Former Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma formally joined the BJP Friday afternoon. The ruling Congress is now wary of his loyalist MLAs following him to the saffron party.
With 78 legislators remaining in the 127-member house, the Congress government saw no threat to the Tarun Gogoi government ahead of the 2016 assembly polls. And as Sarma joined the BJP, the party celebrated as “good riddance day” to drive home a point.
But Sarma’s exit could be a blow to the Congress, as his campaigns had played a major role for the party to retain power in 2006 and 2011. He also catalysed the alliance between the Congress and Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), a tribal party that controls 12 western Assam assembly constituencies.
The BPF severed ties with the Congress last year, indicating it was tilting back to the BJP that had propped it up in 2003.
“His flight to BJP will not harm the Congress,” Gogoi said, adding he had erred in trusting Sarma blindly.
Assam Pradesh Congress Committee president Anjan Dutta said Sarma took refuge in the saffron party to keep a series of scams off his back.
“He ran away from the AASU (All Assam Student’s Union) and joined the Congress to save himself from a couple of TADA cases,” he said.
Sarma has been embroiled in a Rs 1,000 crore scam where funds meant for development of a tribal council went to militants. Accusations of involvement in the Saradha chit fund and Louis Berger bribery cases followed.
“Dutta should know the court had absolved me in the TADA cases,” Sarma said, adding his focus would now be on helping BJP come to power in 2016 rather than badmouthing the Congress.
He underscored his association with RSS as a schoolboy and inspiration from Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the reasons for joining BJP. He denied having had any rift with Gogoi despite seeking his ouster as chief minister in 2013. But he indicated Gogoi let the Congress drift away from the agenda of development. He also hinted at the possibility of more Congress legislators joining him.
“This has to be handled cautiously because BJP has candidates for all the 126 assembly constituencies in Assam. It is for the BJP to take a call on a list of names I have given them,” he said.
BJP legislator Prasanta Phukan claimed Sarma would bring in “at least 10 MLAs” to jolt the Congress.
Twice as many Congress legislators had welcomed Sarma at the airport earlier in the day and accompanied him in rally that took almost six hours to cover 25km to the BJP office in the city’s Hengerabari locality.
Meanwhile, Sarma’s new political innings coincided with allegations of horse-trading for controlling the Tiwa (tribal) Autonomous Council. The results of the election to this 30-member council were announced on August 22.
The Congress emerged as the single largest party with 15 seats, one less than the majority mark while the BJP bagged only 3 despite the optimism generated by the party’s Lok Sabha performance (seven out of 14 seats).
Local Congress leaders have alleged that the BJP has hijacked at least five of their newly-elected members in a “dirty game of politics”. The BJP denied any foul play.