In a surprising turn of events, the political landscape in Assam has become embroiled in controversy, with chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma finding himself under intense scrutiny from opposition parties. Despite his reputation as a strong regional leader, Sarma is now facing pressure to explain his alleged connections with terrorist and insurgent groups, a move orchestrated by opposition leaders. The recent visit of Union home minister Amit Shah to Imphal aimed to resolve the Meitei-Kuki ethnic conflict and restore peace in the region, but unfortunately, the clashes between groups have persisted. Additionally, reports of armed groups infiltrating from neighbouring Myanmar in the past 48 hours have underscored a failure on the part of both the central government and the Manipur administration to control the escalating situation. The recent ambush in Kangpokpi district, where thirteen Meiteis lost their lives at the hands of suspected Kuki militants, and the grievances expressed by tribes in the hills, who claim to be targeted by Meiteis, have further aggravated tensions.
While an Assam Congress leader has exposed certain details of Sarma’s political past, the larger question remains unanswered: why did the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) endorse individuals with controversial backgrounds as spokespersons for the troubled region? It is worth noting that twelve opposition parties in Assam, including Congress, CPI(M), Raijor Dol, Asom Jatiya Parishad, CPI, RJD, JD(U), Trinamool Congress, and CPI(M-L), have demanded Sarma’s arrest under the National Security Act, citing his alleged links with terrorist and extremist organisations in the past, including certain outlawed Kuki tribal groups. These parties have threatened to visit Delhi and escalate their demands unless the central government takes action. The opposition leaders argue that it comes as no surprise that Sarma, during his tenure as chief minister, has disrupted the political landscape and ethnic harmony through controversial tactics aimed at weakening the opposition.
Curiously, the central BJP leadership has refrained from condemning or even mildly criticising Sarma’s methods. On the contrary, his responsibilities as the party’s regional head have only increased over time, indicating his growing influence within the saffron party. It is also not surprising, according to these opposition leaders, to learn that Sarma recently held a confidential meeting with representatives of Kuki organisations in Guwahati, following his visit to Imphal to address the ongoing ethnic violence. While he met with various group leaders and officials, including BJP ministers in Manipur, no official briefing was provided after the meeting with the Kukis in Guwahati. The controversy originated when state Assam Pradesh Congress Committee president Bhupen Borah referred to a recent confession made by a Kuki extremist leader to the National Investigation Authority (NIA). The leader claimed that the Kukis had secretly agreed to support the BJP’s campaign in Manipur. This agreement was allegedly reached during pre-election negotiations involving Sarma, Ram Madhav of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and Kuki militant leaders. Borah argues that the BJP has set a dangerous precedent by choosing a regional leader in the Northeast region and specifically appointing Sarma as the chief minister of a major state like Assam, despite his alleged anti-establishment and extremist connections. This viewpoint has garnered support from other opposition parties in Assam. These developments raise concerns that the BJP is willing to align itself with extremist organisations in Manipur and elsewhere solely to secure electoral victories and assume power.