Assam, May 9: Himanta Biswa Sarma was elected the leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislative party in Assam, making him the Chief Minister-designate of the State, six years after he quit the Congress and joined the BJP.
For Sarma, it is the culmination of a career strewn with pulling off victories with political deftness and assuming the top position after being the go-to man that kept the governments of late Tarun Gogoi and his immediate predecessor Sarbananda Sonowal going.
The replacement of Sonowal with Sarma is the recognition of the fact that the latter has not only put out many fires for the BJP in Assam — like the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) — but also his role as Health and Finance Minister in Assam, in managing the COVID-19 pandemic.
A PhD from Gauhati University, Sarma is a lawyer by training and was active in student politics as general secretary (for three terms) at Cotton College and with the All Assam Student’s Union. He joined the Congress in the 1990s and became an MLA from the Jalukbari constituency defeating Asom Gana Parishad’s Bhrigu Phukan in 2001.
Since then he has represented Jalukbari on behalf of the Congress till 2016 and from 2016 to the present on a BJP ticket.
He became Minister in the Congress-led State governments and also rose to the position of the action man of the Tarun Gogoi government, and much of the credit for the 2011 Congress victory in the State is laid at his door.
Gogoi and Sarma became at odds with each other over the former’s plans to promote his son, Lok Sabha MP Gaurav Gogoi in politics, while Mr Sarma had earmarked the position of a successor for himself.
The differences became too big and the Congress’ high command was either unwilling or unable to sort it out.
In either case, Sarma jumped ship and joined the BJP – despite the party’s own attack on Sarma a few months before this on the issue of a CBI inquiry against him in the Louis Berger case.
Sarma, however, with his mastery over the Congress’ electoral machinery and his own considerable political acumen helped the BJP expand not just in Assam, but also in the rest of the North East as the convener of NEDA.
His timely action in ending the NDA alliance with the Bodoland People’s Front and allying instead with the United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL) another Bodo outfit, netted the alliance eight out of the nine seats the party fought in the 126 Assembly, an important addition to the NDA kitty.
His grouse at being number two in the State remained through Sonowal’s tenure. As the Assembly polls were announced, the BJP leadership was very much aware of the fact.
Uncharacteristically for the BJP, the party refused to endorse the face of the sitting Chief Minister Sonowal, declaring instead that the polls would be fought on the question of collective leadership.
Sarma, who enjoys the confidence of Home Minister Amit Shah, got the endorsement of Prime Minister Narendra Modi too, despite his fondness for Sonowal.