Himanta Biswa Sarma is the man that the BJP hopes will win it more than 20 seats in a region where it once had zero presence. In 2014, the BJP won eight of Northeast’s 25 Lok Sabha seats, all of which vote in the first three rounds of the national election starting Thursday.
Speaking to NDTV before taking off from Dibrugarh in a private plane, the 50-year-old former Assam minister said a 21-seat haul would make him “extremely happy” — but he is actually confident of 19.
Himanta Biswa Sarma quit the Congress in 2015 and is the chairman of the BJP-led Northeast Democratic Alliance. He was not given a ticket to contest the election; the BJP wanted him to oversee the campaign in the northeast.
Asked whether he was on board with his party’s decision not to field him, Mr Sarma said: “These are unnecessarily questions raised by the Congress. The party has decided I should not contest. There is no debate or further discussion on the issue.”
In 2014, the Congress ruled five out of eight northeast states and the BJP had none. In 2019, the situation has completely reversed; the Congress has no state and the BJP is either leading governments or part of them in five northeast states. In the three remaining states, there are non-Congress governments.
Mr Sarma carries the weight of the BJP’s expectations on his shoulders.
“In this election, people are discussing about PM Modi, let’s not talk about individuals like me. PM Modi is the star. Let’s only talk about Modi in this election,” he said.
What he also does not talk about is the Citizenship Amendment Bill, a controversial proposed law to protect non-Muslim immigrants.
“Today you listen to my speech, I used to focus on identity and development and these are BJP’s two major political issues. Politics has to go hand in hand with development rhetoric,” Mr Sarma told NDTV.
“We don’t need to talk on the (citizenship amendment) bill. Our vision document with talk about CAB, in this election we are talking about Modi, development and identity,” he added.
In the last general election in 2014, he was with the Congress, campaigning against PM Modi.
Asked about allegations that he has been making polarising statements, Mr Sarma said: “Hindus will not vote wholesale for BJP, but after election you will find out which community is voting wholesale for the Congress. So who is doing communal politics? Rahul Gandhi is contesting from Wayanad, so who is doing communal politics?”
Mr Sarma averages eight to 10 public rallies a day across Assam’s 14 Lok Sabha seats. As the day gets over, he takes his chartered aircraft to other states for strategy meets at night. Only to double back to Assam back early next morning, and continue his campaign.
As a counter, the Congress has pitched his one-time mentor and veteran leader, former chief minister Tarun Gogoi.
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