As NDA retains power in Assam, the “CM puzzle” emerges

GUWAHATI, May 3: The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance has retained power in Assam with absolute majority, but the question doing the rounds since Sunday evening is – “who will become the next chief minister of Assam?”

None of the top BJP leaders seem to be having a clear answer as of now though, even as they casually shift the onus of taking the “tough decision” to the party’s parliamentary board.

It would not be wrong to say that influential BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma, who single-handedly steered the party’s Assembly election campaign in Assam, has emerged as the “face of the party” in not just Assam but the Northeast as well.

His leadership in the past five years, experience of four terms as minister, and success as a minister with key portfolios in Assam, makes him a hot contender for the state’s top post.

The fact that Sarma has also made his mark as the trouble shooter in the Northeast as the NEDA convenor, emerging as a “go-to” man for any crisis and a poll manager, also gives him a clear edge, be it clout, leadership, experience or eligibility.

As for chief minister of the outgoing government, Sarbananda Sonowal, who, for his part, enjoys a clean image, has not done anything wrong to be replaced, which makes the decision all that more tougher.

Generally, the BJP projects an incumbent chief minister in states where it tries to retain power. But this has not been the case in Assam this time.

For his part, Sarma did not name anyone when asked the question on Sunday evening, but said that the chief minister would certainly be from the BJP even as he said that the parliamentary board of the party would take the final call.

The fact that Sarma did not take Sonowal’s name only makes the picture that much more obscure.

As it is, a number of newly-elected candidates of the BJP have been making beelines to the official residences of both Sonowal and Sarma since Sunday evening.

Among the newly-elected MLAs present at Sonowal’s residence on Monday were Prasanta Phukan (Dibrugarh), Suman Haripriya (Hajo), Paramananda Rajbongshi, among others.

Among the leaders at Sarma’s residence on Monday was BJP national vice-president and Assam incharge, Baijayant Panda and BJP’s organisational secretary Phani Sarma, apart from MLAs like Pijush Hazarika, Jayanta Malla Baruah among others.

Meanwhile, five newly elected candidates from Karbi Anglong accompanied by Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council (KAAC) chief executive member Tuliram Ronghang to Sarma’s residence here openly expressed their support for Sarma as the man for the chief minister’s post.

A few others, some of them who have been very close to Sarma, were diplomatic, even as they have indicated their “personal” support for Sarma as the next chief minister.

When asked, some of them said that they wanted to meet and thank the party leadership and seek blessings before beginning the new innings.

Unconfirmed reports doing the rounds since Sunday afternoon are that the central leadership might send one or two observers to meet the state leaders and newly-elected MLAs and take their opinions before the parliamentary board takes the call. But things are still not clear.

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