Congress dons poll gear

Guwahati, Nov. 24: The ruling Congress today sounded the panchayat poll bugle by warning the Opposition to get ready for their third straight defeat.

Both Assam PCC president Bhubaneswar Kalita and chief minister Tarun Gogoi, the first and last to address the well-attended workers' rally at the sprawling Khanapara Veterinary Ground here, were more than sure of a hattrick in the rural polls given the "good work" done by the Congress-led government in the state since 2001.

The Congress had won the last two polls by convincing margins. Gogoi, the chief guest at the rally, tore into the "big-talking" AGP, BJP and AIUDF for raking the foreigners issue before the elections but not coming forward to help identify them. He tried to reach out to all the communities by talking about building a greater Assamese society.

"Today's gathering, despite the misinformation campaign against us, proves people's faith in us. It is only growing by the day. We are not afraid of elections and they will be held around January. We will win by a handsome margin but will spare some seats for the Opposition," he said.

Gogoi asserted yet again the presence of a "third force" that does not want peace and progress in Assam, in an oblique reference to the ongoing unrest in Kokrajhar.

As reported in today's edition, the Assam PCC president exhorted party leaders and workers to sustain the winning streak and concentrate more on Opposition constituencies, as the panchayat poll outcome would have a direct bearing on the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

Like DoNER minister Paban Singh Ghatowar, Union minister of state tribal affairs minister Ranee Narah and AICC secretary in-charge of Assam Jayadev Jena, Kalita was also effusive in his praise for Gogoi for ushering in positive changes.

"The message that should go out from the rally is one of peace, progress and unity to ensure victory in the panchayat polls, which will be held very soon," he said, while attacking divisive and anti-Congress forces "out to disturb the country". He, however, did not name any party. Despite the apparent bonhomie and success of the rally, the cracks, which have developed within the party following the reported move by a section to send Gogoi to Delhi as the vice-president and the youth Congress election early this year, were conspicuous.

An insider said, "A look at the dais conveyed a sense of drift. Health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and forest minister Rakibul Hussain, once inseparable, stayed away from each other. Sarma, once the livewire of most party meetings, maintained a low profile. The chief minister's son, Gaurav Gogoi, went around meeting people with Assam Youth Congress vice-president Pranjit Hazarika while AYC president Pijush Hazarika maintained a distance from both." Gaurav had "backed" Pranjit in the Youth Congress poll, which Pijush had won.

"Most MLAs and parliamentary secretaries, too, were disgruntled over ministerial and bureaucratic indifference towards them. Hemo Prova Saikia, CWC member and widow of former chief minister Hiteswar Saikia, was not felicitated like the others on the dais. Most of the leaders appeared to be going through the motions," the insider said, maintaining there was no threat to Gogoi, who remains firmly in the saddle, at least till the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. "It is the differences between the younger leaders that the leadership has to resolve to give the party the momentum it requires before the polls, which the party will anyway win. We need to be seen as one unit. Ensuring this will be Gogoi's major challenge," another insider said.

Cabinet ministers Rakibul Hussain and Nilamani Sen Deka were in charge of organising the rally, sources said.