A month after Assam bore the brunt of the anti CAA protests, the state seems to have finally seen positive development. Last week, 644 militants belonging to various banned insurgent groups- ULFA (I), NDFB, RNLF, KLO, CPI (Maoist), NSLA, ADF and NLFB, surrendered in the presence of Chief Minister, Sarbananda Sonowal. This is one of the biggest surrenders in recent times and a major achievement for CM Sarbananda Sonowal who also heads the Assam Home Ministry.
Moreover, United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) Peace Accord is also in the offing and as per reports, the elusive commander of the outfit, Paresh Barua, is expected to come overground and sign a Peace Accord as early as April this year. This development will resolve the decades’ old issue of insurgency in Assam.
The surrender took place in the personal presence of the Assam CM, Sarbananda Sonowal. He is clearly trying to push the matter further because he feels that this could be the moment that helps his future prospects. With the Accord, and also the mass surrender of militants, Sonowal would want to reap credits for managing the law and order situation and bringing peace to the state of Assam.
Sonowal, whose image took a beating after the anti CAA violence, would want to leverage the latest development. As far as the state of Assam is concerned, it is barely a secret that Himanta Biswa Sarma is more deserving of the Home portfolio in the Assam government given his popularity and rich administrative experience. However, Sarbananda Sonowal has kept the crucial portfolio with himself. Himanta Biswa Sarma is currently handling Finance, Health and PWD portfolios.
It is also believed that Himanta Biswa Sarma, BJP’s key man in not only Assam but the entire Northeast, is a better pick for the Home portfolio and a strong contender for the Chief Ministerial position in 2021 Assam Elections.
In such circumstances, the anti CAA violence dented Sonowal’s image. He was not able to anticipate or control anti-CAA protests led by Assamese chauvinists. The Army had to be called in and the state witnessed some rather tense moments. His inputs to the centre may have lagged in authenticity and it is safe to say that PM Modi and Amit Shah took the beating for his failure to control the law and order situation.
The situation had spiralled out of control with Sonowal at the helm of affairs. Sonowal was associated with the AASU during the early years of his political career. It was also the AASU that led chauvinistic, anti CAA protests in Assam. He panders to the chauvinistic Assamese and seemed largely weak and ineffective in the face of anti-CAA violence.
Himanta, on the other hand, rose to the occasion. Ever since the state got embroiled in violence, he reached out to the people of Assam boldly countering the vicious anti-CAA narrative. Himanta went ahead boldly promoting nationalism above Assamese sub-nationalism, even if it came at the cost of taking the risk of upsetting the chauvinists.
It was due to Himanta’s efforts that the BJP has been able to beat the adverse sentiment that the anti CAA lobby was trying to build up against it. In a ‘Sankalpa rally’ held last week at Bokhat, the Assam Minister managed to draw massive crowds.
Not only the Bokahat rally, but even the Dhemaji ‘peace’ rally held by the Assam Finance Minister in Dhemaji in Upper Assam had drawn a massive crowd.
Himanta Biswa Sarma clearly emerged as BJP’s troubleshooter in the state. After the anti-CAA violence took a grip of the state, there were reports about BJP leaders harbouring worries about the political fallout of the move. However, Himanta, the man who mattered the most, maintained his composure throughout the crisis and kept supporting the CAA and speaking in favour of Bengali Hindu refugees from Bangladesh.
He reached out to the people of the state in order to take on the rumour mills that had started operating in full flow. Debunking the misinformation campaign against CAA, he had said, “The Citizenship Act was amended not to dilute the spirit of the Assam Accord but to address some of its unresolved issues.”
Battling xenophobic fears that were being played up in the state, Himanta has time and again assured that no more than a whopping 5 lakh refugees would be eligible to apply for citizenship under the CAA. He also set the record straight by making it clear that no new refugees would come from Bangladesh, and made it clear that he would resign from politics if more than the stipulated number applied for citizenship.
Himanta has introduced Hindu Nationalism to the state of Assam with great vigour, and it is also due to his efforts that CAA is becoming more and more acceptable in Assam. Himanta has successfully steered BJP clear of any trouble in the state.
Post the anti-CAA violence, Sonowal’s failure and Himanta’s role as BJP’s troubleshooter in the state have cumulatively led to Himanta becoming more powerful and more popular. Himanta is committed to Shah’s line and has in fact been able to achieve BJP’s larger motives in the state. This places him perfectly to upstage Chief Minister Sonowal. Sonowal’s position is getting challenged in the form of a new competitor- Himanta Biswa Sarma and that is why Sonowal would try to make the most of a Peace Pact with the ULFA.