Three-time Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi.(PTI)
Three-time Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi.(PTI)

Tarun Gogoi, man who led Assam from violence to peace dies at 84

The Assam government declared a three-day state mourning for the departed leader. His body will be taken to his residence in Guwahati and to Srimanta Sankardeva Kalakshetra on Tuesday for the public to offer their respects. The last rites will be performed in Guwahati on Thursday.
By Utpal Parashar | Hindustan Times, Guwahati
UPDATED ON NOV 24, 2020 07:21 AM IST

Veteran Congress leader, former Union minister, and three-time Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi, who rose from grassroots politics to steer the restive northeastern state towards order and development after decades of bloody insurgency, died on Monday evening in Guwahati of Covid-19 complications. He was 84.

Gogoi, the seniormost Congress leader in the state was leading preparations for the next assembly elections due early next year, contracted the infection on August 25. He remained at the Guwahati Medical College Hospital (GMCH) for two months, was discharged on October 25 after testing negative for the virus, but readmitted on November 2 after complaining of breathlessness.

His condition deteriorated on November 21 after multi-organ failure, and he was put on invasive ventilation. He died at 5:34 pm, Assam health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma told journalists, adding that doctors found his heart had stopped. He is survived by his wife Dolly, daughter Chandrima, and son Gaurav, a two-time Lok Sabha MP.

“His long tenure in office was a period of epochal change in Assam….his passing away marks the end of an era,” tweeted President Ram Nath Kovind.

The Assam government declared a three-day state mourning for the departed leader. His body will be taken to his residence in Guwahati and to Srimanta Sankardeva Kalakshetra on Tuesday for the public to offer their respects. The last rites will be performed in Guwahati on Thursday.

“Shri Tarun Gogoi ji was a popular leader and veteran administrator, who had years of political experience in Assam as well as the Centre. Anguished by his passing away,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi described Gogoi as one of the tallest leaders of the party who was admired and respected for his extraordinary wisdom, vision and ability. “With his long years of experience as an MLA, an MP, a central minister and chief minister of Assam, he was someone to whose unfailingly wise counsel and advice we could always turn to,” she said.

First as a Lok Sabha member between 1971 and 2001 and then as the state’s longest-serving chief minister between 2001 and 2016, Gogoi intimately associated with Assam’s politics for nearly half a century. A soft-spoken leader with an affable governance style, Gogoi was admired across the political divide, and tribute poured in on Monday from his erstwhile political rivals.

“Tarun Gogoi was a people’s leader who had great contribution in Assam’s political and public sphere. Even though we were in Opposition parties, we shared a wonderful rapport and he was a guiding figure,” said current CM and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Sarbananda Sonowal.

Sarma, a protégé of Gogoi who left the Congress in 2015 over political differences, said his mentor’s absence creates a vacuum in Assam’s politics that will be difficult to fill. “I was lucky to have worked under him. He rescued Assam from a period of darkness & led it for 15 yrs ensuring a new phase of development,” said Sarma.

Gogoi was born on April 1, 1936 at Rangajan Tea Estate in Jorhat district and trained as a lawyer from Gauhati University. After a few years as an advocate, he took a plunge into politics in 1968 when he was elected as member of Jorhat municipal board. Three years later, he got elected to the Lok Sabha for the first time from Jorhat.

Gogoi was re-elected to Lok Sabha for two more terms from Jorhat, in 1977 and 1983. Between 1983 and 1990, he held several senior posts in Congress including the party’s general secretary as well as Assam Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) president. Gogoi got elected to the Lok Sabha for the fourth time in 1991 from Kaliabor, a constituency he represented two more times in 1998 and 1999 respectively. Gogoi’s son Gaurav now represents Congress from Kaliabor.

The veteran politician was also a Union minister between 1991 and 1995 handling the portfolio of food processing ministry in the PV Narasimha Rao Cabinet.

After a long stint in Delhi, Gogoi returned to politics in Assam at the turn of the millennium and led the Congress government for three consecutive terms between 2001 and 2016. He was representing Titabar assembly seat at the time of his death.

When he took charge in 2001, Assam was emerging from decades of insurgency and economic uncertainty with its infrastructure in a shambles and deep sectarian divides threatening development. Gogoi is credited with tamping down on local agitations, boosting tax revenues and soothing tensions through his middle-of-the-road consensus-building style.

Gogoi developed a reputation as an approachable and pragmatic leader who opposed the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and claimed the National Register of Ciitzens – which left out 1.9 million people from its rolls in 2019 – was his brainchild, though he picked holes in its implementation.

In his second term, the government battled scams but was also buoyed by several insurgent groups deciding to negotiate a peaceful settlement. Building roads and creating employment opportunities for young people were two key schemes that helped shore up support for the Congress.

An avid reader, Gogoi was fond of gardening and watching sport.

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