Get Gold, not Old

By Kaushik Deka

By tomorrow the people of Assam will know the names of 18 ministers who will manage the affairs of the state for the next five years. It’s a very small number to be chosen from 90 MLAs—78 Congress and 12 BPF—and that’s where lies the biggest challenge of Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi. He has silenced his critics by returning to power with absolute majority when many experts—and novices such as I—had predicted maximum 45 seats for the Congress. The next big task is to form a Cabinet without much noise.
Though Congress High Command usually takes such decisions, this time Gogoi has been given a free-hand to choose his Cabinet. Digvijaya Singh, who was the poll in-charge for Assam, has announced that he will not interfere in allotting ministries. Singh has a reason. The former chief minister of Madhya Pradesh understands that Gogoi knows the political intricacies of Assam better than anyone else. It’s no small achievement to return to power for third consecutive term, something that Singh could not achieve in his own state.
This free-hand will have positive and negative consequences for Gogoi. The good thing is that he will have a Cabinet of his choice. But those who will be deprived of a ministry may create trouble for the chief minister. The Bodoland Peoples Front is seeking two berths and it’s very important for Gogoi to keep his pre-poll ally happy. Any dissidence from the Bodo party will mean resurgence of the separatist movement for Bodoland.
This means Gogoi has only 16 chairs for his partymen. It’s a problem of plenty.
It has already been declared that first-time MLAs will not be made ministers. Around 15 MLAs under the age of 40 have entered the 12th Assam Assembly for the first time. Some of them such as Jayanta Malla Baruah and Pallav Lochan Das have defeated political heavyweights in their first electoral battle. Yet, these young turks will remain happy with their legislative powers only.
Then there are some performing MLAs who have remained unbeaten since 2001. The unanimous feeling among such MLAs is: “If we don’t get ministry even in our third term, the people of our constituencies will assume we have no importance in the party. They will not vote for us again.” Their patience may run out this time and they may pose serious threat to the health of the Government.
Speculation is rife that Gogoi will include all the veterans of the party in his Cabinet. While the inclusion of octogenarian Dr Bhumidhar Barman is certain, Govinda Chandra Langthasa and Sarat Barkataki may also make it to the final list. This will surely earn Gogoi goodwill among his contemporaries, but the party may lose a great chance to connect with the youth. In the 2006 Cabinet, it was the young brigade who did the most hard work, while there was nothing much to write home about the oldies. The chief minister must remember that people have voted for development and peace and, therefore, only the performing ministers of the last Cabinet should be given another chance.
Credit must be given to Gogoi that he launched several young and new faces in 2011 battle. This came as a welcome change to young voters—even the old ones were tired of non-performing “assets”—and the result said it all. It will be criminal waste of such a huge mandate if Gogoi sticks to his old war horses. It’s the time to reward the performers and gift a youthful and energetic ministry to the people of Assam.
Otherwise, the voters, who are desperate to see a change, may change the party in 2016.