Himanta Biswa Sarma, Congress' Big Loss, Delivers Another State To BJP

Himanta Biswa Sarma, Congress' Big Loss, Delivers Another State To BJP

Himanta Biswa Sarma is leading BJP mission to oust Congress governments in the North-East.

New Delhi:  The BJP, invited on Tuesday to form government in Manipur, has moved one step closer to its mission of a "Congress-mukt (free) North East". Himanta Biswa Sarma, who is leading that mission to oust Congress governments in the North-East, was in that party less than two years ago. His first big moment in the BJP was delivering Assam last year. Now, he has delivered Manipur.

As convenor of the North East Democratic Alliance or NEDA, 48-year-old Himanta Biswa Sarma is a man in hurry to prove that much of the Congress' success in Assam since 2001 was a result of his organisational skills and the ability to manage any political crisis.

The trusted lieutenant of senior BJP leader Ram Madhav, the central leader who looks after the North East, had sole charge of the Manipur strategy. The party's zero-to-21 seat performance is seen as one of the big triumphs of Super Saturday, when the party also swept Uttar Pradesh.

In Manipur, Mr Sarma replicated his Assam model of building a rainbow coalition of anti-Congress forces. The National People's Party (NPP) and the Naga People's Front (NPF), BJP allies at the Centre, contested separately to consolidated the votes of different communities. 

As in Assam - where the BJP had named Sarbananda Sonowal as its presumptive Chief Minister but Mr Biswa was the star campaigner and strategist - the former Congressman traveled across the state campaigning hard. The Prime Minister, enlisted for intense campaigns in the other states, particularly UP, traveled only once to Manipur.

The BJP's 21 seats in Manipur got it second place after the Congress which won 28 seats, just three short of a majority. But the BJP had its allies waiting with support letters and has been invited to form the government by Governor Najma Heptullah. N Biren Singh, also a former Congressman, will take oath as chief minister today.

In Arunachal Pradesh, Mr Sarma is credited with convincing over 40 Congress rebels who had gone back to the party, to quit again only two months later and join a regional party to form a government backed by the BJP last year. Nagaland's ruling party, the NPF, is part of the BJP-led national coalition NDA.

Once a close confidant of senior Congress leader and long-time Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, Himanta Biswa Sarma's parting with the Congress was bitter after the party refused to consider him for Chief Minister in Assam when he rebelled against his mentor and claimed that a "majority of the Congress' lawmakers" in the state backed him.

Mr Sarma squarely blamed Rahul Gandhi for his leaving the Congress, alleging that Mr Gandhi had paid more "attention" to his pet than him (Sarma) when he went to meet the Congress vice president in Delhi.

The Congress did not make public the reason why Mr Sarma was shunned, but sources said Rahul Gandhi objected since his name figured in a chit fund scam. "I have been given a clean chit by the CBI after going through all the charges," Mr Sarma had told this reporter days before he switched sides to join the BJP in August 2015.

Interestingly, in July 2015, when the Congress attacked the BJP in Parliament over a corruption scandal, the BJP hit back with a booklet titled, "Saga of scams in Congress ruled states," which featured Mr Sarma's name in a bribery scandal that was linked to a water supply scheme of the Assam government.

While the then BJP chief in Assam quickly went into damage control mode, Mr Sarma filed a Rs 100 crore defamation suit against his former mentor, Tarun Gogoi, when he repeated those charges.

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