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Himanta Biswa Sarma to be Assam’s next chief minister

Himanta Biswa Sarma, the BJP Assam unit's 'master strategist' pips incumbent Sarbananda Sonowal for the state's top job

May 09, 2021 / 04:13 PM IST
Himanta Biswa Sarma, Assam's next chief minister

Himanta Biswa Sarma, Assam's next chief minister

Ending week-long suspense, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on May 9 announced Himanta Biswa Sarma as Assam’s next chief minister. The party had drawn flak from various quarters for delaying the announcement despite its decisive mandate in the assembly polls, the counting of which took place on May 2.

Sarma, along with the Cabinet, will be sworn-in at 12 pm on May 10.

The BJP top brass had to make a tough choice between Sarma, considered a ‘master strategist’, and Sarbananda Sonowal who served as the chief minister in the party's first-ever term in the state.

Earlier on May 9, BJP’s state legislative party supported Sarma as the next CM.

A day earlier, the two leaders held a series of meetings with the BJP top brass, including Union Home Minister Amit Shah and the party's national president JP Nadda.


Sarma, 52, seen as the architect of the BJP’s two consecutive victories in Assam, had been a strong contender for the chief minister's post.

The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has secured 75 seats while the ‘grand alliance’ led by the Congress bagged 50 in the elections to the 126-member Assam Legislative Assembly.

In 2016, the NDA won 86 seats won while the Congress and All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) secured 24 and 14 seats, respectively.

A former Congress heavyweight, Sarma had quit his ministerial post after party leader Rahul Gandhi reportedly refused to make him the chief minister despite his claim of support from 52 legislators in July 2014.

Snubbed by the party high command, Sarma joined the BJP a year later.

One of Sarma’s tweets targeting Gandhi had created a political storm. He wrote: “Sir @OfficeOfRG, who knows him better than me. Still remember you busy feeding biscuits 2 him [Gandhi’s dog] while We wanted to discuss urgent Assam's issues. (sic)”

Political career

Sarma began his political journey as a functionary of the influential All Assam Students Union (AASU). He later joined the Congress and was mentored by then chief minister Hiteswar Saikia.

He made his electoral debut in 1996, at the age of 27. He contested against late Bhrigu Kumar Phukan of the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) in the Jalukbari assembly constituency on the outskirts of Guwahati, but lost the election.

Following this, many had dismissed him as a political novice, not realising that Sarma would make a strong comeback. His uncanny ability to mobilise support and trouble-shoot in critical hours had brought him closer to then chief minister Tarun Gogoi, who offered him a berth in his council of ministers in 2002.

Since then, Sarma has never looked back. Between 2002 and 2021, Sarma handled key portfolios -- both as a state and Cabinet minister -- such as agriculture, planning and development, finance, health, education, PWD and the Assam Accord Implementation department.

Sarma joined the BJP just a year before its historic victory in 2016, which brought an end to 15 years of Congress rule. While he was offered the ‘No. 2 position’ in the Sonowal government, the party central leadership kept him in good humour by making him the convener of the BJP-led North-East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), a coalition of non-Congress parties.

The local media in Assam started projecting Sarma as the ‘super CM’ as he held multiple portfolios in the Sonowal Cabinet. He also became the BJP’s go-to man in the Northeast. Known to be a master strategist, Sarma has also been credited with establishing NDA’s dominance in a region, known as a Congress stronghold until a few years ago.

In his last term, Sarma handled key portfolios such as finance, PWD and education. He also headed the most-important health department that many believe had successfully tackled the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

Sarma could be seen at the forefront of Assam’s fight against the pandemic, visiting hospitals and managing the entire health work force. Even the World Health Organization (WHO) showered praise on Assam’s COVID-19 management system.

“The state of Assam in North-East India amalgamated testing, tracing and treatment with strengthening its strong primary health centres (PHC) to ensure COVID-19 pandemic response services reached everyone in the state, including communities in difficult-to-reach areas,” a WHO report said.

Early life and education

Born on February 1, 1969, to late Kailash Nath Sarma and Mrinalini Devi in Guwahati, Sarma did his schooling from Kamrup Academy School, Guwahati in 1985 and joined Cotton College for further studies where he became the general secretary (GS) of the college students’ union from 1991 to 1992. He completed his graduation in 1990 and post-graduation in 1992.

An alumnus of Government Law College, Guwahati, Sarma obtained a PhD from Gauhati University. He was practising law at Gauhati High Court from 1996 to 2001.

Sarma married Riniki Bhuyan Sarma on 7 June 2001, with whom he has a son Nandil Biswa Sarma and a daughter Sukanya Sarma.
Jayanta Kalita is a senior journalist and author based in Delhi. He writes on issues related to India’s Northeast. The views expressed are personal.
first published: May 9, 2021 01:12 pm

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