Assam Assembly Elections | There is a post-CAA Assam; people are insecure, says Gaurav Gogoi

Congress MP Gaurav Gogoi addresses a public rally on the banks of the Brahmaputra River in Guwahati on February 13, 2021.   | Photo Credit: Ritu Raj Konwar

Senior Congress leader and Kaliabor MP Gaurav Gogoi speaks to The Hindu at his Guwahati residence on the last day of campaign in Assam about the party’s poll prospects, the angst within ranks about the alliance with Badruddin Ajmal’s All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) and the Congress’ stand against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA).

The campaign has come to a close, in your assessment how far has the Congress come from the time the campaign initially started?

I am quite satisfied with the campaign for many reasons. One, we have had a unified campaign, there was coordinated messaging, and we have been supportive of each other. We did not get distracted with the BJP’s campaign focusing only on issues relevant to us and people of Assam like price rise, corruption, unemployment. We have come a long way in terms of our social media. And overall, it was a very disciplined campaign. And yes, we have come a long way. This is the first election that we are fighting without the wisdom and leadership of my father (Tarun Gogoi). In fact, he is the one who thought of the grand alliance in early last year, especially during the Rajya Sabha elections where the Congress and the AIUDF came together to send a prominent anti-CAA journalist Ajit Bhuyan to the Upper House. It gave us a lot of confidence that there was a pre-CAA Assam where the parties kept distance with each other, my father was at the forefront of maintaining distance from parties like the AIUDF. And there is a post-CAA Assam, where the people are insecure and anxious and therefore they are happy to see political diverse parties come together on an anti-CAA platform.

But there is a lot of angst within the party about this alliance with the AIUDF with many leaders feeling that in the long run this will harm the Congress. And your father too once had famously said, “Who is Ajmal” (Badruddin, AIUDF president)?

I want to correct the misconception that my father was against the alliance, that is not true. Secondly, last year in September, we had a core committee meeting in which we passed a resolution that we will go for an alliance with like-minded parties, that would include the AIUDF and other parties. Of course, whether we should have an alliance or not can be debated and which is acceptable in Congress party. But let's just say we have gone through an extensive period of debate before reaching a conclusion in January of this year where we announced the grand alliance agreeing on the common agenda. Cracking the seat-sharing was the easy part. Just keeping it together, ensuring some basic dos and don’ts, understanding the common principles and so on is more important.

Why didn’t you contest from your father’s constituency of Titabor?

My father was not planning to contest the 2021 elections because of his health. He had mentioned to me that the next election from Titabor has to be fought by someone from Titabor, he insisted on having his successor from Titabor. I think as a son I fulfilled my late father’s wishes. Even though the Congress party asked me repeatedly to contest, I felt I owed it to my father to respect his wishes. And we have picked a very good candidate in Bhaskarjyoti Barua, he is not a proxy candidate or the Gogoi family’s nominee. And I worked in the constituency, keeping the troops together.

Would it have been better if the party went into polls with a Chief Ministerial face?

After the demise of my father, it was virtually impossible for anyone to fill his shoes as the one leader who can take everyone along. The responsibility of keeping the party united and focused on putting a strong election campaign rests equally on all our shoulders whether it is the Congress Legislative Party leader Debabrata Saikia or State president Riipun Bora, MPs, ex-MPs. No single person can fill late Tarun Gogoi’s shoes, the vacuum is too big. And we all have shouldered the responsibility together.

Why did the Congress take so long to own up the anti-CAA narrative?

I think it was a bold step for Rahul Gandhi and the Congress party to make the CAA as part of our poll plank right at the beginning and to put it in the right in the centre of our campaign. This step sent out a message that Assam voters need not feel disheartened and to grudgingly accept the CAA because of the Centre’s whim. Seeing the Congress take up the issue, they know that if we are elected to power, we will constitutionally challenge the CAA. And as far as delay is concerned, most of the last year was lost in the pandemic, the political activity had declined because we were more focused on COVID-19 relief. And immediately after the lockdown, the pinch of inflation coupled with unemployment was so acute, especially here in Assam, that it remained our focus. We are the only national party which mentioned opposing the CAA in the 2019 manifesto and Rahul Gandhi is the only national leader who took a stand on it.

But it was the Congress that was leading the charge of the anti-CAA agitation. Today we see two political parties — Asom Jatiya Parishad and Raijor Dal — born out of the agitation, who are not even part of the grand alliance. Wasn’t that a mis-step?

During the anti-CAA agitation of September-November 2019, the Congress was the only political party that was against the CAA. These two parties that you talk of came into being just a few months ago. One of them is yet to get its symbol. I am not sure if they have their act together. But at the same time in the concept of having a grand alliance, we welcomed these two parties, they choose to stay outside of it, we still feel that we can form the government with or without these parties. We remain the main bulwark against the CAA which the Centre is trying to impose on Assam.

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Printable version | Apr 22, 2021 10:56:17 PM |

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