GUWAHATI: The BJP may have had a facile win in Assam but choosing the chief ministerial candidate could be a tightrope walk for its leadership.
The party did not have a CM face nor did its stalwarts – Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah included – even once sought votes from the people in the name of incumbent CM Sarbananda Sonowal.
Both had patted Sonowal and his virtual deputy Himanta Biswa Sarma for the various development initiatives of the state’s BJP-led coalition government.
A day after the results were declared, MLAs, loyal to Sarma, got activated. They met him at his private residence on Monday morning. What transpired at the meeting was not known but one of them batted for the party strongman Sarma.
In Dibrugarh, BJP’s local MLA, Prasanta Phukan said one, who is the most efficient, should be appointed as the CM.
The BJP, however, said one must not read too much into the day’s proceedings.
“He (Sarma) helped them in many ways during elections and now that they have won, they came to meet him to express their gratefulness. The MLAs also met the CM. So, there is no room for speculations,” a BJP leader said.
BJP ally United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL) said it favoured the appointment of a dynamic leader as the CM.
“People have given us a chance to serve them again. We need a dynamic leader as the CM so we can fulfil people’s expectations,” UPPL president Pramod Bodo said.
Since his defection to BJP from Congress six years ago, Sarma has not only contributed to the prowess of the BJP in Assam but hoisted the BJP flag across the Northeast. As the BJP retained power in Assam, he can pat himself once again.
There are murmurs that the BJP might appoint Sarma as the CM by giving ministerial responsibilities to Sonowal in Delhi. But BJP sources said if the party leadership had that plan, it would have been already executed.
From Sonowal to Sarma to party chief Ranjeet Kumar Dass, they all have left the matter to the wisdom of the central leadership.
A master election strategist who is widely known for his political acumen, Sarma was instrumental in scripting the BJP’s victory also in some states of the Northeast in recent years.
He has high ambitions and he did all that he could to retain the attention of the party’s central leadership. In the lead-upto the polls, he took out rallies and roadshows across Assam amidst thousands of his supporters.
His filing of nomination was a gala affair. Several thousand supporters accompanied him as he went to file the paper. Manipur CM N Biren Singh and BJP’s two central leaders were also present. Sonowal’s filing of nomination, in contrast, was a low-key affair.
However, one reason why the BJP might continue with Sonowal is its defeat in West Bengal. The party is expected to give credit to Modi for the Assam victory. Sarma’s appointment might take away Modi’s role in the victory. He had led the party’s Assam election campaign.