The BJP’s electoral setback in West Bengal has thrown a spanner in the works in the Northeast.
The BJP was unable to secure a majority in Assam on its own, securing 60 of the 126 seats. Its partners, the AGP, secured nine seats and the BPF four, but the race for the chief minister is heating up.
Himanta Biswa Sarma, the BJP’s lead strategist in the Northeast and convenor of the pro-saffron Northeast Democratic Alliance (NEDA), seems dead set on achieving his lifelong dream of becoming Prime Minister.
“He welcomed Sarbananda Sonowal as Chief Minister for the BJP’s first term in Assam, but having met all of the challenges successfully, it is only reasonable that the party rewards him with the top post,” a senior BJP MLA close to Sarma said.
He said that 43 of the 60 BJP MLAs are solidly behind Sarma and want him to be appointed CM to help the party consolidate its gains. He said that Sarma has the support of 9 AGPs and 4 BPF MLAs.
With 29 and 16 seats, respectively, the Congress and its ally AUDF may not be hesitant to entice Sarma away from the BJP if he can attract 20-odd BJP MLAs who were originally Congress turncoats like him.
According to sources in Assam, Congress is waiting for the BJP to make a leadership choice before jumping into the fray, as the party is still reeling from national defeats.
However, if Sarma is not considered for the position of CM and revolts, a slew of new possibilities emerge.
One, with the help of Congress, AUDF, AGP, and BPF, he might create a regional party of 30 or more MLAs and form a coalition. His supporters say that he has the financial means to do so.
Two, he could return to the Congress with 20 to 30 MLAs, win the election for Chief Minister, and then work with the AGP and BPF to form a broad-based coalition government in Assam.
Three, he persuades the BJP’s high command to approve a consensus candidate drawn from his own ranks, and he becomes de facto CM by ousting incumbent Sonowal and a potential third candidate, Mangaldoi MP and BJP national secretary Dilip Saikia.
Sarma started his political career as a leader of the All Assam Students Union before being inducted into the Congress by the late Chief Minister Hiteswar Saikia. After Narendra Modi was elected Prime Minister, he joined the BJP.
Sarma is a go-getter, first-rate political strategist, fundraiser, and brilliant at making and fracturing coalitions, including his turncoat experience and involvement in many scams.
When the BJP has had trouble with its alliances or forming governments in the Northeast, he is known as Delhi’s Man Friday.
Biplab Deb, the BJP’s chief minister in Tripura, has faced fierce opposition, with rebel lawmakers camped in Delhi on several occasions, demanding his removal.
Former health minister Sudip Roy Barman, a military school cadet and engineering graduate who, like Sarma, is from the Congress, leads the dissident party. Barman is the nephew of High Court Justice Sujit Barman and the son of former Congress CM Samir Ranjan Barman.
Sudip Roy Barman had to be held at bay only by the high command’s resolve to keep an RSS pracharak at the top since most BJP MLAs were initially Congress turncoats who switched to the saffron camp resenting the Congress-Left alliances.
Roy Burman has the backing of 25 of the 36 BJP MLAs, and if he revolts, he might follow Sarma’s lead in Assam. After leaving the Congress and before joining the BJP, Roy Burman briefly parked himself with his followers in the Trinamool Congress.
In a state where 20 of the 60 seats in the Assembly are reserved for Scheduled Tribes, he could team up with royal scion Pradyot Kishore Manikya, whose TIPRA party has swept the state’s tribal autonomous district council polls and whose alliance with two other tribal parties leaves the BJP vulnerable.
“If Himanta Biswa Sarma is not offered the top job and revolts, he might make it very tough for the BJP’s top brass in the Northeast, starting with Assam and Tripura,” said Samir Das, an Assam political analyst.
“They should transport Sonowal to Delhi, where he served as Union Sports Minister before becoming Assam’s Chief Minister. Alternatively, one might anticipate cascading effects “Added he.
The BJP’s top brass has already come under fire in West Bengal, where former state president Tathagata Ray has accused the party’s poll managers of squandering a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.’
Ray, a former Governor of three northeastern states and a leading technocrat, has chastised the four BJP backers — Kailash Vijayvargia, Arvind Menon, Shiv Prakash, and state president Dilip Ghosh — for a slew of mistakes,’ including nominating a slew of actresses and Trinamool defectors, the majority of whom failed miserably.
His scathing tweets have called some party leaders’ educational backgrounds into question, like Dilip Ghosh.