Leader of the masses, popular youth icon and a master strategist!
With political acumen matching that of a historical legend, Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma is Congress’ biggest loss and BJP’s biggest gain.
What brings downfall of dynasties? Disregarding Genius.
Publicly ridiculed, Chanakya vowed not to rest until he had removed the Nanda king from Patliputra’s throne. He dethroned the short-sighted king and installed a lowly prince in his place. He then masterminded the rise of that lowly prince into Chandragupta Maurya, the great ruler who founded one of the largest empires in India’s history.
History text books in India have well told the legend of this political and economic genius. A strikingly similar story took place in the state of Assam a few years ago with the rise of a political genius who shifted the balance of power in the country’s Northeast region. Known for sharp political acumen and his amicable personality, Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma has been a massively popular figure in the North East with ties running deep into every party.
Born in Jorhat, Sarma started as a student leader while pursuing law in Guwahati. He quickly became a youth icon who rapidly rose through the ranks to become a cabinet minister at the age of 32. Sarma was a shining light in successive Congress governments in Assam between 2001 to 2014. He has held important portfolios as Minister of State for Agriculture, Planning & Development, Health, Education, and Assam Accord Implementation.
Today, he is the Minister of PWD, Health and Finance in the Assam Government. He is the convener of BJP’s alliance in northeast, having performed his own version of surgical strikes in 2016. His influence in the region’s political scenario has been remarkable. Chief Ministers of six out of the seven states are a phone call away from Sarma. His persona is such that a number of Congress MPs and MLAs still maintain cordial relations with him today.
The person responsible for writing the song to Congress’ sustained success in NE is today plotting a second successive victory for its arch-nemesis. The story started three decades ago.
During the 90s, when the Assamese Anti Foreigners Movement at its height, Chief Minister Hiteswar Saikia’s sight fell on a rising youth star of the All Assam Students’ Union. Saikia was quick to recruit the young leader into Congress ranks. At that time, Sarma had been the new face of youth politics in Assam that had been dominated by Prafulla Kumar Mahanta and Bhrigu Kumar Phukan.
After the demise of Saikia, his successor Tarun Gogoi was also quick to recognize the potential of Sarma and pitted him against Phukan during the legislative assembly elections of 2001. Seizing the opportunity, Sarma defeated his old mentor Phukan with a record margin of 75,000 votes to start the first of his four consecutive terms as MLA from Jalukbari.
The first phase in Sarma’s rise was synonymous with the end of AGP and rebirth of Congress in Assam. Sarma became a minister in the government, quickly becoming Gogoi’s most trusted and hardworking asset. Around mid-2000s, Sarma emerged as the party’s chief strategist in Assam. In 2011 state elections, Sarma led Congress to its biggest victory with 78 seats. He became a cult hero in local party circles and was now on direct hotline with the leadership in Delhi.
Then in 2014, a difference of opinion with Gogoi followed by a snub from INC Chief Rahul Gandhi, made Sarma perform one of the biggest political upheavals of India’s recent political history. It is said that the party president did not show due regard to Sarma during their meeting in Delhi. Downsizing the rising star is probably the worst mistake of Congress in the Rahul Gandhi Era.
Looked over by a party plagued with orthodox structures and nepotistic ideology, Sarma vowed not to rest until he had uprooted Congress from power.
BJP had been struggling to assert its position in the assembly having failed to crossed into double figures yet. It needed a leader well-versed in Assam politics to map out a winning election strategy. There was no man more capable than Sarma for the job.
Around the same time, BJP managed to rope in AGP’s firebrand leader Sarbananda Sonowal. Sonowal and Sarma would go on to form a formidable partnership that would redefine BJP’s fate in Assam. Sonowal the face of BJP’s campaign and Sarma the mastermind.
Sarma gave Amit Shah a formula for victory – BJP + Asom Gana Parishad + Bodoland People’s Front
BJP made Sarma the Convener of its Election Management Committee for the 2016 Assembly elections. Riding on the back of his massive popularity and political connections, BJP headed into the 2016 Assam election with the slogan ‘Poribortan’ (Transformation).
Based on projections, Sarma convinced BJP supremo Amit Shah that aligning with AGP would help them reach 64 seats and form government in Assam. With green light from Delhi, Sarma oversaw a formidable improvement for BJP from 5 seats in 2011 to 60 in 2016. Sarma’s predictions proved accurate with the BJP-AGP- BPF coalition winning a total of 86 seats in total. Sarma had ended the Congress’ 15 year domination in the state.
DKODING | Magazine | Modern Chanakya of India’s Political Battlefield
2018 was a challenging year for ‘Sarma’
Supreme court decided to put a deadline on the Citizen’s register being prepared in Assam for decades. In the final register, over 40 lac people were left out with Muslims making up the majority share. The register also left out over 15 Lac Hindus.
With pressure from RSS, government prepared a draft for amendment of the bill. It decided to give citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Parsees and Christians who had to flee their parent country due to communal reasons. This signaled havoc in Assam where natives opined that granting citizenship to illegal Bangladeshi Hindus would destroy the Assamese identity. BJP started receiving threats from its coalition partners ready to take back their support.
With party headquarters tense, Sarma emerged in a ‘New avatar as the chief trouble-shooter’. He convinced the party to align with the Citizens’ Bill opining that this would have limited effect in Assam but be helpful in West Bengal.
Now came the time to save governments in other states. The party placed an ordinance in the Lok Sabha. In January 2019, Sarma said Hindus in the State will become minority within five years if the Citizenship Bill is not passed. Sarma stressed:
“I strongly believe that if this Bill is not passed, then Hindus in Assam will become minority in just next five years. That will be advantageous to those elements who want Assam to be another Kashmir and a part of the uncertain phase there,”.
He ensured that the party’s message reached the masses. The ordinance was allowed to fall in the Assembly but the BJP was able to keep the coalition intact. In trademark style, Sarma’s drew the ‘Anti-foreigner movement’ vote bank from the clutch of AGP as tensions grew with the coalition partner.
Sarma is BJP’s main ‘MAN’ in North-east and one of the pillars in BJP’s dream of a ‘Congress-free India’. He is the Rockstar of BJP – Deepak Kaistha
Under Sarma’s leadership, public welfare in Assam reached new heights. Under his stewardship, health services in the state transformed rapidly with initiation of the construction of eight medical colleges. His achievements were singularly pointed out by the Government of India in various annual reports. Apart from politics, Sarma holds a keen interest in Badminton and is the current President of the Badminton Association of India.
The principles of management are vital in politics and Sarma has emerged as a master in the game. Today he is pivotal to BJP’s fortunes in the northeast part of the country. Sarma is quickly emerging as a strong ‘National Leader’ for the party.
2019 Lok Sabha Elections may see Sarma contest for a parliamentary seat for the first time from the prestigious Tezpur seat. A capable and astute tactician, Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma has solidified his image as the Modern Chanakya of Indian politics. Following in the footsteps of esteemed BJP leaders like Amit Shah, LK Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Sarma is primed to carry the reins of the party on the national scale one day.
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