Sonowal sworn-in as Assam CM: BJP knocks on the doors of the Northeast

After 15 years of Congress rule in Assam, Sarbananda Sonowal-led BJP clinched a massive victory in the northeastern state. The party swept the assembly election by winning 60 seats in and clearing the path for the first BJP government in the northeast. Together with Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), the BJP bagged 86 of the 126 assembly seats.

Sonowal's swearing-in ceremony was nothing short of a grand event. Starting from all BJP bigwigs, including veteran LK Advani, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and party president Amit Shah, all the chief ministers from NDA-ruled states were present at the event. According to reports, even diplomats from Saarc countries attended the ceremony. Interestingly, the BJP marked its massive sweep in Maharashtra with a similar star-studded event for Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis' swearing-in ceremony.

Addressing the huge gathering at the Veterinary College Ground in Guwahati's Khanapara, PM Modi said Assam is an important centre for development in all of northeast. Starting his speech in Assamese, the PM hailed the newly-elected Sonowal as a soft-spoken and a development-driven leader.

PM Modi's speech put onus on Assam as a gateway to the northeast, as he kept stressing on a collaborative functioning of the state and the central government in New Delhi.

Image courtesy: Twitter/ANI

Assam CM Sarbananda Sonowal with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Image courtesy: Twitter/ANI

Until the historic win on 19 May, BJP was in the margins in northeast and was considered a Hindi-speaking north Indian party. Wave of anti-incumbency against Congress veteran and former CM Tarun Gogoi and centering their campaign around the illegal immigration from Bangladesh, the BJP fought and won the assembly polls on identity issues.

After winning the elections, Sonowal had told pro-RSS journal Organiser, "Assam badly needed a government imbued with nationalism as it had been turned into a playground by separatist forces. The Assam verdict is a vote against the Congress policy of being lukewarm towards illegal immigration of people from Bangladesh and the changes in the demography caused by Muslim infiltrators. It is not Assam alone which is faced with the problem of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Even distant Bengaluru is faced with it, though to a smaller extent."

The Assam election and BJP's sweeping victory is a perfect example of the importance of allies. Tarun Gogoi had earlier said that the "question doesn't arise of allying with the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF)".

Trends have now shown that the AIUDF got the third-largest number of seats in the elections.

On the other hand, BJP formed alliances with the BPF and AGP. NDTV reported that the BJP faced pressure from both within the party and the old Sangh guard to ignore the AGP. It was also said that the AGP was being given too many seats. But the BJP nevertheless entered into an alliance with the AGP and BPF, which "gave it the leadership of a broad-based social alliance".

Apart from its alliance with AGP and BPF, the BJP party centered its campaign around its chief ministerial candidate. Instead of riding on the Modi-wave, which spectacularly failed in Bihar, the party focused on its local candidates and issues.

Sonowal's presence actually helped BJP which portrayed itself as a pro-tribal outfit for the first time. This brought in huge dividends. Besides Sonowal's own Kachari tribe, other communities like Moran, Muttock, Tai Ahom, Koch Rajbongshi, Sootea and the Tea tribes too flocked to the BJP. The splitting of the Muslim votes also worked in favour of the party.

Sonowal being a tribal suited both the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and BJP in their quest for power beyond river Brahmaputra in the northeast. With his staunch opposition to the illegal migrants from Bangaldesh, Sonowal gave legitimacy to the Hindutva politics of a 'north Indian party' among the tribals in the northeast.

"BJP was always an accepted political force for upper caste Hindu Assamese, but Sonowal and a few others like tea tribe leader Kamakhya Tasa gave BJP new footholds. The election results in Assam exemplify that paradigm shift and hopefully its a new beginning under Sonowal," said Guwahati-based political analyst Ratnadeep Gupta.

It goes to Sonowal's credit that he could deliver Assam to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party chief Amit Shah in an election where the so-called 'Modi wave' of 2014 was either on the wane or simply non-existent.

However, running a state like Assam will be a challenge for Sonowal. Apart from keeping its allies happy, Sonowal has the daunting task of maintaining the aspirations of those for whom the newly-elected CM is the face of the tribal population in the state. One of the key poll planks which BJP rode on was the issue of the tribals in the northeastern state.

The fact that BJP has overthrown a government which ruled for 15 years is significant because in 2011 the saffron party was an 'also-ran' with only six seats in the assembly.

Defection of Congress leader Himanta Biswas Sarma to the BJP dealt a huge blow to Congress. In fact, it was Sarma who was instrumental in getting the Harama Mohilary-led Bodoland People’s Front within the NDA fold.

In Arunachal Pradesh, the BJP formed a government in February led by dissident Congress politician Kalikho Pul, according to Livemint.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: May 25, 2016 07:45:51 IST

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