The BJP on Thursday announced the name of Union Minister for Minister of State (independent charge) for Youth Affairs and Sports Sarbananda Sonowal as its chief ministerial candidate for the upcoming Assam Assembly elections in April and May.
Reacting to the announcement, Sonowal told CNN-IBN, "Happy that party has given me this responsibility. We will win the Assam Assembly Elections with majority."
Few hours after his nomination, the Union minister also thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah through his Facebook page. "My sincere thanks to Hon'ble Prime Minister Narendra Modi Ji, Shri Amit Shah Ji and the Parliamentary Board for their faith and confidence in me. I am counting on the help and support of all our Honourable MPs, MLAs, Office Bearers, District Committees, Mandal Committees, Booth Committees, and all party workers. Above all, I will need the blessings of our people to bring the change. The change which will transform Assam and all sections of its society. Elders, friends and the youth of Assam, let's come together and take our state forward," Sonowal said.
At present, Sonowal represents Assam's Lakhimpur constituency in the Lok Sabha.
With 14 seats in the Lok Sabha, Assam, which votes for its 126-member assembly in March/April this year, may not be critical to political parties from a larger perspective. But this time, something much more than numbers is involved in the elections: the polls are a matter of prestige. The incumbent Congress and challenger BJP look set for a battle of prestige in the state. And after consecutive losses in Delhi and Bihar, the BJP in particular is taking no chances.
On 21 November last year, the BJP had appointed the Union minister as the state president while accommodating the then incumbent Siddharth Bhattacharya as the national spokesperson on issues pertaining to the north-east.
The Union minister was at the helm of affairs of the BJP in the state during the Lok Sabha polls last year and he engineered a massive victory for the party by wresting the entire Upper Assam bastion of the Congress for the first time. In the 2014 general election, BJP managed to win seven seats while the Congress secured a humiliating three. Whether it was the magic of the Modi wave or a display of exemplary organisational and leadership skills by Sonowal will be clear months later when the results are out.
The claim to fame for the 53-year-Sonowal is that he was the petitioner at the apex court against the controversial Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act, 1983 (IMDT Act) which was finally struck down by the Supreme Court in July 2005. This made him immensely popular across the state and he became a household name. He was even conferred with the title of Jatia Nayak by his then organisation All Assam Students Union.
The IMDT Act was brought in by the Parliament to detect and expel illegal foreigners, particularly to check the stem the flow of illegal migrants from Bangladesh which posed a grave threat to the demographic, economic and social pattern in the state. However, the law had glaring lacunae and was declared null and void by the apex court.
Born in 1962, Sonowal was earlier the president of the AASU from 1992 to 1999 till the time he joined the Asom Gana Parishad. In January 2011, he joined the BJP and gradually rose in ranks.