What the rise of Himanta Biswa Sarma says about BJP – and Congress – Politics
At the Sankardev Kalakshetra auditorium in Guwahati, Himanta Biswa Sarma was sworn in as the 15th chief minister of Assam on Monday.
In the last elections, the “Mitrajot” alliance led by the Bharatiya Janata party, which also includes Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and the United Liberal People’s Party (UPPL), won an impressive victory, winning 75 seats out of the assembly of 126 members. . As a result, the incumbent alliance became the first non-congressional government to retain power for a consecutive term in the state’s political history.
While most recognized Sarma as the architect of Mitrajot’s success, part of the BJP leadership felt uncomfortable about his elevation to chief minister on this basis. It was felt that despite Sarma’s role in the elections, it was under the banner of Sarbananda Sonowal’s leadership as chief minister that Mitrajot achieved its success. In addition, Sonowal was also performing well and was from the tribal community, as opposed to the “upper” caste of Sarma, which was also the reason why he had to continue in office.
As a result, these divergent views on who should take the top position led to a momentary stalemate in the formation of government. With state-level talks unsuccessful, Sarma and Sonowal were summoned to Delhi where they held three rounds of talks with the central leadership of the BJP. Following those talks, the BJP legislative party met the next day in Dispur, where Sonowal proposed Sarma’s name as leader, revealing the choice of central leadership in the process.
As Sarma enters his new round as chief minister, the way the BJP has dealt with the leadership issue once again reiterates the party’s much more pragmatic approach to politics, which has helped it strengthen itself. , compared to Congress, whose choices often seem to suffer from a lack of objective judgment.
At the height of the leadership struggle between Tarun Gogoi, then Chief Minister of Assam, and Sarma (who until then had not joined the BJP), the Congressional High Command tasked senior leader Mallikarjun Kharge to examine the situation. During his visit, despite the fact that a majority of lawmakers and party leaders have reportedly expressed support for Sarma, the Congressional high command responded, first by trying to postpone the case and then dismissing it. . The ensuing spiral of events, as is now known, led to Sarma’s exit from Congress.
How did the Congressional High Command ignore Sarma’s request? Was it because of a colossal ignorance of his influence? Or was it bypassed for some other acquired reasons? Sarma has often said that congressional leaders scorned him for not belonging to “blue blood culture,” referring to his humble origins.
It is difficult to give a precise answer on this subject. But what could be reasonably argued is that the Congressional high command may not have even taken into account basic political considerations before deciding to turn its back on Sarma.
His elevation at this time could have helped Congress in several ways.
By standing behind Sarma, who led the largest faction, the Congressional High Command, above all else, could have ensured the continued stability of the government and the party. Replacing Gogoi at this point could have helped Congress tackle the leadership fatigue that began to develop after he took office for the third term. Sarma’s appointment to the top post would not only have reinvigorated the public appeal of the government and the party, but could also have tempered the growing popularity of BJP in the region, which was rapidly starting to gain ground in Assam around this time.
Despite such prospects, the Congressional high command instead chose to lend its support to an octogenarian, then at the end of his political career, at the expense of one of its most effective political managers.
In contrast, the BJP’s decision to elevate Sarma came on the basis of difficult political calculations, which clearly outweigh any qualms about asking a seemingly successful incumbent chief minister to step down.
For starters, the choice of BJP leadership clearly reflects a realistic understanding that the party’s recent performance in the state owes much more to Sarma’s popularity and political clout rather than the goodwill enjoyed by Sonowal or even Narendra. Modi by the way. For many years, the people of Assam hoped to see Sarma as the chief minister of the state. As such, the BJP might also hope to harness the enormous public appeal that his estate has generated, which would also help them dispel any emerging challenges to their power for some time.
Moreover, as a leader who enjoys the support of the majority of MPs, it is only natural that the central leadership of the BJP supports Sarma in the interest of a stable government. It was also alleged that Sarma made it clear to the party leadership that if Sonowal remained in power, he was neither interested in joining the ministry nor taking the road to Rajya Sabha. The party, as such, was unwilling to take the unnecessary gamble of upsetting Sarma, especially with a view to meeting some of his long-term interests.
One of these interests revolves around the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. The BJP’s beating in the West Bengal election has put its future prospects in the state to some degree of uncertainty. With Mamata Banerjee returning with a strong majority, it is unlikely that the BJP will be able to capitalize on the state’s 42 Lok Sabha seats as much as they would have otherwise wished. This once again made it imperative for the party to make big gains in the northeastern states, which have 25 seats, in the interests of its overall prospects. In 2019, under the leadership of Sarma, who is also the organizer of the BJP’s NEDA (Northeast Democratic Alliance), the NDA won 19 seats, which was once one of its best performances on record in the region. As such, the party is once again dependent on him to perform well in northeast India. This was perhaps the most important factor in appeasing Sarma by offering him the top position.
If Congress used a similar line of reasoning, the party might have been able to avoid being routed not only into Assam but also across the northeast, which was once its formidable fortress. But the fact that the BJP was able to look at politics in a much more clinical way, once again explains its success and, on the other hand, the continued downward spiral of Congress, not only in the recently concluded elections in Assam but in most elections across the country in recent years.
Abhinav P. Borbora teaches political science at Assam Royal Global University, Guwahati.