Himanta Biswa Sarma was named the next chief minister of Assam on Sunday and he will replace incumbent Sarbananda Sonowal to the top post.
Sarma’s name as BJP’s legislature party leader was announced by union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar who was appointed a central observer for the meeting along with party’s national general secretary Arun Singh.
Sarma’s name was formally confirmed at the first legislature party meeting of the 60 newly elected MLAs of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), held at the state assembly, after days of backroom lobbying in Guwahati and official meetings in Delhi following the announcement of assembly election results on May 2.
Sarma’s name for the post was proposed by Sonowal and seconded by BJP state president Ranjeet Kumar Dass. It was also supported by newly elected MLA from Halflong, Nandita Gorlosa.
“I asked other MLAs if they had any other names in mind. No other name was suggested. Since the name of Sarma, a senior minister in our state government was the only one that was proposed, he is unanimously chosen as the legislature party leader,” Tomar said after the meeting.
On Saturday, two main claimants to the top post, Sonowal and Sarma were summoned by the party leadership to Delhi where they had several rounds of meetings with BJP national president JP Nadda and others. Both leaders returned to Guwahati late on Saturday night in the same flight.
BJP office bearers in the know of the developments said the leadership decided in Sarma’s favour after the discussions. Sonowal, who was part of the first Narendra Modi government at Centre, is likely to be accommodated in the Union cabinet again at a later date.
The formality of announcing Sarma (52) as the next CM took place in the presence of Tomar and Singh. Another national general secretary BL Santosh and party in-charge for Assam, Baijayant Jay Panda, were also present.
Earlier on Sunday morning, Sonowal submitted his resignation to governor Jagdish Mukhi before proceeding with Sarma in the same vehicle to take part in the meeting of newly elected legislators.
Sarma is expected to take oath of office on Sunday at Srimanta Sankardev Kalakshetra in Guwahati with a small cabinet, which will be expanded in the next few days.
Sunday’s development marks a major landmark in Sarma’s sharp rise within BJP, a party which he joined in 2015 after parting ways with then Congress chief minister Tarun Gogoi, in whose cabinet he was a minister for three consecutive terms since 2001.
Sarma played a crucial role in BJP forming its first government in Assam in 2016 and was allotted finance, health, education and public works department (PWD) portfolios in the Sonowal cabinet.
As convenor of North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), the conglomeration of anti-Congress regional parties in northeast, Sarma was also responsible for BJP forming governments in Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Tripura and becoming part of the ruling coalition in Nagaland and Meghalaya in the past few years.
Despite criticism from some, Sarma earned mass support with the way he handled the Covid-19 crisis visiting patients in hospitals, overseeing the setting up of Covid care centres and ensuring proper care for those infected.
He carried forward that goodwill during the assembly election campaign addressing rallies in all parts of the state and conducting roadshows where thousands turned up to watch him.
Sarma also influenced the selection of candidates and actively campaigned to ensure another term for the BJP. Party leaders say he enjoys support of at least 40 of the new MLAs, tilting the balance in his favour.
The delay in announcement of a CM’s name and formation of the next government despite a clear mandate at a time when the state is witnessing a rapid rise in new Covid-19 cases and deaths had led to criticism of the BJP by opposition parties and experts.
Assam assembly has a total of 126 seats. While the BJP won 60, its allies Asom Gana Parishad and United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL) won 9 and 6 seats respectively, taking the alliance’s total to 75 seats.
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