Himanta Biswa Sarma becomes Assam Chief Minister

Sworn in today with 13-member cabinet, Sarma must now get the administration’s act together to combat the Covid surge in the state

Image Courtesy:news18.com

Himanta Biswa Sarma, Himanta Biswa Sarma, an influential minister who held portfolios like health and finance in the previous administration, has now been elevated to the post of the Chief Minister of Assam.

SabrangIndia had previously reported that this might be possible given how the swearing in ceremony of the Chief Minister had not taken place in the state for nearly a week, even though it happened within days in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu.

Sarma and his cabinet ministers took oath of office today at the Srimanta Sankardev Kalakshetra, Guwahati. Present at the ceremony were many senior leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as well as its ally the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP). Assam’s former Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, BJP chief JP Nadda, BJP’s Assam in-charge BJ Panda, Meghalaya CM Conrad Sangma, Nagaland CM Neiphu Rio, Tripura CM Biplab Kumar Deb and Manipur CM Biren Singh attended the ceremony.

The old and the new

Sarma’s cabinet comprises some trusted old hands as well as six new faces. Five-time MLA Parimal Suklabaidya retained the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Fisheries and Excise. Old hands Chandramohan Patowary from the BJP, AGP president Atul Bora and AGP working president Keshab Mahanta too retained their cabinet berths.

The six new inductees into the cabinet include Assam BJP President Ranjeet Kumar Dass, Congress turncoat Ajanta Neog, Tingkhong MLA Bimal Bora, Dhemaji MLA Dr Ranuj Pegu, Dhekiajuli MLA Ashok Singhal, and BODO leader and Sahitya Academy awardee poet Urkhao Gwra Brahma of BJP ally United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL).

Combat Covid NOW!

The new team now has three formidable tasks ahead of them. First, they must control the spread of the Coronavirus that is spreading fast amidst a fresh surge in Assam. According to the Assam Covid dashboard, there are 31,829 active cases in the state. 3,299 fresh cases and 48 new fatalities were reported on Sunday. Kamrup Metro remains the worst affected district followed by Dibrugarh.  

Resolve NRC impasse

The next big issue Assam needs to resolve is the impasse over the National Register of Citizens (NRC). The previous administration has vehemently rejected the NRC published on August 31, 2019, despite the NRC being a Supreme Court monitored process. A previous demand for reverification of the NRC had been summarily shot down by the Supreme Court. When Hitesh Dev Sarma, Assam’s State Coordinator for NRC issued orders for reverification in October 2020, Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind (JUH) and All Assam Minorities Students Union (AAMSU) filed contempt petitions.

This had been a key election issue and a “corrected NRC” was promised in BJP’s election manifesto for the Assembly Elections. The state government has claimed that many ineligible people’s names had made their way into the NRC. All of this has placed in limbo the process of issuing rejection slips that is further delaying the process of defending citizenship before Foreigners’ Tribunals.

When the NRC was published in August 2019, over 19 lakh people were left out. These NRC excluded people then underwent a long claims and objections process, but the reason for rejection needed to be recorded in speaking orders, so that these people could then take appropriate measures to then defend their citizenships before FTs.

Already FTs are under the scanner for operating in ways that are in contravention of set law and procedure. SabrangIndia’s sister organization, Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) had discovered FT notices pasted on electric poles in Bongaigaon district! We had also previously exposed how the state legal aid machinery was woefully undertrained and understaffed to process the deluge of applications by NRC excluded people.

Stop communal polarisation

Finally, the BJP must introspect and ensure none of its members engage in any further minority bashing or communally charged hate speech. Himanta Biswa Sarma must lead from the front and this appears to be a challenge. In February this year, he had said made disparaging remarks about a section of the Muslim community in the state and said that the BJP did not want the “Miya Muslim” vote. He said that the party does not need votes from the Bengali origin Muslim community in Assam to win the elections, and accused them of “openly challenging Assamese culture, language and the composite Indian culture”, as reported by the Indian Express.

Sharma further virulently attacked the community and said, “They have started identifying themselves as Miyas. These so-called Miya people are very communal and fundamental and they are involved in many activities to distort Assamese culture and Assamese language. So, I don’t want to be an MLA with their vote. I will not be able to sit in the Assembly if they voted for me.”

This deliberate attempt to drive a wedge between two sections of the same community reeks of a divisive agenda that not only makes the “Miya” Muslims more vulnerable but also further communally polarises the state that has a rich history of coexistence.


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