Finally, Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma became the chief minister of Assam. Let us remember, he was not made; he became the chief minister of Assam. It is by no means a mean achievement for him. The post of the chief minister is a coveted one. There is no doubt that Dr. Sarma worked very hard to reach this position. But, the circumstances were in his favor.

In the recently held state elections in India, BJP lost in all the three major states except Assam. It is believed that the architect of BJP’s win in Assam was Dr. Sarma. Before the election, he played an important role even in the distribution of tickets among the aspirants. When he could manage tickets for the maximum number of his supporters from the BJP top brass, the then incumbent chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal failed to do so for his supporters.

The grapevines also said that he had some say in the distribution of tickets in other parties. So when we discuss and debate the issues, at the ground level other factors play important role in Assam’s electoral politics. And there are people who have mastered the art of managing and winning the elections.

In recent times Sarma has become an expert in it. He has become an election-winning machine in Assam. The BJP had no other option but to depend on him for the Assembly elections. Once the results were out, the central leadership was in a quandary as to who should they select as the chief minister of the state.

For more than a week nobody knew who would be the next chief minister of Assam. In all probability, the BJP central leadership would have wanted a person who they could handle easily and who would consult the central leadership before taking any major decision. Naturally, Sonowal was their choice. But Sarma had the support of more MLAs and he also had a good rapport with the opposition MLAs.

There was every possibility of Sarma upsetting the BJP’s applecart if he was not offered the post of the chief minister. In a situation where BJP has already lost badly in three major states, they were not ready to lose another state where they won the election with their allies. So though they parleyed long, the central leadership of the party finally had to give in.

Thus Sarma bargained for the top post and he got it. This is a very significant political development so far Assam is concerned. It was true that late Tarun Gogoi enjoyed the full confidence of the Congress high command. He enjoyed it but didn’t bargain for it. But unlike him, Sarma bargained for it.

The next thing was the formation of the council of ministers. Here also, Sarma had his say. I don’t think that BJP central leadership had interfered much in the formation of the council of ministers too. Looking at the background of the newly appointed ministers, one can easily guess that the RSS also did not have much say in it. Another interesting thing is that no heavy-weight BJP central leader attended the swearing-in ceremony of the HBS.

The third factor is the formation of the CMO. Who are there in his CMO? Who are these officers? The antecedents of these officers also speak a lot. And this also indicates that Dr. Sarma could be his own man. But Himanta Biswa Sarma is a clever politician. He knows how to play his cards.  He is an expert in the politics of optics too. He does it deftly with the support of the obliging media. After being selected as the chief minister, he visited the local RSS headquarters with a somber look. He also took all the members of his council of ministers to meet Sonowal, the former chief minister and seek his blessings.  So apparently everything looks hunky-dory.

But will Dr. Sarma be a different chief minister? How can we forget the past? How can we forget all the mechanizations engineered by him as a Congress and BJP minister?   He was no doubt the most active minister under late Tarun Gogoi, particularly in his first two terms. In the Sonowal ministry, he was the de facto chief minister.

Here we should note that for more than a decade Dr. Sarma was the minister of health and education in Assam. How is the present scenario in health and education in Assam? Is it a rosy or dismal picture? Can we expect that things will change overnight when he has become the chief minister of the state now? I doubt. If I am proved wrong that will be a good omen for our state.

But one thing is clear. Sarma has reached the peak of his political career. The moot question now is – what next? When you reach the peak, there are only two possibilities. Either you climb down or you remain there.  Climbing down is an easy option.

To remain at the peak is not so easy; rather it is a difficult option. So far politics is concerned; you need many things to remain at the peak. You need circumstantial support. You need to perform. And above all you need your share of cunning and trickery. In coming years we shall see how Sarma combines all of them and how long he could remain at the peak.

Paresh Malakar

Paresh Malakar is a commentator based in Guwahati. He can be reached at: malakarparesh@gmail.com