Senior BJP leader and Assam finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma Credit: File image

New Delhi: Congress scion Rahul Gandhi’s relationship with former Assam Congress stalwart and current Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and how Rahul’s pet dog, Pidi, allegedly helped one of the most controversial political leaders of the state in recent times to part ways from the grand old party have already been consumed by the masses on numerous occasions. But very few people in the country are aware of the fact that Sarma was told to enter through the back gate of 10, Janpath by none other than Sonia Gandhi. But why was he shown the back door to enter Sonia Gandhi’s official residence, and not the main gate, and what did the Congress president tell Sarma then?

In his newly launched book, 2019: How Modi Won India, leading journalist Rajdeep Sardesai has mentioned that the silent tug of war between Rahul and the old guard around Sonia Gandhi continued for almost two years between 2014 and 2016, leaving the party rudderless and struggling to halt the electoral march of the BJP in state election after election.

“An early victim of the war within the party was ambitious Assam leader Himanta Biswa Sarma. The Congress’ defeat in the Lok Sabha elections of 2014 opened a window of opportunity for Sarma to challenge the veteran three-term chief minister Tarun Gogoi, then 80 years old. Sarma was in his mid-40s, an energetic, locally influential doer, who also ran a successful TV news network in Assam,” writes Sardesai in the book.

Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi at a party meeting

“You have to effect a generation change in the Congress if you want to win the next election in Assam,” Sarma was quoted as saying bluntly to Sonia Gandhi and her political secretary, Ahmed Patel. The party leadership agreed to send old Karnataka warhorse and prominent Dalit face, Mallikarjun Kharge, as an observer to Guwahati to verify Sarma’s claim that he enjoyed the support of a majority of the MLAs. Kharge’s report confirmed that Sarma was backed by 52 of the 78 MLAs. “I was assured by Soniaji and Ahmed Patel that it was only a matter of time before I was made chief minister,” Sarma was quoted as saying by the book.

Sardesai further wrote that Rahul Gandhi, after his midsummer break in July 2014, immediately red-flagged Sarma’s elevation. “No way, I will not accept the removal of Gogoi in this manner,” was his explicit message, says the book. Later, the Congress high command refused to confront with Rahul and decided to put the Assam leadership issue on hold. Left out in the cold, the book says further, “Sarma resigned as minister in the Gogoi Cabinet to set up the pressure on the party high command.” Referring to Himanta Biswa Sarma’s reaction over the issue, Sardesai then quotes him as saying, “I was angry and felt betrayed but didn’t want to leave a party I had been part of since 1993.”

Sarma had other issues to deal with too at the time: his name had cropped up in the multi-crore Saradha chit fund scam, the book says.

In early 2015, when Sarma got respite from the court, he started shuttling between New Delhi and Guwahati to convince his party leadership that he is the right person for the top party post in Assam, writes Sardesai.

“In every meeting, despite support for Sarma from senior leaders like Patel and Ghulam Nabi Azad, Rahul would veto any change of guard. A final meeting was held at Rahul’s Tughlaq Road residence in March 2015 with Tarun Gogoi, Sarma and Assam Congress president Anjan Dutta in attendance,” the book says.

The book, while referring to Himanta Biswa Sarma, said that he claimed that five minutes into the conversation, Rahul seemed to lose interest. “Look, you can do what you want, I am not concerned, please deal with CP Joshi (the Congress general secretary in charge of Assam), he will solve your issues. Don’t come to me again,” he burst out angrily, says the book.

Also Read: Citizenship (Amendment) Act: The Assam perspective

Sarma’s story then takes another bizarre twist after Rahul reportedly started to play with his pet dog, Pidi, a cute black-and-white puppy, and feeding him biscuits from the plate on the table.

Later, on various occasions, Sarma had spoken about the Rahul-Pidi-Himanta-Tarun Gogoi-biscuits viral saga over the years.

Few days after the Pidi development, Himanta sought an appointment with Sonia Gandhi and he was asked to come through the back gate of 10, Janpath, writes Sardesai.

10, Janpath is a house on Janpath in New Delhi. Since the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, during his second term as Prime Minister of India, when it was his official residence, it remains the residence of his wife, Sonia Gandhi, who is currently president of Indian National Congress party (INC).

Assam minister and North-East Democratic Alliance convenor Himanta Biswa Sarma

Referring to Sarma, Rajdeep Sardesai quotes him as saying in the book: “I have been meeting Soniaji for years, this is the first time ever that I was asked not to come through the front door. When I asked Madam why, she told me, ‘You are also a father and a parent, Himanta. You understand that as a mother, I can’t go against the wishes of my son, don’t you?’ I knew that day that my time was up in the Congress.”

As per the book, Sarma also told the author that after joining the BJP in August 2015 through Ram Madhav, BJP general secretary for Assam during that time, Rahul reportedly tried to contact him frantically.

“After several missed calls, when they finally spoke, Sarma kept the conversation brief: ‘Sorry Rahulji, I have already committed to Amit Shahji. It’s too late now,” writes Sardesai.

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