The BJP’s most prominent face from the North East, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has emerged as the party’s new poster boy for election campaigning, capturing eyeballs as its first star campaigner from the region in far away Gujarat and Delhi.
Be it the revocation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, imposition of Uniform Civil Code (UCC), PFI ban, Ram Janmabhoomi temple issue, communal angle to the recent killing of a girl by her live-in partner or the attack on Congress and his bete noire Rahul Gandhi, Sarma has left no stone unturned to push forward assertively the right-wing party’s key agenda in poll-bound Gujarat where the BJP has ruled for the last 27 years, barring a brief period of President’s Rule. Sarma, in the eyes of his supporters of course comes with the right credentials for the role.
The passing of the Cattle Protection Act, calling for specific policy measures for slowing down minority population growth, closing down of government Madrasas and turning them into general schools, demolition of madrasas following arrest of teachers with alleged terror links, sealing of the ‘Miya’ (Bengali-speaking Muslims in Assam) musuem, among others has brought him to the fore of polarisation politics, according to experts.
The Chief Minister, however, during his campaign trail has hit back with questions like “does an Owaisi (Asaduddin Owaisi) alone have the right to polarisation. Do the Hindus not have the right to assert their glorious cultural and civilisational heritage? It is the media who term this as polarisation when Prime Minister Narendra Modi has strived hard to restore our pride in ‘Sanatan Dharma’ which is the soul of our nation”. He has also dismissed the title of ‘star campaigner’ stating he is “no star but just an ordinary ‘karyakarta’ (worker) of the party and Gujarat leaders also go to Assam during elections”.
Campaigning in Gujarat twice within a week, Sarma has focussed his attack on his erstwhile party- the Congress which he left in 2015 to join the BJP, and particularly on Rahul Gandhi who he alleged was more interested in feeding biscuits to his dog than in solving party’s problems. In each of his campaign, either in Gujarat or Delhi, he has attacked the Congress for following ”politics of appeasement” for the benefit of a particular community and even went on to refer to Gandhi resembling Saddam Hussain due to the beard he has kept during the ongoing ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’.
Congress leader Kanhaiya Kumar, when asked about Sarma’s continuous attack on the Congress and Rahul, said that he has to ”please his masters for his political survival. The BJP resorts to polarisation politics at a time when the youth and people are talking about unemployment and price rise”.Political analyst Paresh Malakar pointed out that he highlights issues core to BJP’s communal agenda but added that the comments may also be construed as ”irresponsible”.
“Apart from the communal angle, Sarma is trying to mislead and provoke,” Malakar, also the General Secretary of civil society group Assam Nagarik Sabha, told PTI. Political analyst Chandan Sarma of Dibrugarh University claimed that it is well-documented that Sarma has been behind the success of BJP in the North East and that his stature is increasing in the national arena, too, as he ”boldly articulates the core BJP agenda on various issues”.
Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP) General Secretary Jagadish Bhuyan told PTI that even after being in power for so many years in Gujarat, “the BJP is not talking about development but engaged in communal polarization… Sarma can go to any extent to instigate people.” Assam Pradesh Congress President Bhupen Bora however told PTI that Sarma has been taken to Gujarat not to give speeches but for fund management.”The BJP government in the state has looted funds which the party is using for election purpose,” Bora alleged.
The BJP, however, refutes these allegations with its Rajya Sabha MP Pabitra Margherita asserting the campaigning task recognises Sarma’s ability “to connect with people’s pulse, his practical and viable commitments and its timely implementation which has been noticed not only in the region but also in the rest of the country”. Besides, BJP encourages and empowers “new generation politicians and gives space to young leaders working for the nation’s development along with preserving ideological ethos,” Margherita said.