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The story of Himanta Biswa Sarma’s famous fall-out with Congress president Rahul Gandhi—who was allegedly busy feeding his dog ‘Pidi’ when they met at his Delhi residence—is now part of Assam’s political folklore. Shortly after walking out of the Congress in 2015, Sarma joined the BJP; and within a few years he has firmly entrenched himself as one of the key strategists of the saffron party in the Northeast, successfully pushing the Congress out of power in the region. Elections: Number Game
Congress leaders and critics may see Sarma, 50, as an opportunist ready to change ideologies for his political survival. But for those who admire the wily leader, he is a master craftsman who chisels his fortunes on the hard granite of politics. And among those who hold the Assam minister in high esteem is his close confidante for nearly 20 years, Taranga Gogoi, the vice president of the state BJP’s youth wing.
Gogoi, 34, is designated to look after Sarma’s social media and provide political coordination. But for all practical purposes, the minister is his own man, verifying every tweet or Facebook post before they are sent out to his legions of followers. Sarma is one of the most visible political faces on Twitter from the region.
Gogoi and Sarma has been a team for over two decades, though the youth leader sees himself only in a supporting role to the BJP talisman in the Northeast. “He is a superman,” says Gogoi about Sarma, who cut his political teeth as a student leader in Cotton College, Guwahati. Legend has it that Sarma was introduced to the people by former Assam minister and student leader, late Bhrigu Kumar Phukan, at a public rally. Years later, in 2001, Sarma defeated Phukan to enter the assembly for the first time as a Congress MLA. Since then he has won four consecutive times from the Jalukbari constituency in Guwahati.
Gogoi says Sarma is a workaholic, sleeping only three-four hours in a day. “Even we get tired working with him but not him. He would continue to work through the day and even in the evening and night. He personally replies to all the messages on his favourite iPad...be it text message, WhatsApp or email. He would reply to everybody...he would read all the messages,” Gogoi adds. Besides, the state finance minister remembers thousands of names of people in his constituency. Sarma, father of a son and a daughter, also plays badminton in the evenings.
“We need to work extra hard to match his energy and work ethics. That’s a challenge every time. We never had to guide him on what he would say at meetings or rallies. Very rarely, we give him information on some local areas if we happen to travel for some political meetings,” Gogoi says. “Now, it’s become a brotherly relationship. He trusts me and at the same time, I need to stand up to his expectations,” Gogoi adds. Apart from Gogoi, there are others like Gautam Prasad and Naba Patgiri who are part of Sarma’s inner circle.