Nine months after walking out of the Congress, Himanta Biswa Sarma is now a BJP MLA and a key member of its core strategy team. He talks to Abantika Ghosh about the party’s win, and what comes next.
Did you expect such a big victory?
I had told you. BJP is leading in 60-plus seats, AGP is winning 14 and BPF 12. When you are 86-plus, everybody has to do well. Except for heavy Muslim majority areas, we have done well everywhere, even in the hills, which are not known for their BJP support. We won four of five seats there. We even have one Muslim MLA.
Have you met anybody from the Congress?
I plan to drop in to meet the chief minister (Tarun Gogoi) tonight or tomorrow. Definitely within the next two-three days I will visit him. Others in the Congress party I am in touch with almost on a daily basis.
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Did you foresee this debacle for the Congress?
When I met Rahul Gandhi in July (last year), I told him that you will not cross 25 seats. Today, this is happening (points to the television). I had told him, ‘You are losing very badly’. He said, ‘No, no we will win’. I said, ‘Thik hai dekh lijiye’.
Did you leave Congress because you foresaw defeat or did they lose because you left?
An individual cannot make a difference except in one or two seats. But my prescription for the Congress party was that they be hard on illegal immigration, take on (AIUDF chief Badruddin) Ajmal. They had done that in the last couple of elections but not this time. If they had, the result would not have been like this. Congress wanted to play Muslim communal politics on Assam, that is why they suffered this fate.
What would you tell Rahul Gandhi if you happen to meet him now?
I will tell him to stop blue blood politics. The CM’s son was studying abroad in America, London. He came back to Guwahati and one day the CM told us he is joining politics. Six months later, we are told that he is our MP. This kind of parachuting dynastic politics is the greatest reason why Congress is going downhill. There is no harm in children of leaders joining politics, but let them work their way up the organisation. See in Haryana, Hooda promoted his son and Congress lost. In Assam, Gogoi promoted his son and Congress most. Wherever chief ministers have promoted their sons and daughters, the party has suffered.
What worked for the BJP in this election?
Positivity and also its insistence on the Assamese identity. On the foreigners issue, people thought BJP was the most natural party to resolve the crisis. People of Assam felt that a government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi can take Assam forward on the path of development.
Isn’t the government going to be led by Sarbananda Sonowal?
It will be Sonowal’s government but we want Modi and the national president to remain engaged with Assam till we stand on our own feet. We need active support from the Centre.
How different was the BJP campaign this time?
I cannot say different because I have no prior experience, but from what I have heard, they were earlier reluctant to enter into coalitions. But this time, Amit Shahji encouraged the coalition with the AGP and the BPF, which prevented anti-Congress vote from getting divided. Ticket selection was left to the local leadership and every suggestion they made was incorporated. He created the ecosystem for this victory.
You are drawing a contrast with the Congress party there?
Yes, very unlike the Congress. The party president himself consulted all MPs from the state and, except for the prime minister, party president and senior leaders like Rajnathji and Jaitleyji, it was all managed by local leaders.
When is the swearing-in?
We are looking at two dates, 25th and 27th. We have requested the PM to be there to bless the new team, so we will finalise a date according to his availability.
What role do you see for yourself in the government?
Let the party leadership decide that. I am a BJP MLA now, it is for them to take that call.
Where do you go from here?
After such a resounding victory, we have to be sincere in delivering on our promises and implementing the vision document. We have to decisively protect the Assamese people and close the border to stop influx. The National Register of Citizens has to be made foolproof. We also have to press ahead on the development front. On the longer term also, this has been the first elected government of the BJP in the North-East and we hope to continue the run in Manipur and Meghalaya, which go to polls next year. Our target should be to win 20 of the 25 seats in the N-E in 2019.
Do you see yourself as a key player in the BJP’s expansion in the N-E?
In the Congress, I have handled these two state and have some experience. I will be happy to contribute in whichever way the party decides.
Are you headed to Delhi in 2019?
I don’t know.