Rahul Gandhi-Gaurav Gogoi: The Jodi that’s breaking Congress

Rahul Gandhi-Gaurav Gogoi: The Jodi that’s breaking Congress

More than ensuring a safe seat for Gaurav Gogoi and others, Rahul Gandhi and his lieutenants in Assam should now focus on putting up a united team, which is not compromised. Otherwise, no seat will remain safe ever.


The Congress party in Assam seems to be on the verge of an implosion. Not that the party’s state of affairs is anyway different in other parts of the country. In less than three weeks after Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra (BJNY) had circled across the state, Karimganj North MLA Kamalakhya Dey Purkayastha, working president of Assam Congress, resigned from his party post, and expressed support to the BJP-led state government’s “development agenda”. Another Congress MLA Basanta Das made similar statement. With this, the number of Congress MLAs, who are still with the party but support the BJP government, has increased to four. Earlier, two MLAs Sashi Kanta Das and Siddique Ahmed had extended their support Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma’s government. 

However, such strange positions taken by their MLAs is the least of the party’s problem. The Assam Congress is turning into a battle ground over the issue of probable candidates for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. The state unit is already divided into three warring factions led by state unit President Bhupen Kumar Borah, Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader Debabrata Saikia and Samaguri MLA Rakibul Hussain. Add to that the suspense caused by Gauarv Gogoi’s uncertainty over his preferred seat to contest the poll. The existing constituency of the Lok Sabha MP from Kaliabor has been eliminated in the delimitation exercise conducted last year. With some changes in demography—allegedly reducing the share of minority votes and thus adversely impacting Gaurav’s possibility of a win—and geography, this constituency has been renamed as Kaziranga. 

As expected, he has decided not to contest from Kaziranga and is eyeing minority dominated Nagaon constituency even though majority of the Congress leaders wanted him to fight from Jorhat, a constituency his father and former chief minister Tarun Gogoi had represented twice. There is a buzz within the party that Gaurav and deputy CLP Hussain have been lobbying hard with high command to field CLP Saikia from Jorhat, making Gaurav’s switch to Nagaon smoother and look logical.

Nagaon’s incumbent Congress MP Pradyut Bordoloi, however, is in no mood to vacate the seat for Gauarv. He has categorically made it clear to party’s brass that he must not be made a scapegoat to accommodate the former CM’s son. If sources are to be believed, his pleas are most likely to be ignored, as Gaurav has the blessings of Rahul Gandhi. “The national dynast is blindly backing the state dynast and together they are destroying Assam Congress,” says a Congress MLA. If Gaurav makes his way to Nagaon, there could be another exit from Congress and the candidate is anybody’s guess. 

Uncertainty prevails over the candidature of Barpeta and Dhubri constituency too. Hussain is planning to contest from Dhubri, a constituency with nearly 80 per cent Muslim population. A Congress stronghold since 1970s, this seat has been occupied by AIUDF chief Badruddin Ajmal for last 10 years. While Hussain hopes to turn the table this time, he may face challenge from party colleague Abdul Khaleque, incumbent MP from Barpeta. Khaleque too wants to shift to Dhubri because delimitation exercise has made Barpeta a difficult seat for Congress. The tussle between Hussain and Khaleque may bring more bad news for Congress.

Some Congress insiders claim that Chief Minister Sarma has proposed a deal to APCC chief Borah and Hussain—they should make things easier for BJP to win from Nagaon and Kaziranga and he would look after their interests. This alleged proposition has sparked doubt and mistrust among Congress workers who now feel that the party may not win a single seat in the upcoming election. One MLA even claims that Hussain has been plotting to become the CLP leader, replacing Saikia, and the BJP is supportive of this move because of Hussain's long-standing friendship with Chief Minister Sarma. It also helps the BJP project the Congress as a party led by Muslim leaders. 

What has made matters worse is that the national leadership of Congress is doing little to curb these internal frictions. In fact, Rahul Gandhi’s BJNY, instead of giving a boost to the party’s preparedness before the Lok Sabha polls, has exposed the fault lines of the party further. For instance, Purkayastha alleges that during the BJNY, Rahul did not have time to sit for a joint meeting with the 24 Congress MLAs of the state while the Gandhi scion spent hours meeting “insignificant leaders of some unknown parties and organisations”. Das recalls how he could manage to spend 3-4 seconds with Rahul after Gaurav facilitated the “meeting” with great difficulty. “He has no empathy or regards for his own party colleagues. I lost respect for him,” says Das.

Even Bhupen Borah was reportedly upset as BJNY didn’t stop at Harmoti, a village under his assembly constituency Bihpuria. The state chief of Congress hoped to showcase his strength as nearly ten thousand people had gathered there. When asked, Borah declined to comment on this issue. Similarly, BJNY route avoided Nalbari where MLA Diganta Barman hoped to welcome Rahul with 5,500 supporters. Several Congress leaders felt that Rahul’s presence in Nalbari, known as an RSS bastion, would have sent a strong message to party workers and people. Instead, Rahul chose to focus more on minority-dominated areas, allegedly influenced by inputs from Jakir Hussain Sikdar, MLA from Sarukhetri. When asked, Sikdar declined to comment. Hussain, however, dismisses such allegations saying that each MLA had different role during the BJNY, and they all had the chance to interact with Rahul personally.

Several other pitched battles are also being fought within the Congress. The instructions from the AICC and APCC to all Congress MLAs not to participate in any government meeting has upset many who believe that such blanket boycott creates hurdles in fulfilling their commitment to their voters in their respective constituencies. “We do need to engage with the government to get developmental work done in our constituencies. It’s not about engaging with the BJP. We have to deal with the administration. CM Sarma is not very responsive to Opposition MLA’s proposal for developmental work. Our internal conflicts are making things easier for him,” says Saikia.
Borah seeks to make light of such apprehensions saying that such lobbies exist in every party. Hussain even claims that BJP’s internal power struggles are worse than those of Congress. “There is a clear rift between former CM Sarbananda Sonowal’s lobby and current CM Sarma’s team,” says Hussain.

Unfortunately for Hussain and his colleagues, it’s his party that has been washing dirty linen in public. On February 16, Assam Congress sacked Dadu Taye, district president of Golaghat and a close aide of Gaurav Gogoi, after a photograph had surfaced showing Taye greeting Chief Minister Sarma with a gamocha in a public event on February 14. While Taye claims that the meeting was personal and related to his wife’s job, the emergence of the photograph on February 15 when Gaurav was in Golaghat caused massive embarrassment to the Lok Sabha MP. On his part, Taye expressed disappointment over the treatment meted out to him, merely on the basis of a photograph, despite being the most trusted lieutenant of Gaurav for more than 15 years. “Why has no action been taken against Roselina Tirkey, Rekibuddin Ahmed and Jakir Hussain Sikdar whose photographs with the state BJP president and CM Sarma were also widely circulated? There was no action against cross-voters in the Vice President and Rajya Sabha elections, despite Bhupen Borah having knowledge of these MLAs,” says Taye.

The ousted Congressman claims that he has been a victim of political manipulation. He reportedly had communicated to Gaurav about his unwillingness to cooperate with Tirkey, a likely candidate for the Kaziranga Lok Sabha constituency. If Taye is to be believed, the block president, mandal presidents, and other senior leaders from Kaziranga want Gaurav as the candidate from the constituency, a proposal that has irked the incumbent MP.

With Lok Sabha polls less than two months away, it’s not time for Congress leaders to settle scores over personal discontent, that too against juniors. No tangible attempt has been made by either national or state leadership to stop the exodus from Congress that seems to just have begun. Since Rahul’s departure from Assam on January 25, two Congress leaders have joined the BJP, and two have extended support to the government. There are reports that five Muslim Congress MLAs may soon switch to the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), BJP’s coalition partner in the government. More than ensuring a safe seat for Gaurav Gogoi and others, Rahul Gandhi and his lieutenants in Assam should now focus on putting up a united team, which is not compromised. The first step is to win the trust of the workers and boost their morale. Otherwise, no seat will remain safe ever.

Edited By: Nandita Borah
Published On: Feb 18, 2024