Assam ex-minister deserts Congress, to join BJP

New Delhi/Guwahati: In what might affect the ruling Congress in Assam ahead of next year's assembly polls, former state health and education minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Sunday met BJP president Amit Shah, expressed his faith in Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP, and said he would be joining the party soon.

While the BJP said the party has become "stronger" with Sarma's induction, the Congress central leadership said it was monitoring the situation in Assam and was in touch with the state unit.

"I along with Assam BJP president Siddhartha Bhattacharya met BJP national president Amit Shah. We discussed a host of issues including the present political situation, floods etc. (in Assam)," Sarma told media persons outside Shah's residence in New Delhi on Sunday evening.

"I expressed my willingness to work under the strong leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and national president Amit Shah and they have accepted it."

"Perception of people changes with time and the same has happened to me. Since 2011, the debacle of the Congress had started in Assam and I conveyed it to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and (vice president) Rahul Gandhi. But nothing happened. Now I want to work with a strong leadership," Sarma added.

Sarma claimed he has the support of 52 Congress legislators out of 79.

Mahendra Singh, BJP's national secretary and in-charge of Assam, confirmed that Sarma has "virtually joined" the party.

"Sarma met our party president and expressed faith in our prime minister and the party. He has virtually joined the party. In the coming days, he will officially join the party in Guwahati," Singh told IANS over phone from Guwahati.

Sarma also posted a note on his Facebook account: "Following massive calls over the past months from people across Assam hailing from all communities, will be formally joining the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) 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," he posted.

Sarma, who has been representing the Jalukbari assembly constituency since 2001, was an important leader of the Congress in the state and played a vital role in bringing the party to power in Assam in the last three consecutive elections.

Sarma had since 2011 been expressing dissent and demanding a change in the state leadership. He resigned from the Tarun Gogoi cabinet in 2014.

Rajen Gohain, BJP Lok Sabha member from Nawgong constituency, told IANS the party has become "stronger" with Sarma's induction.

"A powerful leader from the Congress has joined, so the BJP has become stronger, and the Congress will become weaker," Gohain said.

Asked if Sarma's entry into the BJP will have an effect on the assembly elections, he said "only time will say".

On whether Sarma will be given a BJP ticket from Jalukbari constituency, which he represents in the assembly, Gohain said: "He (Sarma) might get... he is doing good work there."

On allegations of Sarma's involvement in the Louis Berger bribery case, he said: "You can't say he is involved... there are only allegations, the case is pending..."

Gohain said the BJP after "long thinking" decided that Sarma should join the party.

In Delhi, the Congress central leadership said it was monitoring the situation in Assam.

Congress general secretary C.P. Joshi, who is in charge of Assam, said he was in touch with the state party leadership.

"I am in touch with the Pradesh Congress Committee," Joshi told IANS.

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