“I am a Congressman and will be one till my last breath,” Tarun Gogoi, Assam’s former chief minister and arguably one of the most popular, had once said. He remained true to his words till the very end.
The 84-year old veteran Congressman, who died from post-Covid complications on Monday, was a Nehru-Gandhi family loyalist.
He strode like a colossus in the political arena, leading Assam from the front with his sharp intellect and a blunt demeanour.
The veteran Congress leader was first admitted to the hospital on August 26 after testing positive for Covid-19 and was discharged for a brief period before being admitted again on November 2.
His condition deteriorated on November 21, following multi-organ failure and was put on invasive ventilation.
Gogoi was given dialysis on Sunday. His condition deteriorated further over the past few hours and the hospital where he was admitted said he was “very, very critical”. He breathed his last at the Gauhati Medical College and Hospital at 5.34 pm, state Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said.
He was 84 and is survived by wife Dolly, daughter Chandrima and son Gaurav, a Lok Sabha member.
On assuming the reins of Assam for the first time in 2001, the Congress leader had said he was confident of holding office for five years but never imagined his popularity will ensure he occupied the position for three successive terms.
Credited with bringing the various militant outfits, including the dreaded ULFA, to the negotiation table, pulling out Assam from the brink of bankruptcy and putting it back on the track of development, Gogoi’s three terms in office were marked by many highs and a few lows.
During his third stint, however, he had to face dissidence within the party, which finally resulted in the ouster of the Congress from power in the 2016 assembly elections.
The rebellion was led by his former blue-eyed protege and powerful politician Himanta Biswa Sarma, who was said to harbour chief ministerial ambitions, but the veteran Congress leader steered past all stumbling blocks and continued to hold office by effecting a reshuffle in the ministry.
Shortly thereafter, Sarma resigned from the party and the assembly, and joined the BJP, taking along nine MLAs who were close to him. This dealt a body blow to both Gogoi and the Assam Congress.
Undaunted, the six-time MP stood tall as an opposition leader, raising his voice against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act and issues related to the implementation of National Register of Citizens an exercise that left a large number of people of Assam, particularly Muslims, traumatised.
Days before he was diagnosed with Covid-19, Gogoi was actively holding parleys with opposition parties to form a grand alliance to take on the ruling BJP in the next assembly elections.
Barring sporadic incidents of violence, mostly perpetrated by the NDFB(S), and the Bodo-Muslim conflict, Gogoi’s third term in office was relatively peaceful.
Gogoi took over the reins of Assam for the first time on May 17, 2001 from Asom Gana Parishad and was faced with the onerous task of bringing the state out of the morass of militancy and financial instability caused by a huge debt burden with even government employees not receiving their salaries on time.
He had mentioned in his memoir “Turnaround”, published in 2016, that he knew “in taking oath and signing the register, my first signature as the chief minister, I would be signing a pledge of responsibility. In carrying out my duties, I would be shaping Assam’ss future”.
The Congress stalwart’s initiatives in this direction paid dividends with the party returning to power for the second consecutive term, albeit with fewer seats, and forming a government in alliance with its coalition partner Bodoland Peoples’ Front.
During the 2016 assembly polls, Gogoi addressed the highest number of public rallies and meetings, without batting an eyelid, despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi pointing out on several occasions that he (Gogoi) was “too old and must go”.
A pragmatic politician, who took both achievements and failure in his stride, had said, “When the history of Assam is penned, my three terms will show up both positives as well as negatives. There will be bouquets and brickbats, criticism and acclaim. But I will leave history to judge these years. I, as a son of the soil, am only content and gratified that I could take centre stage in the turn-around story”.