In a scene in the Dark Knight, Batman asks Joker: “Then why do you want to kill me?” , to which Joker laughs and says, “I don’t want to kill you…what would I do without you? You complete me”. The Batman-Joker equation is toxically symbiotic. One completes the other, though they hate each other profoundly. They are the forever reciprocal nemeses. One brings about the other’s downfall, and yet they are incomplete without each other.
In Assam’s political scenario, the relationship between the state’s newly selected Chief Minister Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma, who rose to the pinnacle of power amidst numerous speculations, and the newly elected MLA from Sibsagar Akhil Gogoi, who in sorts, created history by winning a seat from jail, can be said to be a dramatically interesting one, which can be compared to the Batman-Joker equation.
Wrapped in controversies, mud-slinging and all forms of whataboutery, Himanta and Akhil have created two long-lasting caricatures of themselves in the political psyche of the people of the state, standing in two opposite poles. The tale of the Tweedledum-Tweedeledee of Assam’s politics who apparently have been arch enemies right from the time when they were involved in student politics is an interesting anecdote in the political stage of the state.
Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma had been an aspiring politician from his student days, and was actively involved in student politics, being the former general secretary of Cotton College, and later, a budding politician under the tutelage of the former Chief Minister, Hiteswar Saikia. He was elected as an MLA from the Jalukbari constituency in 2001, by defeating Bhrigu Kumar Phukan, who was a name to reckon with, during the time, having had a notable political career, being one of the principal leaders of the Assam Agitation and a founder member of the Asom Gana Parishad, and one of the three signatories of the Assam Accord of 1985, the other two being Prafulla Kumar Mahanta and Biraj Kumar Sarma.
Sarma thereafter became a formidable face of the Congress party in Assam, and was often known as the right hand of the Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, who served the state for a period of fifteen whole years, from 2001 to 2016.
From 2001 to 2014, Himanta Biswa rose within the domains of the Assam Congress, so much so that he became the de facto ruler of the state. However, slowly and gradually he started nurturing ambitions of becoming the next Chief Minister of the State and hoped that Tarun Gogoi would eventually nominate him as his successor. But things took an ugly turn when the son of Tarun Gogoi, Gaurav Gogoi entered the political scene and Sarma became increasingly insecure about his position, which led to a feud between him and Tarun Gogoi. This propelled him to lead a dissident movement within the Congress, as the party high command paid no attention to his claims. In July 2014, he, along with 38 dissident MLAs submitted their resignation, and in August 2015, Sarma formally joined the Bharatiya Janata Party, which led to a turning point in the politics of the state. While the Congress failed to realize the potential of Himanta, the BJP banked on the man’s mastery to win elections and came to power in the state in 2016 and 2021, becoming the first non-Congress government in Assam to retain power for a consecutive term. The party high command rewarded Sarma’s efforts by fulfilling his long term desire, making him the 15th Chief Minister of the state.
While Himanta Sarma represents the crux of mainstream politics in Assam, Akhil Gogoi represents his own brand of mass appeal. Rising to fame as a peasant activist and leader of the masses, Akhil left no stones unturned to publicly speak and protest against the establishment, a government which was since Akhil’s inception into public life, associated inevitably with Himanta. An RTI activist and KMSS leader, after a career of protests, landed in jail in December 2019 on multiple charges, immediately after the CAA Movement in the state. While being in jail, on alleged maosit links and a host of other accusations, Akhil filed his nomination from the Sibsagar constituency. While Himanta was the star campaigner of the Assam Elections, moving from constituency to constituency, hosting rallies, parading, shouting slogans, and promising development, Akhil fought the elections from jail, not being able to hold a single meeting to appeal to the people. But in spite of that, a pre-election field visit that we under-took, made it clear that there was a massive sympathy stride for Akhil, and people were complaining about locking him up in jail, as he speaks for the interests of the people. Akhil thereafter emerged successful and was elected as MLA from Sibsagar, defeating the BJP candidate by more than 11000 votes.
The clash of the Titans:
With Himanta as Chief Minster and Akhil as a jailed MLA, controversy was bound to happen. The very first day of Akhil’s appearance in the Assembly created a breaking news in all news platforms across the state. The controversy stretched on from bringing Akhil in a bus to him being manhandled and later being denied permission to be present in the succeeding days at the assembly. While the Chief Minister said that Akhil was ‘mentally unstable’ and therefore not fit to be present in the Assembly floor and that even the doctors confirmed that he was not in a sound mental and physical state, while taking a jibe at him by saying that the way he was moving from one place to another in the assembly, he almost thought that Akhil was ‘distributing COVID’ among all the MLAs. Striking back, Akhil said that Himanta’s comments prove that he is crude and irresponsible and hence not fit to be holding a position as important as the Chief Minister.
While this war of words is all over the print, electronic and social media, the clash of the titans is not a novel phenomenon, and what awaits the political scenario of the state, only time will tell.
Swaswati Borkataki works as an Assistant Professor in the Department of History, Royal Global University.