Assam CM, Gogoi exchange fire on X over alleged govt grant to CM's wife

Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma's wife has said she will file a Rs 10-crore defamation suit against Congress MP Gaurav Gogoi. Read the exchange here

Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma (left) and MP Gaurav Gogoi in a war of words on social media (photo: National Herald archives)
Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma (left) and MP Gaurav Gogoi in a war of words on social media (photo: National Herald archives)

AJ Prabal

In a written reply to Parliament in March this year, the commerce ministry under Piyush Goyal presented a list of enterprises in Assam which had been awarded grants to set up ‘mega food parks’ in the state. The list of 11 enterprises included three which had received grants between 2009 and 2013. All three are ‘operational’, the reply declared.

The remaining eight schemes were approved between 2019 and 2022 and all of them are ‘under implementation’, the ministry said. Among them was a firm called M/S Pride East Entertainments Pvt Ltd, which listed Riniki Bhuyan Sharma, wife of Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, as its managing director. The company, which has been in existence since 2006 and runs several television channels in Assam, received approval in November 2022.

On Wednesday, Gaurav Gogoi, Congress MP and deputy leader in the Lok Sabha, questioned the subsidy approved to Mrs Sharma’s company. “PM Modi launched the Kisan Sampada Scheme to double the income of farmers of India. But Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma used his influence to help his wife’s firm get Rs 10 crore as part of the credit linked subsidy. Are central government schemes meant to enrich BJP?” read his post on X.

The Assam CM was quick to ‘clarify’ that neither his wife nor the company she is associated with had ever received any financial subsidy from the government of India. Gogoi responded by furnishing the link to the website of the food processing ministry, which had listed the name of his wife’s company as one of the recipients.

Once again, Sarma ‘reiterated’ with ‘full responsibility’ that neither his wife nor her company had received any subsidy. A few hours later, the chief minister posted again, this time ‘completely’ denying that his wife or her company was the recipient of any central government subsidy.

What he did not explain was how the company’s name figured on the ministry’s website and in the written reply to Parliament. Had someone forged the name of his wife and company to claim the Rs 10 crore grant for a project estimated to cost Rs 25.877 crore? If so, the chief minister’s replies provided no inkling. Did his wife or her company submit any application for the grant? Or did the ministry on its own include the name in the list?

Until Thursday afternoon, neither Sarma nor Piyush Goyal, the minister for commerce and industry, had cleared the air. However, referring to the written reply to Parliament, Sarma posted, “The reply itself clarifies the fact that the Government of India has not released any funds to the mentioned company.”

Gaurav Gogoi: Is the chief minister saying that the ministry under Piyush Goyal has merely approved the grant to the wife of Himanta Biswa Sarma but has not released the funds? How many more BJP politicians have used the PMKSY scheme to enrich their families?

Himanta Biswa Sarma: Yes, all family members of BJP politicians have the right to run their own companies and seek government subsidies if they are entitled to them. This is true for everyone. However, I would like to clarify that in this particular case, my wife has not even claimed the subsidy.

Gaurav Gogoi: Please be present in the Assembly and clarify instead of typing on Twitter.

Himanta Biswa Sarma: Please do not lecture me on what to do. Whether I decide to go to the assembly or a court of law against you, I will make that decision myself.

Gaurav Gogoi: Please do not get agitated…I will be happy if you go to court; at least then all the documents will be made public.

Himanta Biswa Sarma: Yes, I am agitated. There have been numerous reasons for my anger against your family since 2010. I am confident that we will meet in court, and once again, I will be able to prove my point. I have successfully done so in 2016 and 2021, and I am determined to do it again, both in the people's Court and in a court of law.

Gaurav Gogoi: You are free to choose your path. But please attend the Assembly and address the issue. It is not your privilege but your duty to the people. I request the PMO to order an inquiry into how the commerce ministry approved a Rs 10 crore grant for a BJP chief minister’s family.

Within hours of this exchange, Riniki Biswa Sharma’s statement was shared by her husband. She claimed that the "malicious campaign" was an attack on "an Assamese firm and on a woman" and that she would be filing a defamation case claiming Rs 10 crore in damages.

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