In Assam’s fascinating demographics, everyone is a minority. But education and opportunity are challenging this collective grievance. Why and how the BJP-RSS still don’t get it.
If you’ve known Assam’s third term chief minister Tarun Gogoi for any length of time, you’d know him as an interviewer’s nightmare. Cautious and tongue tied, rarely completing a full sentence, or expressing a coherent thought, and not only if you were a non-Assamese speaker. His English is actually fine, even better now that he has a new British daughter-in-law.
At 78, however, he is a changed man. So full of energy, so voluble, bursting with laughter, even giggling, in fact so youthful as to justify his first name. He cannot stop talking, pulling out spread-sheets, excel sheets, letters, all to show what a wonderful job he has done as chief minister. In what should probably be his last term as chief minister, in spite of his popularity, he can afford to preen. “See my shopping malls,” he says, “every brand is there. Somebody is buying them. Somebody must have the money to buy them. Who can deny that my state is booming?” In many ways, it is.
Assam’s growth rate in many areas compares robustly with Gujarat and Bihar. Its farm sector has had a Madhya Pradesh-like revival, making it paddy surplus. If success in the state was a determinant of a leader’s ability, he is the Congress party’s Narendra Modi. Except, it isn’t in the Congress culture to acknowledge this. He is also doing brilliantly well in this election. Assam is the only state the Congress is tipped to dominate, defying the pan-national disaster staring at them. But it is because he is so overwhelmed with the prospect of success that it is tempting to startle him.
“Tarun da, you must really feel the weight of very special responsibility on your shoulders,” I ask, deadpan.
“Why do you ask? We will win this election. It is going so well,” he says.
“Dada, if the NDTV opinion poll, which predicts 13 seats out of 14 for Congress in Assam, is accurate, as it might be,” I tell him, now cheekily, “you must realise that you have the onerous responsibility of delivering to your party more seats than might Uttar Pradesh and Bihar”.
For once, the old fox is at a loss for words. He cannot contradict this, nor can he endorse this. And definitely, he does not want to say, don’t trust opinion polls. “No, no, no, don’t say like this. Our party will do well everywhere,” for once, he is brief in a response. And if he tries to suppress a faint smile of satisfaction, it doesn’t work. At this moment at least, he won’t exactly get 10 upon 10 for his acting skills. Now you know what we meant yesterday when we talked about why Gogoi is delighted to have his continued…