The Congress in Assam suffered a blow today as its most vocal and prominent MLA quit the party and declared he would join the ruling BJP on Monday. Rupjyoti Kurmi complained that the Congress had stopped listening to younger leaders and predicted the party’s downfall if Rahul Gandhi continued to call the shots.
Mr Kurmi, a four-time MLA, also quit the state assembly. Soon after, the Congress announced his expulsion.
The exit comes days after the Congress lost former Union Minister Jitin Prasada, one of its top faces in Uttar Pradesh, to the BJP.
Mr Kurmi called it a difficult decision, given that he was born to a Congress family and his mother was a state minister.
The Congress has 29 MLAs in the state assembly and will now be one less. Mr Kurmi was the Congress’s lone MLA representing the tea tribe community.
“I was born to a Congress family; we grew up in Congress culture. I used to put up posters, I served tea in meetings. My mother was a minister…I have been a soldier of Congress. That is why it is a difficult decision,” Mr Kurmi told NDTV in an exclusive interview.
He said the party ignored his advice against any tie-up with the AIUDF and paid for it in the April-May election in Assam, in which the BJP was reelected.
“I requested the high command before the Assam polls that the alliance with AIUDF will be detrimental to the Congress in upper Assam; they did not listen to me but I was proved correct. I felt that the high command in Delhi and the high command in Assam did not listen to us. I felt like the Congress does not want the youth to grow. It does not want to promote young leaders from backward classes like tea garden workers or tribals, so I decided that I will quit the Congress,” Mr Kurmi said.
Before the Assam election, he had shut down rumours that he was switching to the BJP. He explained his apparent change of heart.
“The way Himanta Biswa Sarma is leading the state is commendable. The way he has started cracking down on the drug menace etc has impressed me,” he said of the Chief Minister, whose move from to the BJP in 2015 contributed to his former party Congress’s fall not just in Assam but in other northeastern states as well.
On Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, Mr Kurmi said: “Rahul ji can’t do anything. He is responsible for the downfall of the Congress. The results of the recent state elections is a clear sign that the Congress will keep suffering if it gives importance to Rahul Gandhi. It will keep losing its relevance.
Congress Leader Debabrata Saikia, reacting to the development, said: “He was a very loyal party worker and senior leader and had some issues regarding decisions of the party. We could not discuss those issues that he had flagged regarding policy of the party.” He added that it was “not correct” to leave the party this way.
For the BJP, it is a big gain. “I think he is an asset for any party. He is my friend and I was in the Congress too; no one can defeat him in his constituency so if he joins our party he will be a big asset,” said Piyush Hajarika, state Parliamentary Affairs Minister, who was previously in the Congress.