Is Assam Congress inching towards revival?
After the 2016 Assam Assembly poll debacle, the Congress party which is the largest opposition to incumbent BJP both at the Centre and in the State, is putting all its cards on the table for revival.
Earlier this month, Assam Pradesh Congress Committee (APCC) had formed the Assam body of All India Professional Congress to connect better with the employed masses while former Chief minister Tarun Gogoi, party president Ripun Bora and other senior members will rally on the update process of NRC – an issue which is so sentimentally dear to the people of the state.
The party, that has not spent much time as the opposition since independence, barring two terms during AGP rule and one and half years (1978-1979) under Janata Party’s rule, received the biggest blow in the 2016 Assembly elections when the coalition of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and Bodo People’s Front (BPF) swept to majority in 86 constituencies out of the total 126. Congress managed only 26 seats.
The grave however, was dug a lot earlier, to be precise, in 2009 when the first hint of dissidence surfaced within the party. The then health minister (currently holding the same charge along with finance, tourism and several other under the BJP reign) Himanta Biswa Sarma, was the then Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi’s blue-eyed boy who turned bête noire by openly going against him. The discontentment allegedly spearheaded by Sarma brewed over the next five years and in 2015, the “master strategist” resigned from the party, joined BJP and shouldered it to victory in 2016. A lot of eminent members of Congress followed Sarma’s lead and most of them are holding important portfolios under the current regime.
Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s wave and fueled by Sarma’s impeccable strategy, BJP had an easy victory of 60 seats, while its allies AGP and BPF chipped in with 14 and 12 seats respectively.
The dissidence didn’t remain confined to the Assembly elections and soon after BJP came to power in May last year, the Congress received three more blows – the elections to the North Cachar Hills Autonomous Council, Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council and Guwahati Municipal Corporation– as most of the Congress candidates had joined the incumbent BJP.
Since then, APCC has been attempting to limp back to its earlier glory days, but the paths are being marred by misfortunes. A month after the defeat in the elections, the Congress lost its “dynamic” chief Anjan Dutta, who died on 17th June at the age of 64, leaving the party with a leadership crisis.
Ripun Bora took charge, but despite several attempts, most of the party activities, according to many supporters, remained confined to conducting press conferences – Bora and other party members at the APCC headquarters at Rajiv Bhawan and Gogoi who seldom visits the headquarters post the defeat, at his residence at Koinadhora.
Now, the party insiders claim that the “wrong decisions”, referring to the BJP’s two landmark decisions, Demonetisation and implementation of Goods & Services Tax (GST) gives the much needed lease of life to the Congress.
“The decisions have rattled the common people. They have realized that the ‘Congress-free India’ might not be a good idea and the BJP’s ‘Acche Din’ (good times) isn’t that good after all. As the saying goes - strike the iron when it is hot - we need to act now and expose the BJP jumlas (false promises),” the insider said.
An attempt to connect with the ‘reform victims.'
Calling the professionals, many of whom had lost jobs or incurred losses due to the two landmark decisions of the government, as “reform victims,” the Congress had, on October 14, launched the Assam chapter of All India Professionals' Congress (AIPC) to connect with professionals and give them a voice to make "positive" political changes.
Gogoi tore into Prime Minister Narendra Modi's economic policy, saying it was in a mess because the government had ignored professionals. "All sectors have suffered because of wrong policies. We do politics to provide relief to the people. But we need professional advice for all-round prosperity and to create jobs. Today there is so much joblessness and farmer distress. There is economic paralysis because the government was not able to use the services of professionals. This body will help us connect with them,” said Gogoi.
The motive behind the move was to provide a platform to professionals to engage with like-minded peers and political leaders for progressive politics, APCC chief Bora said. Bora was accompanied by former chief minister Tarun Gogoi and his son Gaurav Gogoi (who is an MP) during the launch.
“The centre’s many decisions have left the economy of the country and the job sectors in shambles. A lot of people went jobless as the companies could not afford them. The government has laid out these decisions as reforms, but for the first time in India, the reforms, instead of helping, are affecting people,” Bora said to G Plus.
The launch was held at India Club, a city landmark which has sportspersons, businessmen and bureaucrats among others as its members, to make the AIPC members "feel" at home. The choice of the venue and the presence of senior Congress leaders conveyed that the party meant business.
The AIPC is headed by Congress MP and former diplomat Shashi Tharoor, who has said its work will support the party's political goals.The East Zone chapter of the AIPC is headed by Gaurav while Bolin Bordoloi, a former tea executive, will head the Assam chapter. Senior Congressman Pradyut Bordoloi, who heads the APCC media department, also attended the launch.
Gaurav said, “So far, 59 people have joined the AIPC online. Besides connecting with professionals seeking a positive political change in the country, the Assam chapter will look into the unemployment problem in the state and region, engage with stakeholders on economic policy and mentor and back meritorious rural youth.”
According to inside sources of the party, within a week of its launch, AIPC has registered more than 100 members.
The AIPC is one of the three new departments floated by the AICC. The other two are the All India Unorganized Workers' Congress and the All India Fishermen Congress. Assam has a state body for all of the above.
Congress move to oversee NRC update ‘Our Brainchild’
The Assam Congress had, on October 18, held a high level meeting at former Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi’s residence regarding the fresh confusion over identification of “original inhabitants” triggered after NRC coordinator Prateek Hajela told the Supreme Court that of the 48 lakh people whose panchayat certificates were invalidated by the Gauhati High Court, 17.4 lakh people have been identified as original inhabitants.
The party accused the BJP of trying to delay the NRC update exercise in a bid to keep the foreigners’ issue alive for political gains and had chalked out an elaborate plan involving all the district, panchayat and ward units to monitor the development and act upon if required.
A party insider also said that the meeting decided that since the exercise is being monitored by the Supreme Court, the party will have to go “legally.”
Clearing the party’s stand, Bora said, “Our stand has been very clear. All those who entered Assam before March 25, 1971 must be included in the NRC, no Indian citizen should be left out and no foreign national should be included in the updated NRC.”
When contacted, Gogoi said, “NRC update was our (Congress) brainchild. We have as much contribution as the Asom Gana Prishad (AGP) and All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) has. We will go to every extent to preserve and protect it.”
The party insider said, “Congress will file petitions questioning the figures as it believes that many of those who were detected “illegal” are actually indigenous people. The state must make sure that no indigenous people get excluded from the NRC.”
Gaurav Gogoi addressing media during the launch of the Assam chapter of All India Professionals Congress