All’s well with Assam Congress, says Mohsina Kidwai

All India Congress Committee (AICC) General Secretary Mohsina Kidwai on Wednesday rubbished all speculation regarding a challenge to Tarun Gogoi’s position within the government and the Congress in Assam saying in Guwahati that “nothing is wrong” with the party in the state. Kidwai, who is in charge of the party’s affairs in Assam, paid a hasty visit to the state after 37 Congress legislators flew to Delhi recently to meet Sonia Gandhi, in what was reportedly a show of resentment against Gogoi. Kidwai’s endorsement could give Gogoi a much-needed respite in his feud with the party president in Assam, Paban Singh Ghatowar, said to be instrumental in the uprising against Gogoi. On the electoral front, the latest developments could give the Congress an opportunity to get its house in order before the forthcoming Guwahati Municipal Corporation polls scheduled for September-October this year.
While Kidwai’s statement has come as a breather for Gogoi (who, following the MLAs’ visit to Delhi, had to undertake the unpleasant task of explaining his performance before party chief Sonia Gandhi, in the presence of Kidwai), what Wednesday’s developments are unlikely to do, however, is bring about a lasting solution between Gogoi and Ghatowar, who has rarely missed an opportunity to put the chief minister on the defensive. Gogoi’s only consolation in this has been the opposition Ghatowar has over the past months faced from Prithvi Majhi, speaker of the state assembly, and, more importantly, a respected member of the tea labourers’ community, which Ghatowar also represents.
The anti-Ghatowar lobby, active in the Upper Assam’s tea belt, has lately mounted pressure on New Delhi to replace the Upper Assam strongman with Prithivi Majhi as the Lok Sabha candidate for the prestigious Dibrugarh constituency. Ghatowar is at present the sitting Congress MP from the constituency. According to party sources, of the 14 Congress MLAs from Upper Assam, at least 10 are in favour of Majhi’s candidature. Majhi’s name was recommended by Congress legislators with active support of the Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangh, the apex body of the tea labourers' community. “The building up of a strong opposition to the APCC president would be detrimental to the Congress performance in the Lok Sabha polls,” said a Congress MLA from Upper Assam, speaking on conditions of anonymity. “He should be replaced.”
Seizing the opportunity, Gogoi is reported to have extended his support to Majhi, sending a letter of recommendation to Sonia Gandhi in this regard. Though the Congress high-command is yet to arrive at a decision, party sources say New Delhi is unhappy with Ghatowar’s style of functioning. The main reason for the opposition to the Congress chief is being attributed to his antagonising a section of Congressman from Upper Assam during the last assembly elections. Ghatowar allegedly encouraged too many candidates to try for Congress tickets. As many as 22 candidates applied for the Tinsukia LAC during the elections, spending large amounts of money, only to be denied tickets. In a similar fashion, there were at least 18 applications submitted for the Dibrugarh constituency, eight for Margherita, five each for Duliajan and Naharkatiya respectively.
Earlier, the clash between Gogoi and Ghatowar had resulted in the Congress unit at the prestigious Barhampur constituency having to deal with two presidents in its office, each claiming to be in charge, and one backed against the other by Ghatowar and Gogoi respectively. For now, however, for short a time it may be, its advantage Gogoi in Assam.

By Bijoy Shankar Handique (newsfiledelhi@sify.com)