the other so-called powerful Congress leaders—Ajanta Neog, Prab Gogoi, zrul Islam and some others? Well, either the party decided to give them a pass or they themselves wanted to opt out of the race for the position. After all, the party is not in power this time!
The CLP leader’s post therefore went to Debabrata Saikia, a low profile Congress MLA, and son of Assam’s high-profile former Chief Minister Hiteswar Saikia. Debabrata, as expected from the leader of the main opposition party, said the Congress would play the role of a ‘constructive opposition’ and keep a strict vigil on the doings of the new government. A strict vigil actually is very important to keep the government and its ministers on track. The state saw in the past few years several ministers of the Gogoi Cabinet turn extremely arrogant. Some of them appeared to have been hit by governce fatigue, possibly an impact of holding on to the same portfolio for more than a decade! Such ministers need to be pushed and pulled in order to shake them up and work to fulfil the promises made to the electorate.
It has been 12 days since the BJP-led government of Sarbanda Sonowal had assumed office. During the past 12 days we have seen the following: (1) shutdown of the illegal check gates on Assam’s highways that were sources of illegal cash collection from motorists (2) sudden on surprise visits by ministers to offices under their ministries to see if the employees are on duty etc (3) a review by the Chief Minister of the NRC update process and an assessment of the law and order situation (4) an expected demonstration of his governce style by Education Minister Himanta Biswa Sharma when he went to the school in Betkuchi from where Sarfaraz Hussain got the first position in the HSLC Examition and announcement of grant both for the school and the topper himself, and (5) a demonstration to the people of Assam of the new ministers’ firm belief in astrology and vastu! Team Sarba actually cannot afford to rest on its victory. After all, they are recipients of the aspiratiol votes of Assam’s youth.