Reckless discourse of an Assam minister
Posted on August 2nd, 2009

Nava Thakuria

Assam has witnessed a different kind of political debate, which is in no way related to flood, drought, terrorism or the unexpected price rise of essential commodities. It is rather a debate over the reckless comments made by a certain Congress minister. The young and pro-active minister, Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma, has drawn media attention for his loose temper. The minister in charge of health and family welfare of Assam in Northeast India, had invited brickbats for his outburst on a television show, where he attacked an opposition leader with unparliamentary words.

It all started with a debate during a program produced by DY365, a Guwahati-based satellite channel, where Sarma came face-to-face with two Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) leaders (namely Pradip Hazarika and Nurul

Hussain) as well as BJP leader Rumi Nath. The debate revolved around the State government’s decision to pay its employees on the same scale as that which applied to central government employees. Sarma, also the Assam government’s spokesperson, repeatedly claimed that Dispur were making preparations to provide these enhanced facilities to its employees. But AGP legislator, Pradip Hazarika, contended that the State government would ultimately fail to provide salaries to its employees according to the central pay scale. The debate slowly began to heat up and in one moment of anger, Sarma went on to say that they would pay government employees as promised and that they would “ƒ”¹…”slap shoes on the face of AGP’.

Listening to this eruption, Hazarika lodged his protest and left the show in the middle. The issue came alive in the State assembly the next day, when the main opposition party strongly condemned the behaviour of Sarma and demanded his immediate arrest. AGP Chief Chandra Mohan Patowary led the opposition legislators in a walkout and boycott of the session on July 21. The AGP was supported by its electoral alliance partners, the BJP and also the Assam United Democratic Front (led by Badaruddin Ajmal). The Leader of Opposition in Assam Assembly, Patowary asserted, “The comments (of Sarma) were unfortunate and regrettable. The minister should be booked under the law for making such derrogatory remarks against a political party, which is recognised by the Election Commission of India (ECI).”

Patowary also declared that the AGP would boycott the health minister inside and outside the Legislative Assembly, until he apologised and withdrew his nasty remarks against their party. “Moreover, we (the

AGP) will move the ECI, demanding immediate action against Sarma for his irresponsible comments against a recognised political party,”

added the student leader-turned-politician, Patowary. The regional party also launched a Statewide-protest programme on July 23 demanding the punishment of Sarma. The district and subdivision committees of AGP submitted memoranda to the State Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, through their respective District Magistrates and SDOs (civil). The resentment against Sarma’s odious comments were also heard in Parliament. Two AGP parliamentarians, Kumar Deepak Das and Biren Baishya, even tried to raise the issue for discussion in the Rajya Sabha. When the chairman of the upper house of Parliament did not allow this, both of them staged a walkout. BJP parliamentarian SS Ahluwalia extended his support to the cause.

Later, both Das and Baishya met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, to submit a memorandum demanding action against Sarma. “With his (Sarma) derrogatory and unconstitutional remarks, the health minister has created unprecedented history. We request your good offices to impress upon the Asom government to arrest him immediately,” the memorandum stated.

But this is not the first time that Sarma has dragged himself into a controversy. Prior to the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the young minister led a motorcycle rally in support of his Congress party, but forgot to wear the mandatory helmet.

When the reporters pointed out his recklessness, the eloquent debater of yesteryears answered promptly, “I have full faith in God and the almighty would protect me from any accident”. Sarma could not think of admitting his wrong approach, which might send a negative signal to the common persons to go for violating the Motor Vehicle Act in India.

Similarly, in an election campaign rally, Sarma went on arguing that the opposition parties in Assam had left no stone unturned to get the credit of all good works done by the Congress led government at Dispur. According to him, the main opposition party AGP had performed nothing for the people during its two time ruling at Dispur. But the AGP leaders always claimed the fruit of many schemes, those were actually launched by the Congress. Then suddenly Sarma uttered, “I will not be surprised, if the AGP president tomorrow claims my wife as his own.”

Most people in Assam however, admit that Sarma is an intelligent and efficient minister, though he often known to speaks carelessly. From a student leader to a minister in the State government, Sarma has come a long way. In his over decade-long political career, he has proved his mettle as an influential leader and also a performing minister. He has seen both his political clout as well as his personal properties grow.

Today, Sarma owns a Satellite Television channel. For the record, his wife serves as the CMD of News Live, one of the three satellite news channels operating in North East India.

As a health (and family welfare) minister, he has performed fairly well. Government medical hospitals in the State have been renovated during his tenure, and it has been ensured that serving doctors are made available at odd hours for the benefit of patients.

Many villagers have begun to enjoy minimum healthcare facilities in their localities as government doctors have begun to visit rural areas. He deserves appreciation for his performance as the minister for Guwahati development as well. Sarma later admitted his mistake and commented that he had made the remark out of provocation. But he made no clarification regarding his reckless comments during poll campaigning. Rather he asserted in a television show (on News Live) that it was his electoral strategy. Sarma indirectly tried to convince the audience that he had received the green signal from the party high command for those unwelcome eruptions.

Whatever his argument for the irresponsible comments or his opponent’s manner of protests, the common people found it irrelevant in a time of crisis. There are other views on this debate, such as one that states that the political leadership simply tried to hijack the misery of the people, as they could not address many other burning issues. And to cover up their acts of failure, they simply stage-managed all these incidents, which were of help neither to the people, nor the State.

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