Himanta Biswa Sarma: The journey so far of Northeast's 'Chanakya'

Himanta Biswa Sarma: The journey so far of Northeast's 'Chanakya'

As Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma turns 55 today, here is a glimpse into the life and career so far of the 'Chanakya of Northeast.'


Himanta Biswa Sarma is a name which is not alien to most people, not just in Assam but in the rest of the country as well. The Assam Chief Minister might be truly the first leader from India's Northeast who has achieved a status and following among the masses on the national scale.

From once being the Congress's poster boy to today's phase where he has become the BJP's strongman in the Northeast and a champion of Hindutva politics, Sarma has come a long way and is someone who truly enjoys a nationwide following, be it for whatsoever reasons.

As the Assam CM turns 55 today, let us take a look at his life and career so far.

Early Life

Himanta Biswa Sarma was born on February 1, 1969, to Kailashnath Sarma and Mrinalini Devi in Jorhat. Born into a family while being included into six siblings, they later shifted to Guwahati, where he did his schooling from Kamrup Academy school.

Interestingly, Sarma also has the distinction of being a child actor. He acted as the child artiste in the 1984 Assamese film 'Koka Deuta Nati Aru Hati' where he even featured in a song that has iconic shots of a young Himanta riding an elephant.

In 1985, he joined the prestigious Cotton College for his undergraduate education. During his college days, he was elected as the general secretary of the students union.

Following this, he obtained his Master degree from Gauhati University in political science, after which he did his Bachelor in Law from the Government Law College, Guwahati, and became a solicitor in 1995.

After practicing law for sometime, Sarma completed a Doctorate of Philosophy in political science from Gauhati University.

During this phase, he married his wife Riniki Bhuyan Sharma, who is known as one of Assam's leading entrepreneurs today. The couple went on to have a son, Nandil, and a daughter, Sukanya.

Political Career

In Sarma's case, his brush with politics happened rather early while he was still a schoolboy. During the heydays of the Assam Movement, he worked as an errand boy for then AASU leaders Prafulla Kumar Mahanta and Bhrigu Kumar Phukan.

During his student days, he was spotted by former Chief Minister Late Hiteshwar Saikia and taken under his wings. This began Sarma's long association with the Congress party.

Interestingly, it was from AGP's Bhrigu Kumar Phukan, whom he had known as a schoolboy, that he wrested the Jalukbari seat in the 2001 elections and began his political career as a legislator.

Sarma's political skills and immense dynamism among the general masses impressed then Chief Minister Late Tarun Gogoi a lot and the debutante MLA was made a minister of state. His first portfolio was for agriculture, planning and development, with additional responsibilities being given to him later.

During the Tarun Gogoi regime, Sarma's upward trajectory was quite visible as he became the Chief Minister's blue eyed boy. During the second term of the Gogoi government, Sarma's high status among the Assam Congress pantheon was further solidified when he was made a cabinet minister.

He also became a troubleshooter for the Assam Congress during this period and became quite handy for the leadership when he tackled an anti-incumbency wave in 2011. This led to him reaping huge benefits as Congress managed to return to power in Assam for the third consecutive term and Tarun Gogoi rewarded Sarma with plump portfolios.

During his stint with the Congress, Sarma's work as the minsiter of health and education have left a profound impact upon the infrastructure of the state. His tenure saw three medical colleges in Jorhat, Barpeta and Tezpur being built. He also initiated steps for the establishment of five more medical colleges in the state.

Breaking away from Congress

The third term of the Tarun Gogoi government saw Himanta Biswa Sarma's stature further rise with many seeing him as a possible successor to Tarun Gogoi. It was also during this period that politicking within the party was witnessed that sought to make him as the next Chief Minister after Tarun Gogoi. This however led to frictions between Sarma and his one-time political mentor Gogoi.

Amidst the widening rift, Sarma camped in Delhi and even met Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in this regard to secure his position within the party ranks. However, that meeting did not go down well, as Sarma later famously recounted that Rahul was more interested in feeding biscuits to his dog Piddy, rather than resolving party issues.

Sidelined within the Congress, Sarma found himself isolated in a corner and finally resigned from the the ministry, then the assembly and soon from the Congress party itself in 2015.

Himanta the Saffron Soldier

Following Himanta Biswa Sarma's divorce from the Congress, talks began fast and he was soon inducted into the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after a meeting with Union Home Minister Amit Shah.

As the elections for Assam approached in 2016, it was clear that the BJP leadership recognised Sarma's political prowess and they used it to their advantage. Sarma was appointed as the Convenor of the Assam BJP's Election Management Committee, a move which eventually led to BJP dethroning the Congress in the state.

With Sarbananda Sonowal being sworn-in as the Chief Minister in 2016, Himanta Biswa Sarma began a new inning in the saffron government as he was appointed as a cabinet minister and also made the Convenor of the North Eastern Democratic Alliance (NEDA) making him the de facto boss within the political alliance that the BJP-led-NDA had in the Northeast.

During the Sarbananda Sonowal period of the BJP government, Sarma's stature as an astute politician and statesman further cemented as he handled important portfolios such as Finance, Health and Family Welfare, Education and Public Works Department, which made him the strongest person within the Sonowal cabinet.

Not just that, as the NEDA Convenor, Sarma tackled complex issues and worked as a mediator in matters such as the Naga peace talks and also the interstate boundary talks within the region.

In 2020, during the height of the Covid pandemic, Sarma stepped up his game in the shoes of the health minister and turned out to be a champion who helped Assam as well as the Northeastern region sail through the crisis period. He was hailed for tackling the Covid-19 crisis in Assam by boosting up health infrastructure, testing facilities on a speedy and large scale, something which won him praises from the people.

It was with this maverick attitude that in 2021, Himanta Biswa Sarma turned out to be the prime crowd puller and campaigner among the BJP's ranks during its campaigning in the state elections.

As the BJP achieved a major mandate to return to power in 2021 in Assam, parleys began within the leadership as they deliberated over who would be the next Chief Minister between Sonowal and Sarma. Finally on May 9, Sonowal tendered his resignation to the Governor and proposed Sarma to be his successor.

And amid much fanfare, Himanta Biswa Sarma was sworn-in as the 15th Chief Minister on May 10, 2021.

Himanta Biswa Sarma as Chief Minister

Since 2021, Himanta Biswa Sarma as the Chief Minister of Assam has marked a place for himself, not just in the politics of Assam, but on the national arena as well.

Himanta Biswa Sarma's tenure as the Chief Minister so far has been quite eventful and exciting. One of his prime goals after assuming the charge as Chief Minsiter has been pushing for the fulfillment of the poll plank of providing one lakh government jobs to youths of the state. Apart from that, another novel initiative has been the Mission Basundhara which has gone a long way in settling land related matters in the state. Schemes like the Arunoday have also worked wonders in the state while giving the BJP a loyal voter base to bank on. Such has been the effects of these schemes that BJP has been experiencing success on the political front several times, with the latest example being the clean sweep of the elections of the North Cachar Autonomous Hills Council (NCHAC).

CM Sarma has put a lot of emphasis on bringing in investments into the state. He has also given a major push to entrepreneurship while highlighting its importance among the youths. Most recently, he launched a scheme whereby the aim is to help women self-help groups start their own businesses with state sponsorship.

Another major focus of CM Sarma's tenure has been to resolve the inter-state boundary disputes of Assam with its neighbouring states. Leaving aside the infamous firing incident at Lailapur in 2021 which saw frictions between Assam and Mizoram, the Assam government under Sarma has made consistent efforts to reach out and resolve the boundary disputes with its neighbours. These efforts resulted in two historic MoUs signed with the governments of Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh which resolved matters to a large extent. Meanwhile, efforts are also on to resolve the boundary disputes with Nagaland and Mizoram.

Sarma's no-nonsense attitude towards crime in the state is also something that needs to be mentioned. Initiatives were taken under his government to revamp and revitalise the police department while intense crackdowns were witnessed on the drug mafia, an example which was emulated by other states of the Northeast as well. This spree of encounters on drug mafia also however raised questions as Sarma was accused of promoting extrajudicial encounters on certain instances.

Himanta Biswa Sarma's Love for Sports

Not just politics, byt Himanta Biswa Sarma is also someone who has keen interest in sports and has been associated with sports associations. In 2017, Sarma was elected as President of Badminton Association of India (BAI). Sarma has also been the president of the Assam Badminton Association prior to this. He also became the president of the Assam Cricket Association in June 2016. Sarma has also been the longest-serving vice president of the Assam Cricket Association from 2002 to 2016.

In March 2022, Sarma was re-elected as the president of the BAI for a second term of four years from 2022 to 2026 during the general body meeting which was held in Guwahati.

Hindutva's Poster Boy

Himanta Biswa Sarma, over the last few years, has emerged as a poster boy for Hindutva politics all over the country. His strong stand on several controversial issues has won a huge fan following among the right-wing lobby across India, while making him a figure of controversy and speculation as well.

Be it the issue of madrassas, crackdown on child marriage, illegal eviction from forest areas or even controversial statements made on burning issues, Himanta Biswa Sarma has been enjoying the national limelight consistently. Apart from these, Sarma dubbing the Miya Muslim community of Assam as foreigners has also put the tag of being communal upon him time and again.

So much has been the focus on him that he has become one of BJP's star campaigners in elections, be it in Northeast, or in states such as Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and others. Huge crowds have been seen turning up to listen to Sarma's fiery speeches during election rallies in different states. One of his speeches during an election rally in Madhya Pradesh targeting Kamal Nath was dubbed as 'hate speech' with Assam opposition leader Debabarata Saikia filing an FIR against him.  

Sarma's constant targeting of the Congress party, especially the Nehru-Gandhi family, is something that has kept him in constant limelight and also dragged him into controversies as well. His comments on Congress MP Rahul Gandhi on various issues has been the subjects of intense controversy. These comments on Gandhi led to the Uttarakhand High Court sending a summon to Sarma for his remarks on Rahul Gandhi.

Today, Himanta Biswa Sarma has a wide fan following across the country. Some even see him as a potential candidate as the Prime Minister in a post-Modi era. There are talks that he may transition into national politics in the future. But that is something only time will decide.

Edited By: Joydeep Hazarika
Published On: Feb 01, 2024