By Tanuj Dhar
Guwahati, Mar 19 (IANS): It was April 2019, when the campaign for the Lok Sabha election reached its peak. Rahul Gandhi, then Congress president, reached southern Assam's Barak Valley to attend a poll rally to seek votes for party candidates.
Assam's this region accounts for two Lok Sabha seats -- Silchar and Karimganj. Sushmita Dev was fighting from the Silchar Lok Sabha seat, and at that time she happened to be in the inner circle of Rahul Gandhi. Congress fielded a much unfamiliar face, Swarup Das from the Karimganj seat. After landing at the airport, Gandhi became furious to see Das as a candidate. He thought Radhyeswam Biswas, the sitting MP of Karimganj Lok Sabha seat, had been given the ticket.
Actually, Biswas was the leader of the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) and won the 2014 election on that party's ticket. However, discussions were underway that he would leave AIUDF and fight the polls from the Congress party. Biswas was an old Congressman and switched sides when he was denied a ticket before the 2014 polls. The Congress party's top brass was also in favour of giving Biswas a party ticket, but at local level there was resentment and Das was given the ticket instead of Radhyeshyam Biswas.
Rahul Gandhi was the captain of the Congress party's poll campaign in 2019, and he was completely unaware of the development even before coming to the valley to attend a rally. His open displeasure left many state Congress leaders embarrassed, and the tempo of the campaign got badly hit. Congress faced a debacle in Karimganj along with the Silchar seat at that time.
The Congress leaders recounted that incident for many days, and in the previous Assembly election in Assam, Rahul Gandhi attended less number of poll rallies in the state. What is more surprising is that Congress candidates won the majority of the seats in the 2021 Assembly elections where Gandhi did not campaign and instead Sachin Pilot and other leaders attended a good number of poll rallies.
Himanta Biswa Sarma keeps on attacking Rahul Gandhi on every alternate day, not because he had a 'bitter' episode with the Congress leader, but rather because he firmly believes that the Congress cannot be rejuvenated until the party revolves around Rahul Gandhi.
Assam's Chief Minister's latest salvo came a day ago when he took a jibe at Gandhi when the leader was prompted by Jairam Ramesh to correct the course of his speech during a press conference.
Sarma also claimed that Rahul Gandhi will never become a challenger to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the country's top post.
He sarcastically wrote on Twitter, "I feel nothing but sorry for the so called secularists and leftists who harbour high hopes, expecting this man to defeat Hon PM Shri @narendramodi ji and become PM And Jairam seems to be playing the role of Chief Saboteur. Tutoring with mic on...strange."
In the recently concluded elections in Meghalaya, Rahul Gandhi launched a fierce attack on the Trinamool Congress at a poll rally in the hill state, and the two parties locked horns with each other instead of attacking the ruling National People's Party (NPP) and the BJP. The poll outcomes yielded no good results for the opposition, and both parties finished with very few seats.
In private conversations, opposition leaders in Meghalaya claimed that Gandhi's speech rather helped the NPP to consolidate votes in their favour while, in the last leg of the campaign, the Congress and TMC were busy attacking each other. This has widened the gap between the two opposition parties, whereas the state unit leaders of Trinamool in Assam were hopeful for a probable alliance with the Congress before next year's Lok Sabha poll to put up a good fight against Himanta Biswa Sarma and the BJP in the state.
The long march of the Bharat Jodo Yatra may have given Rahul Gandhi some oxygen for his image, but in the northeast, it could not draw votes to the EVMs for him.