When Tarun Gogoi became chief minister for the first time in 2001, Assam was reeling under the aftereffects of two decades of violent agitations and insurgencies. Gogoi had two battles to win: Rebuild Assam from the wreckage of the past and rebrand the Congress as an inclusive party. He was successful in doing both — he won the next two elections to become the state’s longest-serving CM and repaired Assam’s fractured society and crumbling economy.
Gogoi was successful because he recognised the importance of maintaining social peace even in the face of grave provocations. He engaged with different insurgent groups — ULFA, Bodo parties — and many militants joined the mainstream. He also skilfully negotiated with the Centre for financial support. Assam did see bomb blasts and communal violence under his watch, but Gogoi presented himself as a leader with a healing touch. Under Gogoi, the Congress managed to overcome the perception that it was inimical to regional and ethnic interests, the legacy of its political positioning during the Assam Movement. Gogoi championed the Assam Accord and believed that a National Register of Citizens offered a solution to the state’s longstanding complaint about illegal migration. He had a nuanced position on the matter and refused to frame it in religious terms. Gogoi was in the forefront when Assam took to the streets against the amendment to the citizenship Act.
Long years in politics and government — Gogoi joined the Congress under Indira Gandhi, served in the Narasimha Rao ministry, and was trusted by both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi — had, perhaps, convinced him that aggressive measures are unlikely to resolve problems that stemmed from the legacies of colonialism and Partition. Gogoi’s method was to let wounds heal and build on the positives. Assam, and the country, benefited from this approach.