Hours before counting of votes began on Thursday, Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi visited Kamakhya, the holiest of Hindu shrines in the east. He had a stopover at Bura Jame Masjid, the city’s oldest mosque, on his way back.
But the gods did not answer his prayers as the saffron surge ended 15 years of Congress rule on his watch.
The 81- year-old Gogoi, known for a genial smile, blunt approach and political acumen, was confident of retaining power for a record fourth consecutive term. He believed the Congress had been cleansed of tainted leaders who joined the BJP, especially his de facto second-incommand Himanta Biswa Sarma who revolted and left.
But a possible loss worked in his subconscious after in-house surveys indicated the Congress did not do well in the 65 seats that went to the polls in the first phase across eastern and southern Assam.
The old warhorse had backed his intuition, as he had done in the past three assembly elections. He turned down suggestions from poll strategists to work an alliance with regional parties and project a younger face as chief minister.
“I respect the verdict of the people, and I hope they get the change they sought,” Gogoi said after his party’s exit became clear.
He said a couple of months ago that the 2016 polls would be his last, and that he might step down as chief minister after two years if the Congress managed to pull off a win despite antiincumbency.
Gogoi has not spelled out his plans but Congress insiders said it was too early for him to retire. “He has the responsibility of handing over the baton to his successor, since he is not keen on fighting the next election,” said a Congress leader who didn’t wish to be named.
The chief minister asserted the Congress “does not nurture anyone as leaders emerge from the masses”. But he did take a few names as his probable successors — PCC president Ajan Dutta, former MP Paban Singh Ghatowar and trusted lieutenant Rockybul Hussain are among them.
Political commentators didn’t read much into the suggested names, saying it would be tough for Gogoi to choose between son Gaurav, a Lok Sabha member, and others. “One has to note that Gaurav’s promotion bred dissension in the Congress, which lost Himanta to the BJP and eventually Assam,” analyst Dileep Chandan said.