Himanta Biswa Sarma has arguably become the ‘go-to-man’ for the BJP in the northeast after its stunning performance in the Manipur assembly elections. But it was only in August 2015, when he switched his loyalties to the saffron outfit after an equally impressive stint with the Congress.
Sarma began his political career at a very tender age.
It was during the Assam movement, when Sarma, at the age of around 10, started mingling with leaders of All Assam Student Union (AASU). At that time he was often seen at the AASU office, serving refreshments to the AASU leaders including Prafulla Kumar Mahanta and Late Bhrigu Kumar Phukan, who went on to become chief minister and state home minister, respectively.
But, his stint with the AASU ended in the early 90s, when he ditched then AASU president Sarbananda Sonowal and general secretary Dr Samujjal Kumar Bhattacharya. Sarma joined hands with then Assam chief minister Late Hiteswar Saikia, a Congress stalwart.
Sarma’s association with Saikia formally announced his advent into the mainstream politics.
On Congress’ ticket, Sarma was fielded in Jalukbari seat in 1996 against influential Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) leader late Bhrigu Kumar Phukan who was a famous orator in the state.
The gritty young leader accepted the challenge but lost the contest against the leader he used to admire.
On May 15, 1996, Hiteswar Saikia passed away the same day when the AGP formed the government in the state for the second time.
Many Congress leaders termed Saikia’s demise as the dead end for Sarma’s political career. But Sarma had other plans. From 1996 to 2001, Sarma practiced law at the Gauhati high court.
In 2001, Sarma again contested against Phukan but this time, the young leader had the last laugh. After that, there was no turning back for Sarma.
In 2002, one year after being elected as an MLA, Sarma was inducted as minister of state in the Tarun Gogoi cabinet and was given key finance portfolio. People still remember his first state budget speech at the Assam legislative assembly.
Subsequently, Sarma's proximity with chief minister Tarun Gogoi gradually increased and as a result, he was assigned some more important portfolios.
Sarma introduced many innovative welfare schemes during his tenure as the minister for planning and development. Sarma was then elevated as the health minister of the state.
When the Congress came back to power in 2006 for the second time, Sarma too had a role to play in the government.
It was then when the leader started drawing attention from the state media through his work. He is credited with bringing several important changes in the health sector. He used to inspect government hospital and primary health centres in the state and even punished employees accused of dereliction of duty.
By 2011, Sarma had become the most influential leader in the state. He became Tarun Gogoi’s most trusted lieutenant due to his political acumen. This time around, Sarma played an important role in Congress’ third consecutive victory in the assembly elections.
This kind of success gradually increased Sarma’s expectations too. This time, Sarma wanted finance and home portfolios. Some even say that he wanted to become the deputy chief minister. However, his expectations fell flat after he was assigned ‘low-key’ ministries like health, education, Assam Accord etc.
Even this could not deter Sarma’s loyalty towards Tarun Gogoi whom he considered a father figure. But the entry of Gogoi’s son Gaurab Gogoi into the state politics in 2013 changed everything. After that, the terms between Sarma and senior Gogoi began to turn sour.
It is believed Sarma didn't liked the way Gaurab was inducted into the party and was given Lok Sabha ticket from Kaliabor constituency in 2014. Finally, Sarma resigned from all the portfolios on on July 21, but continued to work as an MLA till he joined the BJP on August 23.
Soon after his induction into the saffron party, Sarma started grabbing all the limelight within the party. Even, Siddhartha Bhattacharya, the then BJP president, who brought Sarma into the party was seen struggling to get attention.
It was the onset of state assembly elections again. Sarbananda Sonowal was made the state BJP president and also the chief ministerial candidate. Many thought that Sonowal and Sarma will find it difficult to forge a partnership. But putting aside all the differences, both the leaders led from the front.
During the 2016 assembly election, Sarbananda Sonowal became the face of the party while Sarma enjoyed the reputation of being the voice of the outfit. Known for his oratory skills, Sarma addressed more than 300 rallies during the election campaign.
Ask anyone from Assam, and he will credit Himanta Biswa Sarma for BJPs victory.
The party high command in Delhi was aware of Sarma’s contribution in BJP’s resounding victory in Assam. This brought rewards for the young leader. Sarma was assigned to handle 15 key portfolios including finance, health, education and tourism. He was also made the convenor of the Northeast Democratic Alliance (NEDA), NDA’s northeast wing comprising key regional parties.
NEDA is entrusted with the task of preventing Congress’ possible alliance with these small political groups.
Soon after taking charge of NEDA, Sarma became the most influential face in the northeast politics. His efforts resulted in BJP’s success in forming government in Arunachal Pradesh.
His influence grew in Manipur too where he became the stare campaigner in the assembly elections.
Now, Sarma enjoys the reputation of a super chief minister of all the BJP-ruled states in the region.