The BJP scored a perfect three in the just concluded assembly polls in three northeastern states. The party's morale-boosting win in Nagaland, Tripura and Meghalaya has been largely credited to Himanta Biswa Sarma, the Chief Minister of Assam and BJP's key strategist in the northeast.
Mr Sarma, who has been heading the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), a constituent of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), for nearly seven years, played a key role in BJP's 'Mission Northeast'. This included the change of Chief Minister in Tripura and keeping backchannel talks open with former allies like Conrad Sangma's party in Meghalaya.
As a result, the BJP, despite winning two seats, extended its support to Mr Sangma's National People's Party, or NPP, which won 26 out of the 59 seats in the state. The Meghalaya BJP has asked Conrad Sangma to induct two of its MLAs in the new state cabinet. Sources told NDTV that at least one BJP MLA will likely be made a cabinet minister.
The Assam Chief Minister was also instrumental in the leadership change in Tripura just a year ahead of assembly polls in the state. The decision to replace Biplab Kumar with Dr Manik Saha, a dentist by profession, to check anti-incumbency is said to be among the key factors that helped the BJP retain the state. Mr Sarma also campaigned extensively in the state and stationed himself at Agartala. He also assigned specific areas to his minister for the elections.
Mr Sarma also kept a channel of communication open for talks with Tipra Motha, a tribal-dominated party led by former royal scion Pradyot Manikya Debbarman, which emerged as the second-largest party in its Assembly poll debut.
Mr Sarma also played a crucial role in Nagaland, ensuring the smooth partnership between Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) and the BJP. Despite winning just two seats in the state, the BJP is likely to be given many important portfolios by NDPP chief Neiphiu Rio in his cabinet.