For someone who has been one of the harshest critics of the 12 of his 15 years of rule as Assam chief minister, today like most of the people of Assam, we only have fond memories of him.
That was Tarun Gogoi, the longest-serving chief minister of Assam who not only ruled Assam during the darkest period of state's history but also had seen it coming out of the tunnel.
Tarun Gogoi was never the best chief minister of Assam. But he would always be remembered as the most grounded chief minister with a carefree attitude which used to disarm even the greatest of his opponents.
Wave of dissident activities, string of corruption charges against his cabinet colleagues, a full-blown multi-pronged insurgency, two major health scares, half a dozen ethic issues miraculously could not touch him during his 15-year tenure, partially due to some smart politicking and some social engineering.
He not only remained the people's chief minister but till the last he was the most popular political leader, all parties combined. Politics and his failures apart, even the staunchest critics of Gogoi would accept that he had allowed the Opposition and the critics the space, so scarce under the present regime in Assam and India.
After a long, but not so significant stint at Parliament beginning in 1971, first from Jorhat and then from Koliabor, he became the Union food processing minister in the Narasimha Rao cabinet but returned to Assam in 1996 to take the reins of the Congress after the end of the Hitswar Saikia era.
He was, however, almost usurped by the veterans of the state Congress in 1996-2000 period. But after the first win in 2001, he checkmated each of them and cemented his place as the undisputed Congress leader of Assam.
In the initial years he consolidated his position pitting the young Turks of Assam Congress against the veterans and went on to win three terms with some luck, some social engineering and divided Opposition.
Till the last he remained one of the strongest regional satraps of Congress who the Congress high command could not dictate. As the BJP in Assam was in great expansion mood post-2016 poll, it was he who even at the advanced age continued to mount frontal attack and successfully brought back Congress to the centre stage of Assam politics with the Citizenship Amendment Act(CAA) issue.
Throughout the 15 years of his regime, it was a miracle that he walked through the minefield of issues and he did not step on any one although several times he almost stepped on them like the APSC job-for-cash scam and third attack of dissidents.
But the grand old man survived all of them and left behind a legacy, who ironically is now in the Opposition camp. He is Himanta Biswa Sarma , once his blue-eyed boy and most trusted confidant . Sarma might have jumped the boat to BJP but he owed everything to Tarun Gogoi for making him what he is today.
(The author is a journalist)
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