Guwahati, Nov 24: The biggest 'gift' the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been able to give to Assam in its one-and-a-half-year rule in the state is by turning state minister Himanta Biswa Sarma into a mini-version of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath.
Both are motormouths, controversial, Muslim bashers and often spread lies through their speeches. And, yes, of course, both hold top constitutional posts and are BJP's blue-eyed boys.
When Assam voted for the BJP in the last Assembly elections in 2016, after being tired of the Congress's misrule for 15 years, people thought Prime Minister Narendra Modi would bring "development" to the neglected state.
Development, the PM's most abused word in all election rallies, is yet to make its presence felt in the far-off land of Assam. In fact, it is the BJP's "Hindutva agenda" that is fast spreading to every nook and cranny of Assam.
Thanks to the strong presence of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and ministers like Sarma, everyday politics in Assam is currently about "religion and Muslim bashing".
It is not that Sarma, who had switched his allegiance from the Congress to the BJP ahead of the Assembly polls in the state in 2016, was a quiet and dignified leader during his tenure as the grand old party's second-in-command in the state.
He has always been controversial and a motormouth, a defence mechanism developed by Sarma to keep himself politically relevant.
After being sidelined by former Congress CM of Assam, Tarun Gogoi, to promote his son Gaurav Gogoi, Sarma, who always nursed the dream to become the CM of the state, decided to quit the grand old party and join hands with the BJP.
While tendering his resignation from the Congress, Sarma claimed that his decision was the result of Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi's "arrogance" towards party leaders and their problems. Since then, he has been regularly criticising Rahul and praising PM Modi.
However, insiders say after his name figured in the Saradha scam, Sarma decided to take shelter under the protection of PM Modi.
When the BJP came to power in Assam for the first time with a huge mandate by winning 86 seats along with its allies in the 126-member Assembly, Sarma was one of the main reasons behind such a major victory achieved by the saffron party.
Sarma, since his days as a student leader, enjoys mass support because of his oratorical skills, something again similar to Modi and Yogi.
After helping the BJP to win its first Assembly polls in Assam, this year again, Sarma gifted Manipur to the saffron party by strategising the party's win in the Assembly elections in the trouble-torn state. In Manipur also the BJP came to power for the first time, this year.
In a way, Sarma is the face of the BJP in the entire Northeast region, which traditionally has been loyal to the Congress.
After the Congress refused to hand over the CM's post to Sarma, many thought that BJP would gift the 48-year-old politician the state's top post. That didn't happen as just before the elections, the BJP announced Sarbananda Sonowal as its CM candidate.
While Sarma is controversial, energetic and a go-getter, Sonowal, the former Union youth affairs and sports minister, is the moderate face of the BJP. Since the BJP needed a moderate face in Assam, where politics is still not divided into religious lines in spite of its perennial problem of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, thus the saffron party went ahead with Sonowal.
Did it break Sarma's heart, again? Definitely, it did, says a close-aide of Sarma. But the Congress-turned-BJP leader, who is known as a tough taskmaster as he regular pulls up government employees for their lackadaisical attitude, did not express his displeasure to the BJP and made it a point to make the best use of the multiple-ministerial berths that he currently rules over.
Sarma recently hogged the 'national' limelight after he stated that "cancer is divine justice". Being the health minister of the state, Sarma did not think twice before bringing religion into the subject of disease and death and spreading superstition.
The minister left everyone aghast with his remarks that some people suffer from life-threatening diseases such as cancer because of sins committed in the past which he called "divine justice".
"God makes us suffer when we sin. Sometimes we come across young men getting inflicted with cancer or young men meeting with accidents. If you observe the background you will come to know that it's divine justice. Nothing else. We have to suffer that divine justice," Sarma said at a function on Tuesday.
"In this lifetime or in our previous life, or perhaps my father or mother... perhaps that young man did not do but his father has done something wrong. It is mentioned even in Gita, Bible about the outcome of one's actions. No point in being sad... all will get the outcome of this life's actions in this life only. That divine justice always will be there. Nobody can escape the divine justice that will happen," he added.
After his remarks created a furore, Sarma apologised on Thursday. He, however, said his comments were being taken out of context and it's a conspiracy by the Congress to malign his reputation over the malignant disease.
It's not for the first time when Sarma's "outlandish and divisive" comments have stunned everyone. Earlier he had asked people of Assam to choose their enemy while referring to Hindu and Muslim illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Sarma stated that the BJP differentiates between Hindu and Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh. "We clearly do. After all, the country was divided in the name of religion. Thus it is not a new thing," he said.
He also upset the Muslim organisations by announcing to end Friday holidays in madrasas. Sarma, who is also the state education minister, asked madrasas to keep their classrooms closed on Sundays as the day is observed as a holiday everywhere in India.
While Yogi is hogging the limelight for his recent controversial remarks on Taj Mahal, which he retracted before he visited the Mughal mausoleum in Agra, encounter killings and Rahul, Sarma is busy garnering the attention of the national media with his cancer and madrasa comments.
If Sarma continues to shoot his mouth off on contentious subjects with such regularity, a day is not far away when he might be a threat to the positions enjoyed by Modi and Yogi among the Hindu voters.