Rahul Gandhi and Gaurav Gogoi ensured Congress defeat in Assam
The two were chiefly responsible for the bitter tussle between Tarun Gogoi and his most trusted deputy, Himanta Biswa Sarma.
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There will be several claimants to BJP’s victory in Assam, but the chief scriptwriters of this victory are actually two Congressmen —vice president Rahul Gandhi and Lok Sabha MP from Assam, Gaurav Gogoi, who also happens to be son of chief minister Tarun Gogoi.
The script was written in 2011 with the arrival of Gaurav in Assam politics. His political ambition to inherit the party in the state after his father resulted in a bitter tussle between Tarun Gogoi and his most trusted deputy, Himanta Biswa Sarma.
In 2011, if Congress came back to power with a massive mandate, despite a huge anti-incumbency, it was because of a performance-driven government led by Gogoi senior and his young team, which included Sarma and his close friend, Rakibul Hussain.
Sarma’s stint as health minister saw a turnaround of the health sector in the state, earning him pan-Assam popularity. He was also the trouble-shooter-in-chief for the party. But he was most valued in the party because of election management — he was credited with the success of Congress victory in Assam in 2006 and 2011, and in other northeastern states between 2010 and 2013.
He was the blue-eyed boy of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and her political secretary Ahmed Patel. Of course, the owner of three TV channels was also Mr Moneybags for the party.Immediately after landing in Assam, Gaurav went on an all Assam tour, aping what his vice-president Rahul Gandhi had done.
Immediately after landing in Assam, Gaurav went on an all Assam tour, aping what his vice president Rahul Gandhi had done during his initial years in politics. He returned with a huge sense of insecurity, thanks to Sarma’s popularity across the state. This was the beginning of the rift between his father and his deputy, and it continued for the next four years as Guarav realised that Sarma had emerged as the natural inheritor of Gogoi’s legacy.
This tussle for power was the only highlight of the third term of the Gogoi government. Development vanished from the agenda. What remained was dismissive statements from the chief minister and broken and laughable Assamese speeches from Gaurav Gogoi. If the father saw increase of garbage in Delhi as a sign of prosperity, the son explained the importance of knowing the difference between "male fish" and "female fish".
This in-fighting could have been stopped right at the beginning and, in fact, was almost brought to an end in 2013 by Congress president Sonia Gandhi. But Rahul Gandhi had different plans in mind.
Influenced primarily by the suave, English-speaking Gaurav, who made a habit of sending emotional mails to Rahul, the Congress vice president was in no mood to accept any of Sarma’s demands — 54 Congress MLAs had demanded Gogoi’s replacement. He did not even accept Sarma’s final offer — making him the party president in the state.
Eventually, Sarma joined BJP in July 2015 and did for his new party, what he had been doing for the grand old party — winning elections. Of course his former party made his job easier. Non-performance of several of Gogoi’s cabinet ministers forced them to bite dust in this election.
The voters needed an alternative, which could offer development and sense of security from alleged illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. The combination of Modi and Sarma and supported by the clean image of Sarbananda Sonowal emerged as that alternative.
In 2005, Sonowal got the infamous IMDT Act, which was seen as a protection for illegal immigrants, repealed in Supreme Court. He was hailed as a hero across the state.
Sarma’s first masterstroke was forming a smart alliance with AGP, which prevented division of Hindu votes. The two parties have come together earlier too but saw good results this time due to effective seat sharing.
The next was bringing former Congress ally BPF into the fold. The continuous attack on AIUDF, a party seen as protector of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, revived the xenophobia, which had reached its height in 1985, and also forced Congress not to tie up with AIUDF, fearing consolidation of Hindu votes for the BJP.
The wave that Sarma created for BJP with over 200 rallies across the state saw the party winning surprising constituencies, such as Margherita. These are places where BJP has little organisational existence and the BJP-AGP alliance candidates had a tainted past, to say the least.
Of course, this wave was backed by Sarma's performance — between 2012 and 2014, as education minister, he gave jobs to nearly two lakh teachers through a transparent examination system. So his promises sounded convincing. That he owned a news channel and a newspaper certainly helped his propaganda.
But the Congress vice president was not ready to acknowledge any of this till the day Sarma joined BJP. On that very day, when Sarma was sitting with Amit Shah, he received incessant calls from Rahul Gandhi who wanted to "chat" with the then dissident Congress leader. This incident sums up what afflicts the Congress today.