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Three-time CM, he was the voice of Assam in Delhi

“He (Gogoi) left this world at 5.34 pm,” Assam’s Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma announced outside the Guwahati Medical College and Hospital (GMCH).

Written by Abhishek Saha | Guwahati | Updated: November 24, 2020 12:35:43 pm
Former Assam CM Tarun Gogoi. (Express photo: Renuka Puri)

TARUN GOGOI, former Union MoS, three-time chief minister of Assam, six-time Congress MP, and one of the Northeast’s most prominent political leaders, died Monday of post-Covid health complications. He was 84.

“He left this world at 5.34 pm,” announced Assam’s Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma outside the Guwahati Medical College and Hospital, where Gogoi had been undergoing treatment after testing positive on August 26.(Ex-Assam CM Tarun Gogoi dies: Follow LIVE updates here)

Gogoi was administered plasma therapy when his condition worsened, and he went on to test negative. But he continued to suffer from health complications, and was on non-invasive ventilation since November 2 and invasive ventilation from Saturday.

A lawyer by education and training, Gogoi, who was born in April 1936 in Jorhat district of eastern Assam, was elected for the first time to the Lok Sabha in 1971. In the 1990s, he served as Union Minister of State. In 2016, in what turned out to be his final election, he was elected as MLA from Titabor.

“Tarun Gogoi was a colossal politician not only for Assam and the Northeast but also the whole country. From 1971, he became the voice of Assam in Delhi,” said Wasbir Hussain, author of Gogoi’s authorised biography Tarun Gogoi: The Inside Story of a Blunt Politician.

“He was handpicked by Indira Gandhi, and when the Congress split in 1969 he sided with Mrs Gandhi. If you go through his early speeches as a young Congress MP, he powerfully articulated Assam’s issues in Parliament. He was so protective of Assam’s interests that he sometimes ended up defying the party line,” said Hussain.

In 15 years of Gogoi’s rule, Assam left behind decades of turmoil, according to political commentator Sushanta Talukdar. “Gogoi believed that peace and development should go together. During his tenure as CM, peace returned to Assam. Moreover, the state made considerable progress in education and health,” he said.

“He ended the spate of secret killings in Assam,” Talukdar said, referring to the murders of a number of close relatives of ULFA members by unidentified and mostly masked men in 1998-2001. In 2001, the Congress under Gogoi made the killings a major election issue against the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP).

“He believed in the rule of law. Under him, the unified command structure functioned very well — and that led to the return of peace in the state. If a district SP tried to do something questionable, he would not support it. As a chief minister, Tarun Gogoi never asked anyone to do anything illegal or favour anyone,” said M G V K Bhanu, a retired 1985-batch IAS officer, who had served under Gogoi as additional chief secretary to the Chief Minister.

Read | A six-time MP, Gogoi served as CM for 15 years

Gogoi led the Congress to victory in Assam thrice, overcoming several challenges. “He was vested with the responsibility to lead the Congress in Assam at a time when the party was at its weakest. This was in 1996. No one was willing to even rent out premises to the Congress. But Tarun Gogoi did it, leading the party to victory at the 2001 Assembly polls. And yes, he went on to remain Chief Minister for 15 years in a row, winning the next two state elections as well,” said Hussain.

According to Bhanu, what set Gogoi apart was that “he never cared for building personal wealth” while at the helm. “In 2001, when he became the Chief Minister, he was not an MLA. A businessman came to his office with a briefcase and said he wanted to contribute for the by-election. Gogoi sir laughed, and said, ‘Why do I need this money? I will win anyway’. He returned the money,” Bhanu said.

Incidentally, Bhanu contested and lost the 2019 Lok Sabha elections on a Congress ticket from Tezpur in Assam.

It was under Gogoi’s watch that work on preparing Assam’s National Register of Citizens (NRC) started with a pilot project in 2010, which got aborted. In 2012, Gogoi’s government published the “White Paper on Foreigners Issue”, a report on illegal migration in the state and steps taken against it. In 2013, a full-fledged NRC exercise was started on the directions of the Supreme Court.

Remembering Tarun Gogoi: His rare pics from Express archives

Following his government’s ouster, Gogoi, who was a golf enthusiast, remained active in public life, holding press conferences and attending an all-party meet this year to map out post-Covid challenges for the state.

In December 2019, after a gap of more than three decades, Gogoi appeared before the Supreme Court as a lawyer to assist Congress leader P Chidambaram in representing petitions challenging the Constitutional validity of the Citizenship Amendment Act.

On Monday, BJP leader Sarma’s presence at the hospital during Gogoi’s final moments captured the relationship between the two. When he was in the Congress, Sarma was a senior Minister in Gogoi’s Cabinet, and looked upon his senior colleague as a mentor.

But both were engaged in a fierce political war of words in the last few months over the Congress’s alliance with Badruddin Ajmal’s AIUDF for the state elections next year. In August, Sarma said: “At his age, instead of seeking Ram and Krishna, Tarun Gogoi is searching for Ajmal.”

And yet, Sarma was personally involved in overseeing Gogoi’s treatment over the past few months, visiting the hospital on multiple occasions. Gogoi left behind wife Dolly, daughter Chandrima, and son Gaurav, who is a Congress MP.

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