Sarbananda Sonowal: Regionalist turned nationalist

  • Rahul Karmakar/HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Apr 01, 2016 11:34 IST
File photo of BJP’s CM candidate Sarbananda Sonowal in Assam. (PTI)

His name means universal happiness, and his surname is derived from the tribe – Sonowal Kachari, once known for extracting ‘son’ or gold from riverbeds – he belongs to.

Live: Follow the Leader Sarbananda Sonowal with HT

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is thus banking on Sarbananda Sonowal, 53, to strike gold for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in mandate 2016 for spreading happiness. If the BJP and its two regional allies pull it off, Sonowal would be the second tribal chief minister after Jogen Hazarika, also a Sonowal Kachari who had a 94-day stint in 1979.

Sonowal’s has been a political journey from regionalism to nationalism. He joined the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) in 1999 after seven years as president of the powerful All Assam Students’ Union (AASU).

He was elected MLA from eastern Assam’s Moran constituency in 2001 but quit to contest and win the Dibrugarh Lok Sabha seat in 2004. His biggest political victory came a year later when the Supreme Court scrapped the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act of 1983 that allegedly was loaded in favour of migrants.

But differences with the AGP leadership made Sonowal move to the BJP in February 2011. He broke into the big league after winning the Lakhimpur Lok Sabha seat in 2014 and becoming a minister in the Modi government.

It marked the transformation of a ‘jatiya nayak’ or a regional/Assamese hero – as the AASU had anointed him in 2005 – into a nationalist.

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Appointed the saffron party’s state president in February this year, Sonowal forged the alliance of the nationalist BJP and the regionalist AGP with the region-specific Bodoland People’s Front as the third partner.

Sonowal is the BJP’s candidate from Majuli assembly constituency, where his main rival is Congress MLA Rajiv Lochan Pegu.

Modi, while campaigning in Assam, called Sonowal a ‘diamond’. The BJP hopes he glitters enough for the party to form its first government in the state.

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