Himanta Biswa Sarma was once a loyal and influential leader of the Congress party in Assam and the northeast. He was instrumental in bringing the party to power in several states in the region and was seen as a potential chief ministerial candidate. However, his relationship with the party leadership soured over time and he eventually left the Congress to join the BJP in 2015. His departure marked a turning point in the political landscape of the northeast, as he helped the BJP expand its footprint and dislodge the Congress from its stronghold.
In his autobiography “Azaad”, Ghulam Nabi Azad, a former Congress leader who also quit the party in 2022, has revealed how Rahul Gandhi mishandled the Himanta episode and failed to retain him in the party fold. Azad writes that he was part of a delegation of senior Congress leaders who met Rahul Gandhi to persuade him to change the leadership in Assam and accommodate Sarma’s aspirations. However, Rahul Gandhi refused to listen to their advice and dismissed Sarma’s threat of rebellion. He told them “Let him go” and ended the meeting abruptly.
Azad also criticizes Sonia Gandhi for not intervening decisively in this matter, despite being aware of its grave implications for the party’s future. He says that Sonia Gandhi had asked him to mediate with Sarma and try to resolve his grievances, but she did not assert herself as party president when Rahul Gandhi rejected their suggestions. Azad laments that this was a missed opportunity for the Congress to retain one of its most talented and popular leaders in the northeast.
Sarma, who became disillusioned with the Congress after being sidelined by then chief minister Tarun Gogoi and his son Gaurav Gogoi, joined hands with Narendra Modi and Amit Shah to bring about a saffron surge in Assam and other northeastern states. He became one of BJP’s most trusted lieutenants and delivered two consecutive victories for them in Assam. He also played a pivotal role in forging alliances with regional parties like AGP, BPF, NPP, UDP and others to form governments or coalitions in Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura.
In 2021, he was rewarded for his efforts by being made the chief minister of Assam after replacing Sarbananda Sonowal. He is widely regarded as one of BJP’s most dynamic and charismatic leaders who has transformed Assam’s governance and development agenda. He is also seen as a potential contender for higher office at the national level.
Azad’s memoir sheds light on how internal rifts within Congress led to its downfall in Assam and other northeastern states where it once enjoyed an unchallenged dominance. It also exposes how Rahul Gandhi failed to understand or appreciate Sarma’s value for
the party or address his concerns adequately.