BJP to take in Cong leader Himanta Biswa Sarma after calling him tainted

Photo: PTI
Barely a month after the BJP accused him of being a key suspect in the alleged 2010 water supply scam in Assam, Congress leader Himanta Biswa Sarma met BJP president Amit Shah Sunday and announced that he would be joining the party.

BJP sources said Sarma, who was accompanied by Assam BJP chief Siddhartha Bhattacharjee to Shah’s residence here, would join the party “soon”. Confirming the move, Bhattacharjee announced that the final formalities would be worked out at the state level.

On his Facebook page, Sarma posted: “Following massive calls over the past months from people across Assam hailing from all communities, (I) will be formally joining the BJP… for a Resurgent Assam and Northeast under the vibrant leadership of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modiji. Urging all of you here to join hands for a Resurgent Assam and Northeast.”

At its parliamentary party meeting on July 22, the BJP had released a booklet — ‘Saga of Scams in Congress-ruled States’ — in which it termed Sarma as “key suspect” in the alleged Guwahati water supply scam involving the Congress-led state government and Louise Beger International Inc, which worked as a consultant.

In the 64-page booklet, which was released to counter the Congress’s demand for resignation of Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, details of the alleged scam in Goa and Assam are mentioned in the first page itself.

It alleged that the Tarun Gogoi-led government in Assam had paid Rs 200 crore to Louise Berger as consultant fees but the firm had “offered huge sums of money as bribes to the state ministers and officials of the concerned departments”.

According to the booklet, Sarma was “the then very powerful minister of Guwahati Development Department of the Assam government under which the Guwahati Water Supply Project was launched…” It said although the American court did not make the name of the Indian minister who took bribes public, “the time of this scam and the department under which it occurred make Sarma the prime suspect in this entire scandal”.

Sarma had also been questioned by the CBI in the multi-crore chit fund scam, on the basis of a purported letter by Saradha chief Sudipta Sen.

Once a close associate of Chief Minister Gogoi, Sarma had resigned from his ministry last year following differences.

The BJP national leadership believes that the entry of Sarma, a prominent face of the Congress in Assam, would be a boost to its electoral prospects in the state, which is going to polls next year. In February this year, the BJP had swept the civic elections in Assam, winning 38 of the 74 municipal boards and town committees.

“More leaders from the Congress to join BJP there,” said a party leader who refused to comment on the allegations against Sarma.

The Congress sought to put up a brave face, saying Sarma’s exit was not surprising. He had been rebelling for long and the party had over a period of time worked to wean away MLAs supporting him. “It only shows the BJP’s desperation. His exit will hardly matter. Such things happen before elections,” AICC general secretary in charge of Assam C P Joshi told The Indian Express. Sources pointed out that Sarma had at one point in time claimed the support of 26 MLAs to demand removal of Gogoi and now he is virtually alone.