M A I N   N E W S

The Last Word
Tarun Gogoi
An uncommon commoner
His common touch, winning smile and commitment to governance gave Gogoi a third term as CM in a state that is among India’s most troubled
Bijay Sankar Bora

HE SAW Jawaharlal Nehru from close quarters when he was a Class III student. In school he declared that he wanted to be the Prime Minister. The childhood dream came true in a different form as he became Chief Minister, not once, not twice, but three times.

Tarun Gogoi, the Congress Chief Minister of Assam, is rustic and plain-speaking. He is also a shrewd political player who has weathered many a storm to script an electoral victory in a state that was once the hotbed of militancy. He led the party from the front to a third astounding poll victory, overcoming the complex socio-political equations and aspirations of different social groups. Opposition parties had vociferously raised the issue of corruption and scandals regarding appointments in several departments, including the police, education and Assam Public Service Commission (APSC), but he still won another term.

Hanhiram (ever-smiling man), as he is referred to by many, was born to Dr Kamaleswar Gogoi and Usha Gogoi at Rangajan Tea Estate, near the historic eastern Assam town of Jorhat, on a Thursday in the spring of 1936. He governed Assam with passion after he led the Congress to power in 2001, when the state was plagued by the worst-ever financial crisis and law and order problems. He had inherited an empty treasury, an atmosphere of fear psychosis triggered by spells of “extra-judicial killings” of the kin of dreaded militants belonging to the ULFA from the previous Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) regime. But Gogoi was unfazed.

Gogoi’s key asset has been his ability to communicate with the masses through his plainspeaking and his commitment to uplift the rural masses, given that over 70 per cent of the state’s population lives in rural areas. He often says, “Assam can’t prosper unless our villagers are smiling.”

He is a rare breed of politician who hardly cares about what - good or bad - the media is writing about him and doesn’t believe in managing the media and creating a coterie of people around him. “It is the job of the media to write about the government and its functioning the way they want to. I am more concerned about what I am really doing on the ground for the people. People are the best judge,” he says, and he has proved wrong all speculation in the state’s media about a possible verdict against him.

Tarun Gogoi was one of the first Congressmen in Assam to announce his loyalty to Mrs Indira Gandhi when the Congress split in 1969. She saw him as a leading young leader of the party in the 1970s and attached him with Rajiv Gandhi in the capacity of an AICC joint secretary.

He says he will now focus on solving the perennial problem of flood and erosion that has broken the backbone of the state’s economy besides brining in the hawkish factions of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) and National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) to the negotiating table.

“The magic behind our landslide poll victory is development and sincerity. People voted us to power, based on our performance in the last 10 years of our rule,” Gogoi says.

Gogoi attributes his success to his ability to speak his heart out and not siding with any lobby within the party throughout his political career. His stand-alone status within the party, in fact, helped his ascent. He was a consensus Congress candidate from the Jorhat Lok Sabha seat in 1971, the year of his foray into Parliament to which he was elected on five more occasions later.

He has worked under a host of stalwarts, including Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, Bisnuram Medhi, and Bimala Prasad Chaliha. No wonder he has managed to bring so many militants groups in the state, including factions of the ULFA and NDFB, for negotiations during the last 10 years.

He was put in charge of the Assam Pradesh Congress Committee as its president in 1986 during a difficult time when the morale of Congressmen was down in the wake of onslaught of the famous students’ movement against illegal infiltration from Bangladesh. He helped the party come back to power in 1991. The call to lead the APPC again came from the high command in the late 1990s after the demise of Hiteswar Saikia. Gogoi led the party to a poll victory again in 2001 Assembly polls and since then there has been no looking back for him.

“The responsibility on us is even more challenging this time. We need to be sincere, aggressive, and determined to make Assam self-reliant and work for the all-round economic development of the state. Insincerity on part of any of new ministerial colleagues would not be tolerated. We need to further stress on sectors like education, healthcare, roads and infrastructure, human resource development, agriculture, and tourism,” the Chief Minister said.

An RTI activist, Akhil Gogoi, who heads an NGO called Krishak Mukti Sangram Samity (KMSS), brought up the alleged Rs 1,000-crore scandal in the North Cachar Hills Autonomous District Council (NCHADC) which is governed under the Sixth Schedule. As the public organisations went up the arms against the government over the alleged scam, the Gogoi government asked the CBI to investigate. The residence of a close relative of R. H. Khan, a government official and prime accused in the scam, yielded Rs 13.85 crore. “Anyone proved guilty will be punished,”Gogoi says.

His small but happy family has been Gogoi’s source of inspiration. Dolly, his graceful wife, has always been around to take care of her busy husband. He takes pride in his two children. Daughter Chandrima is married to a technocrat working with Google in California and settled in the US. His 28-year-old son Gaurav, who has a Master’s in Public Administration from New York University, is now trying to cut his teeth in state politics under the shadow of his illustrious father. Dolly Gogoi and Gaurav took care of electioneering during the last election in Titabor constituency to give respite to Tarun Gogoi who has been busy hitting the campaign trail in the rest of the state, despite undergoing three heart surgeries during 2010-2011. Allegations made against them by the RTI activist backfired, and as they were found to be untrue.

His wife and children often tell Gogoi to call it a day in politics because the mounting workload is not in tune with his age and health. But with the passion to make Assam one of the most developed state, Gogoi is hardly thinking of quitting now. And why should he as long as his health permits him to tee off the stress on the lush green golf course and occasionally dance to the rhythm of Bihu dance.





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