GUWAHATI: Barely three months ahead of the Assam Assembly elections, setbacks continue to plague the Congress in the state, be it in case of varied opinions of the party leaders or defections to the saffron brigade.
Close on the heels of a humbling in the recent Bodoland Territorial Region Council and the Tiwa Autonomous Council elections, the party lost the loyalty of at least two senior party leaders -- Ajanta Neog and Rajdeep Gowala -- to the BJP.
It led to the disrobing of Debabrata Saikia's mantle of the leader of the opposition due to shortage of party members in the state Assembly.
Earlier, party MLAs Pranab Gogoi and Tarun Gogoi passed away leaving the party with only 19 MLAs, two short of the one-sixth the number of total seats in the house.
According to sources in the party, the latest defection is a consequence of intra-party clamour for leadership.
The sources said Neog, a senior and influential party leader, had aspired for the post of the opposition leader in the Assembly and had even moved the Congress Legislature Party with the support of at least 14 MLAs.
Along with Neog, Sarupathar MLA and trade union leader Roselina Tirkey was also speculated to defect to the saffron party. Congress insiders, however, said she was actively working for the party and is unlikely to switch loyalty as speculated.
"She is very much with us. She has been working hard with us after the December 23 meeting, and I am sure, she'll continue to be loyal soldier of the Congress," said a party leader wishing anonymity.
The Congress MLAs and MPs had a closed door meeting regarding election preparation here on December 23.
Asked about reported speculations that some senior minority community Congress leaders were also likely to switch loyalty to the BJP, the party general secretary said: "These are all rumours apparently being spread by the BJP to destablise our party. No one is contemplating any such move. We are all focused on out sole motive to throw the BJP out of Assam and it appears we are on the right track. I am sure, we will get the people's mandate this time."
The loss of opposition leader's status for Saikia has, however, not gone down well with the state party leadership. Party MP Abdul Khaleque said it was not logical to withdraw the post.
"The notification of the secretary is illogical. He has done it under the pressure from the government," Khaleque told newspersons here on Tuesday. The notification, dated January 1, was accessible to the media only on Monday.
On the other hand, the diverse opinions over the alliance with the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) have also, especially after the demise of former chief minister Tarun Gogoi last month, compounded intra-party woes of the Congress as the election nears.
Party leaders such as Khaleque and few others have come out openly opposing the alliance and favouring a more rational "grand alliance", apparently including all parties opposed to the BJP and its allies.
The Congress has already started losing grounds in certain pockets of Upper Assam and the hill districts over the proposed alliance with the AIUDF. The AIUDF currently has 14 MLAs.
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