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BJP’s Himanta Sarma Banned From Campaign Over NIA Threat To Congress Ally

Himanta Biswa Sarma is the BJP’s poll strategist for the 2021 Assam Assembly election (File)

New Delhi/Guwahati:

Assam minister and senior BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma has been given a 48-hour ban on campaigning ahead of the third and final phase of Assembly elections, which are due on Tuesday.

The Election Commission issued its order late Friday night, after it upheld a complaint by the Congress; the party said Mr Sarma had openly threatened to send Hagrama Mohilary – whose BPF (Bodoland People’s Front) is a member of the opposition alliance – to jail by misusing the NIA

The ban comes into effect from tonight, effectively means Mr Sarma – who is the BJP’s main poll strategist and has been listed as a ‘star campaigner’ – can no longer campaign in this election.

On Thursday the poll body had issued a show-cause notice to Mr Sarma, to which replied earlier today. Unfortunately for him the explanation was deemed “not satisfactory”.

“… the Commission hereby strongly condemns the impugned statements made by Shri Himanta Biswa Sarma, BJP leader and star campaigner… bars him from holding any public meetings, processions, rallies, road shows, interviews and public utterances in media (electronic, print, social media, etc.) in connection with the ongoing elections for 48 hours from immediate effect,” the Election Commission said in its Friday night order.

The comments that triggered Mr Sarma’s ban were made during a speech on March 28.

He had said: “… ‘If Hagrama Mohilary does extremism… he will go to jail. This is a straight talk… Already got a lot of evidence. This case is being given to NIA (National Investigation Agency). The recovery of arms at Kokrajhar in a car, that case is being given to NIA. Nobody will be allowed to do unrest in Bodoland Territorial Region, even if he is Hagrama…”

Two days later a Congress delegation met Election Commission officials to file a formal complaint. The party said Mr Sarma’s comment amounted to an open threat of jail for Mr Mohilary.

Mr Mohilary was once an ally of the BJP, but switched to the Congress after the BJP joined hands with the United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL) to form Bodoland Territorial Council in December.

The election to the 126-member Assam Assembly has been spread over three phases with 77.2 per cent of the electorate exercising their franchise in 39 constituencies in the second phase on April 1. In the first phase on March 27 around 76 per cent of voters in 30 constituencies cast their vote.

The third and final phase will be held on April 6, with votes to be counted on May 2.