They are children. They don’t even know what poverty line means. All they know is that they are born with a malformation.”- these words of Himanta Biswa Sarma reflect the innate unsullied humanity of the CM of Assam. This biography of Himanta opens dramatically with a 11 year something boy clad in half pants, shirt and chappal addressing a massive gathering that has come to listen to the mesmerising uncrowned king of public speaking, Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The future PM tells the person next to him, “This boy will go far!”
These two lines tell us that the biographer Ajit Datta has gone deep into the persona of one of the brightest leaders on the horizon of Indian politics who could be a national face among the galaxy of young go-getter leaders of BJP very soon.
Ajit has done his homework well. He almost succeeds in not being overwhelmed by the dynamism of his muse. It is not easy to not get over awed by a person whose life is crowded with so much action at a young age. The trend to write biographies of young political leaders is comparatively new. Shantanu Gupta was the first to do this, Ajit joins the list. It is a risky venture as there are too many imponderables and uncertainties in politics. Many young non-political celebrities have written autobiographies to avoid fading into oblivion, unsung. It is rare for politicians. But, it is a welcome move as it gives serious political observers to understand a future leader better.
For a young college student to tell calmly to his would-be wife that he wanted to be a CM is as courageous as another leader in the similar mould, Nitin Gadkari, telling his would-be father-in-law that he won’t take up a job, but he would be a job provider. On a lighter note, it must have been his charming smile that would have stopped his would-be wife from walking out on him after hearing about this crazy dream at his age. From a young agitator, to a dark future as an accused under TADA to an AASU leader transitioning into a Congress leader till he realises that a Pidi is more important than a future bright leader of Congress to taking to BJP like a fish to water is not an easy task. Many leaders who have tried it, have found themselves to be on the wrong side of Lady Luck. When you read this biography, you realise that this person could do so because he was always committed to serve the people from his heart, with compassion and energy.
Despite being ambitious, Himanta da is also seen as humble and respectful to his seniors. He is always ready to be mentored and be taken under the wings of his seniors. He gives off his best in any position. When he moves away from his seniors, he is open about it and avoids bitterness. He drops enough hints. Thus, when you read his life story so far, you don’t feel that he is opportunist. The biographer provides views from both sides when such situations have arisen. His ability to make friends, for good and maintain relations even in the rough and tumble of politics and his own drive to serve and succeed can be seen as some of the reasons for his success. While you read the book, you will be surprised to see the list of his mentors and sagely advisors.
Assam and North East Region (NER) politics is as engaging as the other parts of Bharat, though more difficult to understand. But, somehow, the ‘tyranny of distance’ doesn’t allow us to get a glimpse of the absorbing tussles there. It is also a difficult region with the longest land borders with our neighbouring countries. Its most colourful diversity in tribes, culture, geography. It has faced the worst crises of illegal immigration and separatist violent movements. Assam has also seen itself being reduced from a large state to giving birth to 6 other states. For the politicians who have pledged their loyalty to Bharat in no uncertain terms, it is not an easy task. Thus, getting a glimpse of this region through this book adds to the charm of this book.
Nearly everyone keen about following the moves of Himanta da knows about his recent past. But, not many know enough about his diplomatic skills and energetic, seemingly untiring efforts in forging NEDA (North East Democratic Alliance) and then going on to remove Congress and its friends from the ruling benches across all the states. The tale of his three days of unbelievable running around to different state capitals to install BJP led or BJP supported ministries in the entire NER is stuff of which legends are made. His political foresight is amazing. The author quotes him explaining a friend of his about Advani ji’s Ram Mandir rath yatra of 1990s, “This is no ordinary movement. BJP will come to power one day. They will dominate national politics.”
Himanta’s compassion and commitment get reflected in any responsibility he takes up. The author talks about him getting a ‘powerful’ ministry like Health. Here he errs. Health ministry is not supposed to be a ‘powerful’ ministry, it is considered as a ‘parking place’ by ambitious politicians. It is a Himanta who made it look powerful, because he was committed to serve. His initiatives as a health minister for Assamese people irrespective of their caste, creed and economic status could be a great learning experience for any aspiring political leader, on how a minister can transform a laggard poor health infrastructure into something nearly as good as some of the best in India. His fight against Covid, leading it from the front is a tale of determination. We come to know of him as a committed sports bodies’ leader because he is an enthusiastic sportsman himself. It was news to me that he also had a role in the rise of Indian Badminton.
Even his political adversaries and critics are left surprised by the way he takes a tightrope walk through toughest situations. His crystal clear articulation, keeping his cool while answering the most provocative questions with even more provocative responses comes from his sharp intellect, debating skills from his school days, and hard work as a lawyer. I, for one, am in awe of how he handled the most difficult task of gaining confidence of his voters not only in Assam but entire NER by his skilful handling of a complex situation arising out of CAA and NRC laws being exploited by the opposition in a big way. The contest was supposed to be as good as over for BJP. The writer, Ajit Datta is a journalist too. So, he is able to bring out very well the struggle of a boy from a very ordinary family, his rapid rise in politics due to sheer hard but intelligent work, coming out of the dumps in one of the phases of his life by putting his nose to the grinding wheel and working his way out of the quicksands of the regional politics, listening to voices of reason and advice where required. This has made him a leader rooted in Bharatiya soil.
It is a book worth reading to understand the man who has a bright future ahead in NER and Bharat. Reading this book can be a kind of workshop for any young politician who dreams of making it big in the highly competitive politics of Bharat. Personally speaking, I would have liked to see a little more of first person inputs from the central character’s mouth. Ajit Datta deserves credit for being courageous as a young journalist to write about a person who keeps moving at a breakneck speed. It is like chasing a moving target. Though, obviously in awe of his character, he has tried to be as objective as possible and one can sense his ability to be so as one reads the book, especially when he describes the critical events in his hero’s life. I would have loved to see a long interview with Himanta da himself at the end. That would really have rounded off the book very well.