Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma used state funds to hire helicopters and chartered aircraft to campaign for the Bharatiya Janata Party and attend weddings, a report in The Wire and Guwahati-based news website The CrossCurrent claimed on Saturday, citing the state government’s right to information response.

The report relied on partial information shared by the Assam government and tallied the travel dates mentioned in the right to information response with Sarma’s social media posts on those days.

The Assam chief minister’s office on Saturday called The Wire’s report “mischievous, misleading and a lazy hit job” that was based on selective reading of some of Sarma’s social media posts.

On Saturday, the report by The Wire claimed that the BJP leader allegedly violated the model code of conduct at least five times by using state government-funded helicopters to campaign for the party’s candidates in Assam and other states, the report said. Sarma even campaigned for the BJP in the Delhi municipal elections in 2022 allegedly using state funds, according to the report.

The model code of conduct is a set of guidelines issued by the Election Commission for political parties and candidates during elections.

Clause 7 of the code prohibits politicians from using government transport, including official aircraft, vehicles and personnel for promoting the political party in power.

“The ministers shall not combine their official visit with electioneering work and shall not also make use of official machinery or personnel during the electioneering work,” the code says.

The report by The Wire and The CrossCurrent has revealed that between 2021 and 2023, Sarma used chartered flights for 240 days – most of which were to travel from Guwahati to Delhi.

The politician also attended five weddings for which the state government had hired chartered planes or helicopters, the report said.

The politician attended the wedding of Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio’s daughter on November 11, 2022 that cost the Assam exchequer Rs 14,08,562, the report said.

Sarma also used an Assam government-funded chartered flight to Lucknow on January 31, 2023 to attend the wedding of Uttar Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister Brajesh Pathak’s daughter, the report added. The trip cost the state exchequer Rs 23,43,750, according to the RTI reply.

According to The Wire, the dates that tallied with the right to information replies given to The CrossCurrent showed that Sarma had attended five party meetings within Assam using public money.

Between May 2021 and September 2023, the Assam exchequer spent Rs 45,62,05,755 on helicopters and chartered flights for top state dignitaries, the report said. Sarma took the maximum number of flights of these.

Between May 20, 2021 and July 18, 2021, Rs 4,46,09,836 was spent on all flights by the Assam government. Out of this, Rs 3,30,03,834 was spent only for Sarma’s travel, the report said.

Assam CM’s response

The chief minister’s office said on Saturday that the state exchequer bears no expense of Sarma’s election campaigns and they are paid for by the political party through bank transfer and cheque.

It also said that whenever Sarma visits any district in Assam or neighbouring states for official engagements, there could be social functions such as condolence meetings or weddings that coincide with the visit.

“Compared to all the official visits undertaken by HCM [honourable chief minister] since May 2021, such coincidences are far and few,” the chief minister’s office said. “It is appalling to see the authors of this story make sweeping conjectures based on incidental social programs which HCM has attended.”