SAF­FRON WHIFF IN THE AIR

India Today - - ASSEMBLY POLLS 2016 - By Kaushik Deka

On a win­try De­cem­ber Delhi night, elec­tion strate­gist Prashant Kishor was meet­ing a BJP leader from As­sam. It had been just a month since he had pulled off the in­cred­i­ble feat of help­ing Lalu Prasad Ya­dav-Ni­tish Ku­mar script a com­pre­hen­sive vic­tory over the BJP in the Bi­har assem­bly polls. Now he was in talks with the Congress high com­mand and As­sam Chief Min­is­ter Tarun Go­goi to bail the party out in the assem­bly elec­tions due in four months.

So why was he meet­ing Hi­manta Biswa Sarma, the ex-Go­goi aide who had joined the BJP in July 2015? Mar­ried to an As­samese doc­tor, Kishor had an of­fer for Sarma, a for­mer class­mate of his wife: “Re­join Congress and you’ll be made CM can­di­date.” The meet­ing ended with Sarma re­ject­ing Kishor’s of­fer and vow­ing to put an end to his record and rep­u­ta­tion.

For rea­sons still not clear, Kishor quit the As­sam as­sign­ment, but the over 200 pub­lic meet­ings and ral­lies across the state Sarma held over the course of a month proved his point of the ex-Congress min­is­ter be­ing the party’s big­gest chal­lenge now. In com­par­i­son, BJP CM can­di­date Sar­bananda Sonowal has had 20 meet­ings out­side his con­stituency Ma­juli; Go­goi, 50. And Sarma had not even be­gun to cam­paign in his own con­stituency Messrs Hi­mant Sarma and Amit Shah con­tinue their steady, con­certed pitch, with AIUDF’s Badrud­din Aj­mal ex­tend­ing all the in­ad­ver­tent help he can Jaluk­bari till April 8.

That’s the rea­son why BJP pres­i­dent Amit Shah, on re­ceiv­ing the news of the over 80 per cent polling in the first phase of elec­tions on April 4—tra­di­tion­ally, higher turnout in­di­cates a change—made the first call to Sarma to con­grat­u­late him on his hard work. Yet, two days later, un­like other state lead­ers, Sarma did not join Shah when the BJP pres­i­dent came to As­sam for four ral­lies; he fin­ished five more dur­ing the day to up the ante in lower As­sam, which goes to polls on April 11.

The day Shah called, another call went from So­nia Gandhi’s of­fice to a top Congress leader in the state seek­ing his view on the Congress pres­i­dent per­son­ally at­tack­ing Sarma in

PM MODI WITH SONOWAL AND SARMA AT KOKRAJHAR

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