Succession battle in Assam govt intensifies

The state is abuzz with rumours about succession struggle between two youth leaders and serving ministers in the Tarun Gogoi-led government.

Guwahati: Even as the Congress party`s rule in Assam is set to enter the 12th consecutive year, the state is abuzz with rumours about succession struggle between two youth leaders and serving ministers in the Tarun Gogoi-led government.

According to senior Congress party sources here, the struggle to emerge as number two in the cabinet and seal the succession issue has intensified to such an extent that both the ministers organised major public events of their respective ministries at the same time yesterday and invited Gogoi to be the chief guest.

The 76-year-old Gogoi obliged both even as it meant that people in one of the programme were left waiting for his arrival and guests at the other place had his company only for around half an hour.

The youth leaders are Minister for Health, Family Welfare and Education Himanta Biswa Sarma and the Minister for Energy, Industry and Commerce Pradyut Bordoloi.

Both have been part of Gogoi`s ministry since 2001, when he first formed a government in Dispur.

The Congress has been in power uninterruptedly since then and won the assembly polls for the their consecutive time in May 2011.

"It is basically a game of one-upmanship. Both are young, ambitious and also effective administrators but neither is willing to see the other emerge as a favourite and would love to see himself in the saddle," a senior party leader said.

While Sarma could not be contacted for his comments, Bordoloi refuted any suggestions of discord. "All news about discord are mere speculation. All of us are united behind Gogoi and his leadership is undisputed and we will not allow any such plans (leadership change)," he told a news agency.

Bordoloi added, "There is no question of any succession issue and Gogoi will remain the Chief Minister and the Congress party in Assam will march ahead under his leadership.".

Sarma and Bordoloi have been known to be rivals for a long time.

The situation took a sharp turn late last month after news spread that Sarma had met Congress President Sonia Gandhi and suggested Gogoi`s name as party nominee for the Vice President`s post after the term of incumbent Hamid Ansari expires in August.

Sarma, even while accepting that he had met Gandhi, refused the charge that he had suggested Gogoi`s candidature, so as to make his own way to the Chief Minister`s chair clear.

Meanwhile, Sarma loyalist and MLA Pijush Hazarika, who is also president of the Assam State Youth Congress, launched a tirade against Bordoloi and publicly termed his tenure as Energy minister as a failure.

Both Gogoi and Assam Pradesh Congress Committee chairman Bhubaneshwar Kalita rebuked Hazarika for his comments.

The internal power struggle, compounded by Gogoi`s advanced age, has heightened tension within the party with leaders apprehensive of erosion in support during the coming panchayat polls in early 2013.

Congress is way ahead of other parties sounding the electoral bugle in February this year itself and plans a grand panchayat sammelan in Guwahati in December.

"A united Congress can make a mincement of all other parties. But if people see two of our most talented and promising youth ministers engaging in a public display of one-upmanship, it can create hurdles for the party itself," a senior state Congress official said.