From students politics to the chair of CM: Himanta Biswa Sarma's long political journey
Guwahati, May 09: Himanta Biswa Sarma is set to take on the mantle of the chief minister of Assam, after being elected leader of both the BJP legislature party and the NDA in Assam on Sunday.
Sarma''s eyes, according to those close to him, were always set on the top job in Assam. However, the leader who owed his early rise to two former chief ministers from the Congress had to toil for many years with dogged determination to achieve his goal.
Considered by many to be the most powerful politician of the entire North Eastern region, 52-year-old Sarma is equally revered by supporters for his capabilities and reviled by critics for being over-ambitious.
A four-time MLA and a minister in all cabinets since 2001, Sarma''s political acumen and the ability to get work done against all odds was not only noticed but rewarded by his mentors- former Congress chief ministers Hiteswar Saikia and Tarun Gogoi- with both giving him ample opportunities to rise.
After he fell out with Gogoi, who realising his protege''s spiralling ambitions attempted to rein him in, Sarma ultimately quit the Congress in 2015.
The BJP did not waste the chance and scooped him up as a ''big catch'' to help the right-wing party make inroads into the North East. He returned their confidence in him as the Convenor of the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), bringing all eight North Eastern states within the fold of the NDA, and forming governments either of the BJP or its alliance partners in the region.
Sarma took his first baby steps in politics way back in the early 1980s, during the height of the anti-foreigners'' stir, as an "errand boy" of the then AASU leaders Prafulla Kumar Mahanta and Bhrigu Kumar Phukan from whom he later wrested the Jalukbari constituency in 2001 as a Congress candidate.
After grasping the fine art of politics in AASU, he was noticed by the then Congress Chief Minister Hiteswar Saikia who took him under his wings while Sarma was still a law student at the Guwahati University.
Bypassing party norms, newly elected Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, also impressed with Sarma''s political skills, appointed the young debutante as minister of state for agriculture, planning and development and later during the same term, gave him additional responsibilities.
Sarma''s upward trajectory had begun. He slowly emerged as Gogoi''s blue-eyed boy and was elevated as a Cabinet Minister in his second term. The Congress, facing an anti-incumbency wave in 2011, depended heavily on Sarma''s skills at strategising and managed to come to power for the third consecutive term with Gogoi rewarding him with the plum portfolios.
However, the success also saw the start of politicking to make him a possible chief minister after Gogoi.
With rifts widening within the Assam Congress, Sarma camped in Delhi on several occasions to lobby. He met Congress leader Rahul Gandhi as part of this attempt. A meeting about which he later famously said in an interview that Gandhi was more interested in feeding biscuits to his dogs than resolving the party crisis in Assam.
Side-lined within the Congress, he resigned from the ministry, the assembly and subsequently from the party in 2015.
He was soon welcomed to the BJP at a meeting at Home Minister Amit Shah''s residence in August 2015.
Sarma was made the Convenor of Assam BJP''s Election Management Committee and he along with the then state unit president Sarbananda Sonowal, scripted the party''s election success and the installation of the first BJP government in the state in 2016.
As a reward, he was made the NEDA Convenor and tasked to ensure similar wins in other North Eastearn states which he successfully delivered over the next five years. He was also made a Cabinet minister with the important portfolios of Finance, Health and Family Welfare, Education and Public Works Department, making him the most powerful person in the Sonowal cabinet.
As the health minister, he is hailed for tackling the COVID-19 crisis in the state by ramping up health infrastructure, testing facilities and taking several measures to ease difficulties faced by patients and stranded migrant workers.
However, Sarma''s reckless comment during the campaigning for the 2021 assembly polls that there was no need to wear masks as there is no COVID in the state followed by his assertion that there was hardly any significant number of positive cases before the second wave began, earned him considerable flak from several quarters.