Himanta Biswa Sarma interview: Not religiously polarised but ethnically, yeshttps://indianexpress.com/article/elections-2016/india/india-news-india/himanta-biswa-sarma-interview-not-religiously-polarised-but-ethnically-yes/

Himanta Biswa Sarma interview: Not religiously polarised but ethnically, yes

BJP’s campaign manager in Assam, formerly a Congress minister, expresses optimism in this conversation

Himanta Biswa Sarma. BJP Himanta Sarma, BJP candidate Himanta Sarma
BJP candidate of Jalukbari constituency Himanta Biswa Sarma (white kurta ) shows his ink finger mark after casting his vote in polling station during the 2nd phase of Assam State assembly election 2016 at Jalukbari in Guwahati on Monday 11th April (Source: DASARATH DEKA)

How do your assess the BJP’s performance in Assam?

On a conservative note, the BJP-led alliance will get 70 seats. And optimistically, around 80.

What do you base that optimism on?

The basis is our political feedback and the percentage of voting in our core areas.

Have the BJP and its alliance partners AGP and BPF been able to transfer votes to one another?


It was a complete alliance. All five parties, we have transferred our votes to one another. There could be some aberrations in one or two seats, but largely the votes have been transferred.

If the alliance does crosses the magic number of 64, what factors will have brought it about?

Three things. One is the identity issue we had raised, the bigger threat from communal forces from the likes of Badruddin Ajmal. That our people were concerned about. Secondly, there is huge anti-incumbency against [Chief Minister Tarun] Gogoi. Thirdly, from the Prime Minister to everyone down the line, we gave a positive agenda.

Has your exit hurt the Congress, has your arrival helped the BJP?

That I think someone else should assess. How can I say about myself?


Many Congress leaders say the party should have prevented your exit. Will the Congress regret it, repent?

Let’s see after May 19, how they will feel. Had I been in the Congress, I would have repented. I mean if this was the case with somebody else and I was in the Congress, I would have repented. Had I been Rahul Gandhi, I would have repented. But you don’t know about Rahul Gandhi, he is a genius.

Will you join the government?

Let’s see what the BJP decides. You don’t do politics by thinking about this post or that post. Let the result come and things will unfold. You have to keep faith in your party.

The Congress seems equally confident, especially after the second phase.

The second phase was more disastrous for the party. If you look at Guwahati, just as a test case, even during the Modi wave the voter turnout was 65 to 66 per cent. Now Guwahati’s turnout has become 76, 78, 80 per cent. And these are all Hindu voters; in Guwahati you have hardly any Muslim population. For the first time, Hindus have voted aggressively; Hindus and, you can say, the local Assamese people. In the second phase, the Congress might draw solace from the fact that in some of the core Muslim seats where the BJP was not in the contest, where the contest was between the AGP and the AIUDF, they might gain one or two seats from Ajmal. The Congress getting two seats and the AIUDF losing two, and vice versa, does not affect us. In a way, in the second phase the BJP did exceptionally well… In the first phase, there was not a single Muslim seat; in the second, the BJP always had a limitation.

How do you assess the huge surge in the voter turnout?

The voting percentage was earlier higher only on the Muslim side. But this time, each community can be compared with the other, which has happened for the first time in Assam. The Muslim votes will be divided between the Congress and the AIUDF. And the Hindus who have come out, these are one-sided votes, en masse they have come to the BJP. Earlier, Muslims used to come out 90 per cent, Hindus used to come out 60 per cent. So in all seats where Muslims are a majority, the seats used to automatically go to the Congress or the AIUDF. But this time Hindus have also voted like Muslims, which is a new phenomenon.

Which means you agree that it was a polarised election?

If you ask me if it was religiously polarised, I will say no. But if you say it was ethnically polarised, I will say yes. Because the local Muslims have voted in big numbers for the BJP. The people who are called Bangladeshi Muslims — whether they are Indian or not, that is another matter — but those who are ethnically of Bangladeshi origin, they have voted either for the AIUDF or the Congress. It was not communal polarisation, it was local versus Bangladeshi.

So you are saying this surge in voting will help the BJP.

I have been in politics for 20 years. And this election does not need any interpretation or assessment because the BJP’s victory is going to be like Modi’s victory in 2014. It can be seen by any layman. Victory can be seen. I have been travelling since morning and everybody is coming out and shaking hands. Normally, people don’t do that. They wait for counting.

As a former Congressman, do you think the Congress could have done something to change the narrative in Assam?

It would have been tough because of three terms of anti-incumbency… And under Gogoi’s leadership there was no question of salvaging the situation. He was so unpopular, he might himself well lose. In 2014, I was of the opinion that a leadership change and some course correction on policies and good governance could have brought the Congress back to power.

If the BJP does comes to power, will it be a setback to the Congress high command?


It is a Rahul election. Because it was Rahul who had stuck with Tarun Gogoi when 55 MLAs demanded his removal. So it is a fight with Rahul’s dictatorship. Because even after 55 MLAs demanded that remove Gogoi and 12 MLAs said keep him, he overlooked that demand, the advice of all senior Congress leaders. And he fought for himself. He owes an explanation.