Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, known to have had a hand in making and breaking governments in the northeast, has emerged as a major player in the Maharashtra political crisis.
Soon after 40 Maharashtra MLAs led by Shiv Sena leader and Minister Eknath Shinde were escorted to a luxury hotel in Guwahati on Wednesday morning, the Congress and other Opposition parties slammed Mr. Sarma for “shameful indulgence” in the political crisis in another State when millions were caught in a rain-induced crisis in Assam.
Mr. Shinde and the 39 others — most are Shiv Sena MLAs, a few are independents – flew in from Surat where they had been taken after alleged cross-voting saw the BJP win five of the 10 Maharashtra Legislative Council seats.
The Shiv Sena and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) had won two seats each and the Congress bagged one. The three are allies in the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA).
“The Chief Minister of Assam should concentrate on his own job and provide adequate relief and rehabilitation to the flood-affected people in the State. He can do his politicking in happier times,” Assam Congress president Bhupen Kumar Borah said.
The Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP) criticised Mr. Sarma for hosting the Maharashtra MLAs possibly to topple the government there. “It is sad that Assam has been turned into the epicentre of dissension in Maharashtra in a show of insensitivity to 55 lakh flood-affected people in the State,” the regional party said in a statement.
“When Assam is reeling under destructive floods, the BJP State government is busy splitting the Shiv Sena. Maharashtra should take note of the BJP’s commitment to Assam and give a befitting reply for attempting to destroy Marathi regionalism,” AJP president Lurinjyoti Gogoi said.
PM Modi, Amit Shah criticised
The AJP also criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah for failing to find time to assess the flood-induced devastation in Assam.
That Mr. Sarma had his pulse on the political development in Maharashtra became evident when he oversaw the arrangements for hosting Mr. Shinde and his team ahead of their flight from Surat late on Tuesday. The flight had 89 people on board, including the cabin crew.
The BJP is believed to have given Mr. Sarma responsibilities beyond the northeast in view of his “experience” with crisis situations. He had managed to cobble up the numbers for the BJP to form a coalition government in Manipur, where the party had won 21 seats against the 28 of the Congress in the 60-member Assembly in 2017.
In 2016, he played a key role in the defection of most MLAs of the ruling People’s Party of Arunachal to the BJP, which has since been running the government with Pema Khandu at the helm. Two years later, he helped BJP be a partner in the National People’s Party-led Meghalaya government.
The Maharashtra MLAs were received by Assam BJP parliamentarian Pallab Lochan Das and party MLA Sushanta Borgohain. They were escorted to the hotel – made out of bounds for journalists – in three buses under the protection of the police led by an IPS officer.
Mr. Das and Mr. Borgohain declined to speak on the reported meeting Mr .Shinde had with the MLAs inside the hotel. “I am not privy to any information,” the latter said.
Mr. Shinde spoke briefly to journalists after landing at the Lokapriya Gopinath Bardoloi Airport. “I don’t want to criticise anybody. 40 MLAs are here and we want to carry forward Balasaheb’s Hindutva,” he said.
Balasaheb Thackeray had formed the Shiv Sena in June 1966 to fight for the rights of the Maratha people.