GUWAHATI: Why did BJP’s central leadership pick Himanta Biswa Sarma as Assam’s next CM over incumbent Sarbananda Sonowal? While there might never be an official answer, the consensus opinion is that Sarma’s performance over the last five years — in government and politics — was seen as enough reason to plump for him despite his predecessor’s popularity and clean image.
Within BJP ranks, many were swayed by Sarma’s style of functioning that conveyed an ability to get the work done, be it articulating the party’s stand on contentious issues like CAA and NRC or tapping into local sentiments by pitching Congress’ alliance with Badruddin Ajmal’s AIUDF as a threat to Assamese identity.
His refrain throughout his campaign was that the electoral battle was between the miyas (migrant Muslims), allegedly comprising 35% of the state’s population, and the natives. When it comes to troubleshooting for the NDA, in Assam as well as elsewhere in the northeast, Sarma’s talent for successful gambles is well known.
In the Bodoland Ter ritorial Council elections last December, he persuaded the BJP leadership to dump old ally Bodoland People’s Front and get the fledgling United People’s Party Liberal on board. The new combination went on to form the council.
Holding key ministries, Sarma is also credited with rolling out a series of development and welfare programmes, including the popular Arunodaya scheme that provides Rs 8,000 each annually to unemployed women. As finance minister, Sarma earned Assam the distinction of being the first state to roll out the GST regime.
Many believe Sarma’s closeness to Union home minister Amit Shah tipped the scales in his favour. The leadership could not have been unaware that Sarma, who had chafed at being consigned to the No.2 slot through the five-year-term, was getting impatient about securing what he, as well as many others in the party, considered to be his “rightful due”.
A source close to Sonowal said when the proposal for him to step down came, he didn’t hesitate for a moment. “Sonowal declined some posts that were offered to him in lieu of the chief ministership. But if Narendra Modi wants to take him somewhere, he will never say no to him,” a source said.
Sonowal has publicly acknowledged Sarma as his most efficient minister, entrusting him with key portfolios.