When Assam’s new Chief Minister was sworn in at Guwahati’s Srimanta Sankardeva Kalakshetra on Monday, Hemanta Biswa Sarma had formally pipped Sarbananda Sonowal to the post. The uncertainty in the state over the next head of government is now over.
Altogether, it has been a face-saver for the triumphant Bharatiya Janata Party, which was floundering since the afternoon of 2 May in its quest for a new head of government, unable as the leadership was to project a probable CM in course of the campaign.
The party leadership, most particularly its national president, JP Nadda, has plumped for Sarma, ignoring the claim of Sonowal who had helmed the government in Dispur for the past five years…and during the Assembly election.
Very pertinently has the state’s 15th Chief Minister inaugurated his tenure with a fervent appeal to the separatist militant outfits to abjure violence ~ a recurrent malaise in Assam and indeed the north-east. Contextualised with this appeal was his overture to Paresh Barua, leader of the United Liberation Front of Assam (Independent), to return to the mainstream in the next five years.
Given the inherent strength and influence of the militants, such an appeal is easier conveyed than executed. It has been clothed this time with a statement of fact ~ “Kidnappings and killings complicate problems; they do not solve them.”
This is a truism that has eloquently been articulated by the new Chief Minister. And he will need the assistance of the Centre to fulfil his mission, specifically his goalpost to make Assam one of the “top five in India” over the next five years.
Of course, his uppermost priority at this juncture is to address the resurgence of Covid-19, not to forget the other imperative ~ to make the state free from the annual flood havoc. It would be an understatement to describe the Covid situation as “alarming”; the daily case-count in Assam has crossed 5,000. It bears recall that on April 4, Mr Biswa Sarma had insisted that there was no need to wear a mask in the state.
On Monday, he skirted the controversy stoked by the Citizenship Amendment Act that has roiled the sensitive border state. And yet, without going into details of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), it was pretty obvious that the new CM is in favour of what he calls “reverification” of 20 per cent of the names in the border districts and ten per cent in other areas.
Sarma appears to have been rewarded for his organisational skills, most particularly his role in the party’s re-election and its growth in the sensitive north-east. The BJP or its allies are in power in all the seven north-eastern states.
Sarma is said to have been vigorously backed by the Union home minister, Amit Shah. After having failed to secure power in West Bengal, the BJP seems determined to consolidate its power base in the neighbouring north-eastern state.