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Challenges ahead

Challenges ahead
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Finally, the kingmaker has now become the king. With swearing in as the 15th CM of Assam on Monday afternoon, Himanta Biswa Sarma reached the peak of his two-decade-long political career. His long-held ambition has finally fructified under the aegis of the political leadership of the BJP. A leader with immense ground connect, phenomenal popularity and remarkable political finesse, Sarma has risen to the stature where it became difficult for BJP's Central leadership to accommodate him as a sidearm of Sarbanand Sonowal. He is rather in the mainframe and the one who needs to be accommodated is Sarbanand Sonowal. Himanta is a leader who would dance and sing on stage along with his followers to cherish the Assamese culture. A look, a touch is all that his followers would vie for, to ensure that they are seeing him in person. His swearing-in as the CM is not just an important turn in his political career but it will also shape the contours of Assamese politics in new ways over the coming years. A leader who is taller than the party he represents will play a defining role in the resolution of long-stuck and rooted issues like CAA and NRC in the state. Until now, Sarma had more or less been the dark knight who would act behind the curtains to handle NDA's outreach in the Northeast. He will now lead from the front as the supreme authority of the government of a particular state. Sarma will now act with his face put at stake among the public; he will have to keep it shining and save it from blots. With greater power comes greater responsibility, and so do greater challenges. The first challenge at hand for Sarma is obviously the handling of the COVID-19 situation. There is nothing to doubt over his capability in doing so. He, in fact, visibly led from the front, with the health portfolio under his control, in tackling the pandemic situation in the state while Sonowal took the backseat. Himanta Biswa Sarma effectively managed to counter the rising tide of unpopularity against the BJP on the mishandling of the pandemic through his strict actions. Assam at that point in time went further from the national trend of home isolation by mandating quarantine at scale. Had it not been countered promptly, the tide might have engulfed the prospects of BJP in Assam as well. The Central leadership is aware of the influence of the vibrant leader and also the ambitions that possibly made him dump the Congress in 2015. The next challenge will be the fulfilment of the promise of making Assam the economic powerhouse of the country. While this may seem an outright simple task for the new CM but will be trickier than is conceived. Sarma's experience as the Finance Minister will come in handy to him on this front. If something is to fail him it is not his competency factor but the larger and tangled socio-political-cultural context of the state. To ensure steady economic progress in the state Sarma will have to ensure greater stability in Assam. The state is still facing identity and cultural issues with uncertainty looming large over a wide section of the population whether they belong to the state or not. Though BJP has sidelined the issue during the elections, it is too big an issue to be subsided easily. It should be Sarma's priority to prepare a conducive ground for trade and commerce with bordering states. Apart from these specific issues, there is a broader challenge for Himanta Biswa Sarma to strike a balance between his unanimous popularity as a ground leader and the ideological demands of the party. He has so far done it with finesse but now with his face at the front, it might be a bit complicated matter for him. Moreover, he is also repeatedly dragged into controversy on the issues like Saradha chit fund and Louis Berger bribery case. The criticism around these issues will only get pronounced with him assuming the CM chair. It will be important to see how Sarma steers clear opposition around these issues. The tenure of Himanta Biswa Sarma as the CM will decide what turn his political career will take in the future. His decades of dedicated pursuance of political power, starting from his rise as a student leader to engineering victories for the Congress and then for the BJP after 2015, have shaped his ambitions very high. Sarma has never ruled out his aspiration to reach Delhi in any of his interviews. The Central leadership is, however, aware of Sarma's vital importance in the Northeast region. He has been BJP's trump card for its ambitious pan-India presence in the critical region which still, to a large extent, is cut off from the mainland. Sarma has subsided his aspirations for a while, but the question is, how long?

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