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Is Congress losing ground in Assam?

Although politicians jumping ship is considered normal, the exodus of Congress leaders ahead of Lok Sabha elections has set the rumour mills abuzz, with the chief minister claiming the end is near for the grand old party, which has ruled the state for the longest period.
Last Updated 02 April 2024, 23:55 IST

Guwahati: With several prominent Congress leaders from Assam having joined the ruling BJP recently, the grand old party seems to be losing ground in the state.

Although politicians jumping ship is considered normal, the exodus of Congress leaders ahead of Lok Sabha elections has set the rumour mills abuzz, with the chief minister claiming the end is near for the grand old party, which has ruled the state for the longest period.

"If I want, I can bring all Congress candidates, barring one, to the BJP. Even Congress state president Bhupen Kumar Borah will join the BJP in 2025. By 2026 assembly elections, there will be no Congress in Assam," Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had said recently.

Sarma was referring to Gaurav Gogoi, son of former CM Tarun Gogoi, as the only leader whom he would not bring to the BJP. It was Gaurav's rise in the party that reportedly led Sarma to revolt.

Himanta had given Congress perhaps its biggest jolt in 2015 when he joined the BJP after leading dissidence against Tarun Gogoi. A reported spat during a meeting with Rahul Gandhi, then Congress president, and Tarun Gogoi in 2013-2014, in which Gandhi reportedly refused to replace Gogoi with Sarma as the CM, probably led him to quit the party. It was then, according to BJP leaders, Sarma took a pledge to end Congress one day.

Within weeks, nine of Sarma's close aides followed him into the BJP.

In the 2016 Assembly elections, BJP bagged 60 seats in the 126-member Assembly and formed a government for the first time in the state. Sarbananda Sonowal became the CM and Sarma served as a minister with several key portfolios. Several of Sarma's aides also became ministers. Sarma, who heads North East Democratic Alliance, a forum of BJP and its allies, was credited for making the region 'Congress mukt'.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, BJP's tally increased from seven to nine (out of 14) while Congress and Badruddin Ajmal-led AIUDF bagged three Lok Sabha seats each.
Veteran Congress leader Ajanta Neog, who was another prominent minister in Tarun Gogoi cabinet, stunned many in 2020, when she joined the BJP, a few months before the Assembly polls. Bhubaneswar Kalita, once a Gandhi loyalist, had joined the BJP in 2019 and was elected to the Rajya Sabha.

Sarma's rise

When the BJP came to power in the state for a second time in 2021, Sarma replaced Sonowal as the CM. Sarma's aides Piyush Hazarika, Jayanta Malla Baruah and Neog were given plump posts while Pallab Lochan Das was elected as BJP MP from Tezpur.

In the 2021 Assembly polls, Congress won 29 seats (out of 126 it contested). Six MLAs joined BJP since then and 16 are Muslims. "Only a few Muslim MLAs will remain in Congress," Sarma said.

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(Published 02 April 2024, 23:55 IST)

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