Amid COVID concern, Assam restive over delay in announcement of CM’s name
MLAs make beeline to Himanta residence; Sonowal says board to take decision soon
GUWAHATI, May 7: Five days have elapsed since the Assam Assembly poll results were announced and despite the National Democratic Alliance getting absolute majority to form the government, the BJP central leadership is still undecided on the person who would don the mantle of Assam’s next chief minister.
As it is, the delay seems to be taking longer than usual as Assam is grappling with a surge in COVID-19 cases not to mention the uncontrolled price rise of essentials, including medicine.
The situation is becoming critical as, even by the health minister’s own admission, Assam might run out of beds if cases, which are currently pushing 5000 per day, touch the 10,000 mark.
The restiveness, given that the number of COVID-triggered fatalities too is rising in the state, is apparent in the absence of a full-fledged government, even as the other states that went to the polls, including Bengal, which was affected by post-poll violence, moving ahead towards government formation.
On Friday, chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal told the media that the BJP parliamentary board would meet and take a decision in regard to naming the chief minister in a day or two. “For now, we have to control the COVID situation and I urge everyone to cooperate with the government in our fight against COVID,” he said.
Reports said one or two political observers from Delhi are likely to arrive in the state on Friday evening to consult leaders here, even as such information has been flowing over the past four days but to no effect.
“This is so unfortunate that despite the NDA getting the mandate of the people, the party leadership has been unduly dilly dallying over the CM’s post and government formation at the cost of public health at this hour of crisis. The party higher-ups are busy doing the arithmetic, defying logic, but have not shown any urgency to have a government to bail the state out of the health crisis,” said a disgruntled citizen.
But why has there been an unprecedented delay in choosing a leader – incumbent chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal or Himanta Biswa Sarma – to lead Assam?
Sources say that the delay has been primarily caused because the Prime Minister has not conveyed his decision to the party hierarchy in this regard.
“From the information received, the Prime Minister (in whose good books Sonowal is) has not conveyed his decision. As it is, it is very difficult to vacate an incumbent chief minister who is rated (by certain surveys) among the top five performing chief ministers of the country,” a political analyst, requesting anonymity, told The Shillong Times on Friday.
“In Upper Assam, there is a soft corner among the masses for Sonowal. Besides, AGP top leadership is in support of Sonowal, while another ally, UPPL has maintained neutrality. More importantly, Sonowal has the support of the RSS, the parent organisation of the party,” he said.
“The party leadership is also weighing the pros and cons of the decision, as in, what might happen if they stick to Sonowal and not reward Himanta….there are rumours that Himanta may not accept any other post if he is not made the CM,” he added,
Some insiders in the state BJP, on the contrary, said the decision “seems to be in favour of Himanta Biswa Sarma, given his proven leadership, astuteness and performance in the past, but if that decision is taken, then Sonowal will have to be finally inducted into the central ministry, which he has been a part of earlier and, familiar with.”
“There are two camps in the state as well, one comprising several newly-elected MLAs, supporting arguably “the go-to man and powerful leader” Sarma for the chief minister’s post, while another, a relatively smaller group of legislators/supporters (mostly from Upper Assam), firmly behind the incumbent chief minister, Sarbananda Sonowal, who is known for his clean image,” an insider said.
Over the past few days and on Friday as well, a group of legislators were seen frequenting Sarma’s official residence in Dispur here, holding secret meetings, even as most of them have been tight lipped before the media, following instructions from the state party leadership, after initially expressing their personal choice in favour of the astute Sarma.
Sources also indicate differences of opinion among influential central leaders when it comes to the Assam CM’s post.
“The BJP central leadership is in a dilemma so as to not upset either camp, be it the leaders in Delhi or legislators in Assam. Then there is the aspect of choosing a leader with a good image as against a leader who has shown and proved his leadership traits, be it in electoral management or the war against COVID-19 last year,” the source said.
“Indigenous groups in Upper Assam, one of which the incumbent chief minister belongs to, would be peeved if Sonowal is bypassed for Sarma,” he added.
Initially, most leaders here had put the onus of taking the tough call on the central BJP’s parliamentary board and that political observers were reportedly scheduled to visit Assam to take opinions from the leadership and legislators.
When asked, Sarma said that since BJP national president J.P Nadda had to rush to Bengal after party cadres in that state were allegedly attacked by Trinamool Congress supporters, the process of government formation would take some time.
Nadda too had indicated a couple of days back that a decision on the new chief minister in Assam would be taken only after the parliamentary board meeting.