It was a dream come true, a dream he has dreamt, probably from the time he stepped into politics, but which grew in intensity as Assam headed for the 2016 Assembly elections. On Sunday, Himanta Biswa Sarma was selected as leader of the BJP legislature party, paving the way for his coronation as the chief minister of Assam.
After having served the Congress government well for the previous two terms, virtually the number two during the third term, Sarma was expecting to lead the party in the 2016 elections as then chief minister Tarun Gogoi was also advancing in age. But realising that Gogoi was in no hurry to let go of the reins and enjoyed the high command’s blessings, Sarma led a dissidence against the former for a year.
What had added to his discomfiture was the fact that Gogoi’s son, current Lok Sabha member Gaurav Gogoi, also joined the Congress around the time . Sarma apprehended that his road to the top was going to be blocked and joined the BJP in 2015. Tarun Gogoi would say later that Sarma’s fears were misplaced since Gaurav was still wet behind the ears, had to learn the ropes and harboured no such ambition.
Sarma’s immediate goal was to see the back of the Congress government and went all out. Along the way, several younger MLAs from the Congress, who swore allegiance to Sarma, also followed him to the BJP fold making his hands stronger for the fight ahead. The rest as they say is history.
The BJP-led NDA, including Asom Gana Parishad and Bodoland People’s Front, trounced the Congress winning 86 of the 126 seats leaving the grand old party a distant second with 26 seats.
There was no stopping.
Sarma thought up the idea of the North East Democratic Alliance, a conglomerate of regional forces in the region, and became its convenor.
Arunachal Pradesh, which had a Congress government, turned saffron overnight leaving only then chief minister Nabam Tuki out; in Manipur, the single-largest party in the assembly elections, Congress, watched as the BJP assumed power; Tripura went from Left to Right. Himanta’s touch was evident all over; he was now a colossus for the BJP in the Northeast.
Sarma was credited for the BJP’s improved showing in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections which saw the party go up from seven to nine seats of Assam’s 14.
In the government, he held key portfolios like, finance, PWD, health and education.
Sarma’s stock grew even more since last year when the Covid pandemic struck. It is generally agreed that he handled the situation deftly, probably saving Assam more misfortune. The one blemish was his recent boast that Assam was free of the virus and there was no more need to wear the mask as he went around campaigning. He had spoken too early.
In the just concluded elections that finally catapulted him to the coveted chair, he played a key role in changing allies – from BPF to UPPL—and nominating candidates some of them were new; in the process though, he also made sure that he would have more MLAs on his side if it ever mattered. It did as the selection of the chief minister came down to the legislature party after the central leadership in its wisdom decided to leave it to the forum. With the numbers stacked in his favour, the mater was decided. It took just about 15 minutes for him to be named the legislature party leader and thus also the chief minister.