The exit of Himanta Biswa Sarma and imminent exodus of nine dissident Congress MLAs in his camp to the BJP has triggered a huge churning in both the parties. Political equations are changing overnight as leaders in the two parties jockey to strengthen their claims for tickets and maintain their influence. The euphoria in the State BJP over Himanta Biswa Sarma’s induction seems to be evaporating fast, judging by selective leaks party functiories are making to the media. The exultant talk about BJP’s ‘Mission 84’ to go up to 90 seats after Sarma’s joining has now been replaced by loud grumblings that ‘newcomers cannot straightaway expect tickets on joining the party’. Union minister Sarbanda Sonowal has pointed to the established system within the BJP of giving tickets to candidates coming up through grassroot work and recommended by zol, district and state level committees to the tiol leadership. Sonowal’s discomfiture at Sarma seeking to form his own lobby in the BJP is now clearly out in the open, after Sarma’s diehard followers Jayanta Malla Barua, Pijush Hazarika, Pallab Lochan Das, Bolin Chetia, Kripath Malla, Binda Saikia, Pradan Barua, Rajen Borthakur and Abu Taher Bepari met BJP tiol president Amit Shah in New Delhi on Saturday. As if that was not enough, Sarma thereafter claimed that several other Congress MLAs ‘including a minister’ and hundreds of NSUI, Youth Congress and district-level Congress workers are raring to follow him into the BJP.
With the decks all but cleared for these nine Congress MLAs to join the BJP following Sarma, the stage is set for a huge tug-of-war within the saffron party. Some BJP MPs and district unit presidents have reportedly begun a counter-move to put up their own critical assessments before the party’s tiol leadership. They are likely to argue that the nine Congress MLAs wanting to join the BJP have all lost their mass bases and would not have got tickets anyway from the Congress leadership for the 2016 assembly elections, so they must win their spurs by resigning their seats immediately and win the bye-polls. Several State BJP leaders are now said to be insisting upon more powers to the screening committee to evaluate ticket-seekers thoroughly in terms of contributions to the party, acceptability and winning potential in their respective constituencies, as well as clean image. But it remains to be seen whether this will cut any ice with the party’s tiol leadership, which is apparently pinning its faith on Himanta Biswa Sarma for his shrewd understanding of realpolitik in Assam and his ability to ‘mage’ advantageous political equations. It is but an open secret that Sarbanda Sonowal with his hold on tribal leaders and State BJP president Siddhartha Bhattacharya backed by the Sangh Parivar, have formed two clear power centres within the party. If Himanta Biswa’s induction was backed to the hilt by Bhattacharya to gain an upper hand — the imminent joining of more of his Congress followers, as well as some AGP and former AASU leaders — is certain to create much more turbulence within the saffron party unless its central leaders and the RSS take a strong hand.
As for the Congress, the likely purging of Himanta Biswa loyalists surely does not sigl closure of the dissidence chapter. With even senior leaders taking pot shots at Tarun Gogoi’s leadership, a pathetic exercise to stave off further dissidence has begun by offering the carrots of four vacant ministerial berths. This has led to no-holds-barred attacks like Badarpur’s Congress MLA Jamaluddin Ahmed charging former minister Siddique Ahmed of being ‘an AIUDF spy’ whose likely re-induction in the ministry will harm the party in the Barak valley. Siddique Ahmed himself has now belatedly woken up to the realisation that a section of dissidents like him were ‘used as a shield’ by Himanta Biswa Sarma to further his political interests! Long aligned with Himanta Biswa in the anti-Gogoi camp, senior leader Pawan Singh Ghatowar has now termed Himanta loyalists as ‘actors turned villains’. In the midst of all this Himanta bashing and angling for ministerial berths, a Congress meeting in Rajiv Bhawan on Sunday as part of its damage-control exercise — brought to the fore the sharp divisions and infighting within the ruling party. Senior Congressman Devanda Konwar called Tarun Gogoi a ‘liar’ before mediapersons in retaliation for Gogoi raising questions about his integrity while serving as Bihar Governor. Admitting that the exodus of Himanta loyalists ‘due to misunderstanding’ will definitely impact the Congress, senior minister Bhumidhar Barman has revealed that it was to prevent such disarray that the demand was raised ‘for a change in the party leadership’. The squabbling within the Congress in Assam thus reflects its drift at the tiol level, bereft of the glue of power. The politics in the State in the run up to 2016 may witness a massive re-alignment with the immigrant vote-bank pulling its weight and indigenous groups gearing up for a last ditch battle. But such larger concerns are hardly being reflected in the short-sighted ambitions of political leaders, desperately scrambling for tickets and ministerial berths. The persolity-based politics in Assam has little time or patience for voters unless they hold their representatives strictly accountable.