A year to forget for the Assam chief minister

Guwahati, Dec. 27: It was a TV visual which ironically conveyed the despair and desperation of a man who had suddenly lost the grip he had on things for the most part of 11 years, of a man losing his way in a political and administrative maze of his own creation, of a man trying to project himself as a victim of circumstances.

It showed Tarun Gogoi publicly snatching the microphone from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at Kokrajhar on July 28 to only utter "I didn't say, I didn't say", to distance himself from his statement holding the Centre responsible for the delay in deployment of central forces to control the Kokrajhar riots that left nearly 100 people dead, five lakh displaced and communities polarised like never before.

As and when Gogoi calls time ' or is asked to call time by the Congress high command ' on what has been a chequered political innings, he will look back with some regret, maybe even a self-deprecating grin, not only on the "snatching" incident but also on 2012, which has turned out to be his annus horribilis.

The halo he had acquired after winning his third straight Assembly elections diminished during the testing July-September period when the administration was scrambling to restore order in the riot-battered BTAD.

It is not that Gogoi has never encountered setbacks in his over five-decades-long public life but he has managed to ride out the storm. He was and is a known survivor. But 2012 has been quite different in that most of his actions ' or the lack of it ' came under intense scrutiny and questioned. He appeared vulnerable, clueless and jaded and the worst seems far from over as the year draws to a close.

Before and post-riots, there were other headline-grabbing incidents such as his handling of the vice-presidential poll issue. He not only shot down reported moves by a section of the party to send him to Delhi but also virtually undermined the post as if it were of no importance! The issue also saw him fall out with his hitherto man and minister for all seasons and jobs ' Himanta Biswa Sarma ' even though both present a nothing-is-amiss picture in public. This was followed by the unsavoury GS Road molestation case that attracted national attention for the audacious manner in which a girl was harassed in public ' and in the presence of rolling cameras ' and also for his administration's initial inertia in according the importance the case demanded.

Gogoi's frank admission about police not heeding his advice despite him being in charge of the home ministry and the conspiracy to dislodge him, his flip-flop on a much-needed cabinet reshuffle to give fresh impetus to the stalled and new government initiatives were other instances of a man out of his depth.

All these combined to dent Brand Gogoi. He has, however, survived, but just about it, because he is still seen as Congress's best bet in Assam. He is still widely respected and still has the ability to connect with the masses, say Congress insiders. Yet, that is hardly any consolation for someone who was expected to script a new Assam, pushing hard for resolution of the vexed foreigners' issue, Ulfa, NDFB and ST demand, among others. Instead, he was reduced to just fire-fighting, one crisis after another. For the most part, Gogoi appeared lost without the core team he had nurtured over the years.

The setbacks of 2012 will no doubt resonate in 2013 and if the clock has not already started ticking on his continuance as the chief minister, it will if the panchayat elections throw up not-so-satisfactory results. But the emerging and challenging situation also presents him with an opportunity to leave behind a legacy by making the remaining years of his third straight term his own. There is certainly much to look forward to for Gogoi and Assam.

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