Sonia Gandhi visits riot-hit Assam to provide the healing touch in relief camps
The recent ethnic violence in Assam, which even triggered clashes in Mumbai and some other parts of India, has alarmed Congress president Sonia Gandhi. An internal report submitted to her hinted at discord in the party’s state unit and attempts by a section of leaders to dislodge CM Tarun Gogoi on the riots issue.Gogoi and his No. 2 in the government, education minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, have been fighting a turf war. In June, much before the ethnic clashes, a section of partymen had floated rumours that Gogoi may be a candidate for the President’s post. And in July his name re-surfaced as a vice-presidential hopeful. Sources close to the CM then denied he was keen to shift to Delhi. Amid such reports of internal war, Sonia acted swiftly and reconstituted the state party unit on Saturday to neutralise factionalism.But still fearful that the repercussions of the Assam riots may go beyond the state borders and undermine party interest, a worried Sonia is rushing to the affected areas on Monday. Her visit is expected to provide healing touch to the violence victims and also send a message to the warring Congress factions for the need to close ranks and bring the state back to normalcy. Home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde will accompany her.PM Manmohan Singh had also visited the riot-affected areas on July 28 and announced a relief package of Rs 300 crore.Though Assam is limping back to normalcy, the Congress brass worried about the political fallout of the riots in a state that had elected the party for the third consecutive term.advertisementSome in the party blame the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), led by perfume baron and Lok Sabha MP Ajmal Badruddin, for trying to fish in troubled waters.The AIUDF, with 18 MLAs, has been an external supporter of the UPA at the Centre, but some Congressmen allege it’s trying to widen its area of influence to undermine the Congress. The riots issue is also expected to be raised in Parliament again on Monday.Click here to EnlargeEarlier, on Wednesday, during a discussion on the ethnic violence in the Lok Sabha, Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen MP Asaduddin Owaisi had alleged, in Sonia’s presence, that the ethnic strife was the result of an “internal power struggle” in the Congress.As a grim Sonia listened attentively, Owaisi warned that if the state and central governments did not immediately ease matters, Muslim youth could be “radicalised”. The opposition BJP has been equally critical of the government. Senior BJP leader L. K. Advani slammed the Centre for failing to stop the killings of tribals when he visited Assam in the last week of July.He claimed it was not communal violence but clashes between locals and foreign infiltrators, and likened the situation in the state to that in J& K. On Sunday, Digvijaya Singh, AICC general secretary in charge of Assam, accused Advani of abetting violence by making provocative statements in Kokrajhar when it was in the grips of ethnic turmoil.Singh said: “These (comments) are like adding fuel to the fire.” He was speaking on the Sarokar programme on Rajya Sabha TV. Digvijaya, who visited Assam on Friday, also denied reports of rift between the CM and a senior minister over the riots and called them a media concoction. “There is no rift in the state cabinet as reported in the media. It is all created by the media… there is no truth in it,” he said.Talking to Mail Today, Union minister for north-eastern development Paban Singh Ghatowar, who hails from Assam, denied allegations of mishandling of the strife. “The government has nothing to hide. It is ready for a judicial probe. The CM has already asked for a CBI inquiry in some cases. The government is making all efforts to provide succour (to the riot-hit). Security pickets have been placed in sensitive areas. The situation is quickly returning to normal,” he said.