Congress faces fresh rebellion in Assam and Maharashtra

Narayan Rane quits Prithviraj Chavan's govt while Tarun Gogoi's education minister also put in his papers

Liz Mathew &, Makarand Gadgil
Updated22 Jul 2014, 09:55 AM IST
The rebels&#8212;Narayan Rane in Maharashtra (in picture) and Himanta Biswa Sarma in Assam&#8212;want the chief minister&#8217;s chair for themselves, said a Congress leader. Photo: PTI<br />
The rebels&#8212;Narayan Rane in Maharashtra (in picture) and Himanta Biswa Sarma in Assam&#8212;want the chief minister&#8217;s chair for themselves, said a Congress leader. Photo: PTI

New Delhi/Mumbai: A day after it parted ways with ally National Conference in Jammu and Kashmir, the Congress faced a fresh bout of rebellion with a minister each from Assam and Maharashtra, two states ruled by the party, resigning and demanding new chief ministers.

In Assam, state education minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who is spearheading dissent against chief minister Tarun Gogoi, resigned from the state government on Monday while in Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan suffered a setback after industries minister Narayan Rane put in his papers.

Both rebels, according to a Congress leader who declined to be named, are aspiring to take over as chief ministers.

For the Congress, which has not yet recovered from the shock of a humiliating defeat in the recent Lok Sabha elections, in which the party’s seat count dropped to 44, from 206 in the 15th Lok Sabha, these developments have come as a further shock.

The Congress is in power in 11 states.

Rane, who unsuccessfully tried to engineer a change in leadership in the state government before the assembly elections due in October-November, submitted his resignation on Monday. He has so far maintained that he is leaving only the government, not the party.

In the recent Lok Sabha elections, the Congress party’s tally in Maharashtra declined from 17 in 2009 to two. Blaming the party’s poor performance on Chavan’s leadership, Rane and other leaders had demanded his removal. Rane, who joined Congress from Shiv Sena in 2005, claimed that the Congress leadership had promised him the post of chief minister.

However, Mohan Prakash, Congress general secretary in charge of Maharashtra, on 11 July said that state elections will be fought under Chavan’s leadership.

In Assam, Sarma, who has been seeking the removal of Gogoi, claimed that 38 of 77 Congress legislators in the 126-member assembly are with him. “I have submitted my resignation as minister to the governor (J.B. Patnaik) as I have protested Gogoi’s leadership,” he told reporters in Guwahati after quitting.

“About 38 MLAs went with me to the Raj Bhavan but it was my private journey. I have no confidence in Tarun Gogoi’s leadership. We are fighting for our party and under Gogoi’s leadership Congress will come down to single digit in 2016,” he said.

Although he claimed that there was no threat to the party’s government in the state, Sarma said the governor had been informed that all the 38 MLAs who went with him will play the role of a constructive opposition in the assembly.

While Congress-ruled Karnataka and Kerala, along with regional party-ruled states, withstood a popular wave in favour of the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the internal difference in the state units contributed to the reverses in Maharashtra and Assam.

In Assam, the Congress won only three of 14 Lok Sabha seats.

The party leadership has not yet reached a conclusion on a decision on the leadership change in two states, according to a party leader familiar with the developments. In Maharashtra, although both Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi are not against replacing Chavan, ally Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has not agreed on any name, he said, wishing to remain unnamed.

“The NCP wants Chavan to continue. They are also fine with (former home minister) Sushil Kumar Shinde, but he is not unanimously accepted by the Congress leaders,” a leader from Maharashtra said, also declining to be named.

Although a majority of Congress leaders back a leadership change in Assam, Rahul Gandhi is opposed to it. Mallikarjun Kharge, who was sent to Assam as central observer earlier this month, has submitted his report to the party leadership after meeting all the party legislators and state unit office bearers. Kharge, according to another person familiar with the development who refused to be identified, did not support a leadership change.

liz.m@livemint.com

PTI contributed to this story.

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First Published:22 Jul 2014, 09:55 AM IST
HomepoliticspolicyCongress faces fresh rebellion in Assam and Maharashtra

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