TO DELHI, VIA GUWAHATI
Speculation has begun on who will become Assam chief minister if Gogoi becomes vice- president
Rumours are swirling in political circles of Assam about a possible change of guard in the Congress- led state government. Congress President Sonia Gandhi met two Cabinet ministers from the state in the last week of April, triggering speculation that the party high command is planning to replace Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi. Front- runners for the race are: Health and Education Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma; Industries & Commerce, Power and Public Enterprises Minister Pradyut Bordoloi; and Panchayat & Rural Development and Environment & Forest Minister Rockybul Hussain. Party sources say the rumours were started by the Bordoloi camp to create a rift between Sarma and Gogoi.
Ever since the 76- year- old Gogoi came back to power for the third consecutive term with a landslide victory, his name has been doing the rounds as the country’s next vice- president. Though Gogoi has time and again dismissed such rumours and categorically said that he was not interested in “that honourable position”, party sources told INDIA TODAY that the Chief Minister has made up his mind about who will succeed him.
“There is no question of Gogoi quitting in the near future. But if he has to go, the person most likely to replace him is Hussain. He is young, energetic and close to Gogoi’s son Gaurav,” says a close aide of the Chief Minister. Being a Muslim, he is considered the best bet for the Congress to prevent the rise of the All India United Democratic Front which emerged as the second largest party with 18 seats in the last Assembly polls. “Hussain is acceptable to the Hindus as he defeated Asom Gana Parishad President Prafulla Kumar Mahanta in the last Assembly polls in 2011,” adds the aide.
On April 21, Sarma met Sonia in Delhi. There were reports in the local media that Sarma recommended Gogoi’s name as the Congress’s vice- presidential candidate to her. But Hussain rubbished the reports. He said that the people of Assam, the Congress Legislature Party and the Assam Pradesh Congress Committee ( APCC) wanted Gogoi to stay in the state. If required, ministers and officer- bearers of the APCC would meet the high command over the issue, he added.
Four days later, Bordoloi also met Sonia and told the media that he had requested the Congress president to allow Gogoi to complete his term. Soon, several Congress ministers and MLAS joined the clamour to retain Gogoi in the state. “The high command doesn’t want to remove Gogoi from the Chief Minister’s post. He has the support of most of the Congress ministers and 57 MLAS,” says former minister and current Amguri MLA Anjan Dutta.
Even Assam Congress President and Gogoi’s bête noire Bhubaneswar Kalita has stood by the Chief Minister and urged party leaders and workers to maintain discipline and come out of petty rumour- based politics. “The party needs Gogoi more than Gogoi needs the party,” he says. A senior minister told INDIA TODAY: “Gogoi’s departure would trigger an intense power struggle which could prove costly in the panchayat and Lok Sabha elections.”
But Gogoi seems sure of his political future. “I don’t keep tabs on who meets whom in Delhi. If party asks me to go, I will go. As of now, I’m committed to the development of Assam,” he told INDIA TODAY.