As Assam woke up to a new chief minister in waiting, Congress eyes kept returning to the man on news channels and in newspapers swathed in green gulal, alongside Sarbananda Sonowal. As reality started to sink in, many Congress leaders could not help wondering if the BJP would have the last laugh had that man, Himanta Biswa Sarma, the man they say possesses extraordinary “Chanakya buddhi (brain of Chanakya)” not left the party due to “neglect of the high command”.
There is almost no one in the Congress today who does not believe that Sarma would have made a difference. There was truth in his allegations against Gogoi, says Habul Chakrabarty, who lost from Dhekiajuli. “He had a meeting with all of us before he went to Delhi to present the picture before the party leadership, and he was right when he raised his voice because the chief minister had stopped listening to us. It was the neglect by the high command in Delhi that made him leave the party. Had he been with us, it would not have been so easy for BJP,” he told The Indian Express.
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Former Speaker Pranab Gogoi, who won from Sivasagar, talks about the acts of “omission and commission on part of government” which earned the wrath of the people. He won’t elaborate what they were, but there is near-unanimity in the Congress that Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi in his last term was a different man from the one who ruled from 2006-11. In his last term, they say, Gogoi had become inaccessible, prone to trust feedback of bureaucrats rather than party leaders.
“All was well up to 2011 but after that, strangely, we stopped introspecting…the government lost touch with the people,” says Akhil Ranjan Talukdar, who lost from Ratabari to Kripanath Mallah, one of the MLAs who had quit the party with Sarma. “Whatever differences he had with the CM, and what was done or not done to resolve them, is a party matter. All I know is that the loss (Himanta’s exit) was irreparable. But he should not have left the party…the Congress made him. Who does not have differences? But you do not walk out just like that. He must have been planning it for a long time…maintaining relations with the RSS.”
“Polarisation”, is Dr Ardhendu Dey’s one word reply to a Congress defeat postmortem. He says it was the “very bad role” AIUDF played in polarising voters and cutting into Congress votes that made the ruling party collapse at the hustings. Dey, sitting MLA of Hojai who lost to BJP’s Shiladitya Dev in a constituency which has the ancestral home of AIUDF chief Badruddin Ajmal and therefore a substantial support base for his party. “Himanta could have prevented that (damage by AIUDF). His Chanakya buddhi (brain) is unbelievable,” Dey says of the man who is said to have been the key in Congress’s poll liaison with parties like AIUDF and AGP.
Anil Raja, general secretary of Assam Pradesh Congress Committee, says: “For 15 years Gogoi did not reshuffle his ministry. We kept telling him that ministers had become arrogant, anti-incumbency is building up, but he did not bother. The people were starting to get angry, as they could not meet their representatives. There was a syndicate that was operating under the aegis of Congress leaders. All this cost us in the election.”
Among the six Congress MLAs to win in the constituencies that went to polls in the first phase of elections is Debabrata Saikia from Nazira. He says it was a deficit in campaign that let BJP steal the wind off Congress sails. “They built a negative perception about the government but we neither countered that effectively not highlighted work done by the government. That campaign was orchestrated by Himanta – he was the head of the BJP campaign committee; it was his brains…. We would have certainly been better off had he not been there, but there are other factors too,” Saikia says.
The disillusionment with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, now beginning to set in in other parts of the country, he says, has not yet reached Assam. “We are an emotional people, everything happens slowly (in Assam). What added to all this was the fact that the CM became dependent on bureaucrats. He became inaccessible – even we could not meet him,” Saikia adds.