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5-min read

Himanta Biswa Sarma, BJP’s NE Showstopper Who Seems to Know How Make Voters Dance to His Tunes

Sarma, who is credited for the BJP’s surge in the region, has predicted 19-21 seats for the NDA this time.

Tulika Devi | News18

Updated:May 21, 2019, 9:19 PM IST
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Himanta Biswa Sarma, BJP’s NE Showstopper Who Seems to Know How Make Voters Dance to His Tunes
File photo of Assam finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.
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Guwahati: Perhaps the most memorable picture that caught the voters' imagination in Assam during the recently held Lok Sabha election was the state’s most powerful politician, Himanta Biswa Sarma, breaking into a jig on the BJP’s theme song ‘Akou Ebar, Modi Sarkar, (Once again, Modi government)

This never-before-seen avatar of Sarma, who was seen dancing and cheering the crowd, became an instant hit across BJP rallies in the state.

However, those who know him says that it’s not only the dancing ability of the BJP’s master-strategist for the northeast and right-hand man of party president Amit Shah, but Sarma’s ability to make the electorate dance to his tune that will eventually further brighten the prospects of the saffron party in Assam.

As the state prepared for the first phase of polling, the BJP’s theme song became an overnight instant hit among locals and Sarma made sure that he wooed everyone attending his rally to dance to its tunes.

This was much unlike his previous rallies where he attacked the opposition Congress unsparingly for failing to develop the region.

The Lok Sabha election in Assam, this time, will be noted for unique style adopted by the BJP for its aggressive, entertaining and energetic campaign led by Sharma.

While on the one hand Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP national president Amit Shah addressed rallies at frequent intervals, on the other hand, there were Sarma’s massive road shows where his dance moves at almost all rallies after April 2 caught the voters' imagination.

While the Congress was desperately trying to raise the issues of development and joblessness plaguing the economy and the controversial Citizenship (amendment) Bill, 2016, the BJP seemed to have convincingly drawn away attention from all these issues towards Sarma's entertaining rallies.

The all-powerful health and education minister held 175 rallies and roadshows covering 200km in all the three phases.

The News18-IPSOS exit poll has predicted that the Congress’ count could come down to anywhere between four-six seats in the northeast, including a maximum of four seats in Assam.

The Congress had won 13 seats in 2004 and eight in 2014 in the entire region.

Sarma, who is credited for the BJP’s surge in the region, has predicted 19-21 seats for the NDA this time.

He is also the convenor of the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), a BJP-floated forum of its regional allies in the region.

The exit poll results have predicted that BJP would bag both the seats in Tripura, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh, while its allies — the Mizo National Front will win the lone seat in Mizoram and Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party will win the Nagaland seat.

The surveys have predicted one seat each for the Congress and another NDA ally National People's Party in Meghalaya.

At least 11 regional parties, including eight NEDA partners, had protested against the Citizenship Amendment Bill in January, soon after it was passed in the Lok Sabha.

The bill was not tabled in the Rajya Sabha, but Shah has said here that the party would re-introduce it after Modi came back to power.

The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) had quit the alliance in protest against the bill, but it renewed ties with the saffron party and fought the parliamentary election together.

According to the seat-sharing agreement, while the regional party contested from three seats, the BJP fielded its candidates in 10 constituencies, while one seat was left for the Bodoland People’s Front.

The NEDA convenor, who has claimed that in the 2024 parliamentary election polls, the BJP would have only regional parties as its opponents as the grand old party would lose its relevance, was elected to the Assembly from Jalukbari on a Congress ticket for the first time in 2001.

He had defeated AGP leader, late Bhrigu Kumar Phukan. In 2006, he was re-elected from the seat and then, for the third consecutive term in 2011 with a margin of more than 75,000 votes.

Sarma has held important portfolios, including agriculture, planning and development, finance, health and education. He was also in charge of Assam Accord Implementation from 2002 to 2014.

During his tenure, three medical colleges in Jorhat, Barpeta and Tezpur came up, while more than 50,000 teachers were appointed for the first time through TET after Sarma abolished the system of interviews.

Following differences with then chief minister Tarun Gogoi, he joined the BJP on August 23, 2015, at Shah’s residence in New Delhi and soon after, handed over the charge of the upcoming Assembly election in the state.

The BJP formed its first government in the region and Sarma became a cabinet minister in the Sarbananda Sonowal government.

A large section of his supporters was expecting Sarma to contest the parliamentary election, this time, and the state BJP leadership had said he said he could contest from any seat across the country as central leaders held him in high regard.

However, Shah, in a series of tweets, said Sarma was asked to concentrate on developing Assam and strengthening the party’s base in the region.

Sarma also took to Twitter to say that he accepted the decision “humbly” and the region would not disappoint Shah in bringing Modi back to power.

Earlier, Sarma himself had said on a number of occasions that he would not contest the Assembly election in the state in 2021 indicating he was looking for a national role.

BJP sources said he was named as the candidate for the prestigious Tezpur constituency in Assam, while preparing the state unit’s panel of names for the election.

This, however, did not go down well with the BJP’s central election committee, comprising Modi and Shah, as the party’s sitting Tezpur MP, Ram Prasad Sarmah, resigned from the BJP’s primary membership immediately after learning about the omission of his name.

The central leadership did not accept Sarmah’s resignation and asked the state unit to reconsider the panel of candidates, which did not include the parliamentarian from Tezpur constituency.

Later, Sarma’s close aide and Assam Tea Tribes Welfare Minister Pallab Lochan Das was given ticket from Tezpur.

Ram Madhav said the party may consider sending Sarma to the Rajya Sabha from Assam.

Later, he even said that Sarma was bigger than Shah in the northeast.

After a rigorous campaign in the region, Sarma was asked to canvass for the party in West Bengal where he his road show with state BJP president Dilip Ghosh was allegedly attacked by Trinamool Congress workers.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has accused Sarma of distributing money to woo voters.

| Edited by: Sohini Goswami
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