In 1969, Indira Gandhi decided to elevate the Youth Congress, then a department in the All India Congress Committee (AICC), to a frontal organisation of the party. She nominated ND Tiwari as the first president of Youth Congress and Tarun Gogoi, then a lawyer and municipal board member in Jorhat, was one of its early recruits. Gogoi got a Congress ticket from Jorhat in the 1971 election and went on to become a six-term parliamentarian, also serving as a minister in the Narasimha Rao Cabinet from 1991-1996.
Tarun Gogoi passed away on November 23 at a Guwahati hospital where he was admitted on November 2 for post-COVID-19 complications. He was 86-years-old.
Gogoi’s rise in the Congress ranks was slow, but steady, with stalwarts such as Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed and Sarat Chandra Singha dominating the party in his early days. Recognition came sooner for many of his contemporaries, like two-time Chief Minister Hiteswar Saikia, Anwara Taimur, Santosh Mohan Dev and BK Handique even as Gogoi had to patiently bide his time and opportunity.
Having never lost an election, Gogoi had decided against contesting the 1984 Lok Sabha election by deferring to the call of the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) to boycott elections till some settlement to the foreigner’s issue was reached.
Gogoi had to play second fiddle to Saikia in state politics even after a term as Pradesh Congress Committee President (PCC) when Saikia came back as Chief Minister a second time after his short stint as Mizoram Governor. Saikia passed away in 1996, towards the end of his second term as CM, and in the late nineties Gogoi was in his second stint as PCC chief.
Congress won the 2001 Assembly elections trouncing the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP)—Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) combine and it was finally Gogoi’s turn to take over as Chief Minister at the ripe age of 65. He went on to win two more terms and left office only after the 2016 loss as the state’s longest-serving Chief Minister.
Bringing a semblance of normalcy and sense of stability to Assam during his three terms was Tarun Gogoi’s single-biggest achievement. When he took over the state in 2001, the decade-long militancy led by the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) was at its peak. Although he took his own time to tackle the menace, things were brought under control gradually. It also helped that the ULFA was chased out of Bhutan in 2003 and the friendly Awami League won the elections in Bangladesh in 2008 to bring a cross-section of rebels to the negotiating table.
His comeback in the 2006 election wasn’t without a hiccup. True to Assam’s erstwhile character of revolving door politics, that election had thrown up a hung verdict, with the Congress winning a dozen fewer seats than the halfway mark. But, with Independents and the Left parties by his side, Gogoi retained his chair and emerged stronger to lead the party to a landslide in the 2011 assembly elections.
Things started going wrong only in 2014 in the Narendra Modi wave as the Congress could win only three out of 14 seats in the general election. Himanta Biswa Sarma, Gogoi’s trusted lieutenant since his early days as Chief Minister and Assam’s high-profile health and education minister, raised a banner of revolt and demanded a change of leadership ahead of the 2016 elections, but was snubbed by then Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi. Sarma left the Congress in a huff and checkmated Gogoi’s plans to tie up with a weakened AGP to lead the BJP to a famous win. The rest is history.
With Assam once again going to polls early next year, Gogoi had chalked out plans to draw up a ‘grand alliance’ with perfume baron Badruddin Ajmal’s All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) and the others. But he couldn’t see through that despite being active in the political arena before getting infected with COVID-19.
Gogoi was among the few regional satraps who kept the Congress relevant in states even after the weakening of the central leadership, but unfortunately for the Congress, the next line of its politicians in Assam, led Gaurav Gogoi and Leader of Opposition Debabrata Saikia (son of Hiteswar Saikia), are both heirloom politicians.
A Congress Working Committee (CWC) member at the time of his demise, Tarun Gogoi will be remembered for ushering in an era of peace and economic growth during his tenure. His picture in a lawyer’s robes, which he donned after three decades at the age of 82 to argue against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in the Supreme Court, will linger on as an enduring image.Anand Kochukudy is a political commentator. Views are personal.