Sarbananda Sonowal took oath as Assam chief minister on Tuesday, marking the BJP’s first elected government in the Northeast. A look at the career of Sonowal and some of his men who will be at the helm of the state after 15 years of Congress rule.
Sarbananda Sonowal, 54, BJP
Like most non-Congress leaders in Assam, Sarbananda Sonowal’s political career was shaped in the AASU that led a six-year-long agitation against illegal migrants, mainly Bangladeshis. The youngest of eight siblings, he was the union’s president for seven years from 1992 before joining the AGP.
Sonowal, a law graduate and native of Mulukgaon in eastern Assam’s Dibrugarh district, represents Majuli assembly constituency in central Assam. He stepped into the state assembly for the first time in 2001 after winning the Moran seat but went on to contest and win the Dibrugarh Lok Sabha seat in 2004.
His biggest moment before becoming chief minister came in 2005 after the Supreme Court, hearing his petition, scrapped a pro-migrants act. He was hailed as a ‘jatiyo nayak’ (national hero) but his graph in the AGP fell and he quit to join the BJP in 2011. As the state unit president, he helped the BJP win seven of 14 Lok Sabha seats in the 2014 polls. These included his own – Lakhimpur constituency.
A law graduate, Sonowal broke into the big league after becoming the sports and youth affairs minister in the Narendra Modi government, thus completing his transformation from a regionalist into a nationalist.
Sonowal is Assam’s second tribal chief minister after Jogen Hazarika, who also belonged to the Sonowal Kachari community. Hazarika held the top job for 94 days in 1979.
Himanta Biswa Sarma, 47, BJP
Hailed as the man who plotted the Congress exit, Himanta Biswa Sarma is expected to be the main cog in the BJP-led alliance government wheel. A former leader of the Guwahati AASU unit, Sarma rose phenomenally in the Congress after winning his first assembly election in 2001. He became former chief minister Tarun Gogoi’s right-hand man, helping the Congress win election after election. But he fell out with Gogoi and joined the BJP in August 2015. He represents the Jalukbari constituency, one of four straddling Guwahati.
Chandra Mohan Patowary, 60, BJP
A former minister in the Prafulla Kumar Mahanta government, he was AGP president during 2008-2011. He helped the splinter groups of the AGP to reunite but stepped down after the party’s poor performance in the 2011 assembly polls. He joined the BJP in 2014 and became the party’s candidate for the Barpeta Lok Sabha seat. He lost to AIUDF’s Sirajuddin Ajmal by 42,000 votes but came back strongly to win the Dharmapur assembly seat this time.
Parimal Suklabaidya, 58, BJP
One of BJP’s Bengali faces from Barak Valley, Parimal Suklabaidya has been a long-time party worker who helped expand the saffron footprint in southern Assam. He won his first election from Dholai assembly seat in 1991 and won it twice again before losing it to Congress’ Girindra Mallik in 2011. His victory this time was decisive.
Atul Bora, 55, Assam Gana Parishad (AGP)
A former AASU president, Atul Bora has been the AGP president since 2011. He won his first election in 1996 from Golaghat but shifted unsuccessfully to Bokakhat from where he finally won this time. Tasked with the revival of AGP after three consecutive electoral losses since 2001, Bora was one of the movers behind the alliance with BJP.
Pramila Rani Brahma, 65, BPF
Arrested in 1992 for a bomb blast that killed 20 persons in Guwahati, Pramila Rani Brahma was a minister in the Tarun Gogoi government until her party severed ties with the Congress in 2014. Her observation that Muslims did not vote for her party’s candidate in the Lok Sabha polls that year led to communal riots. She has been elected from the Kokrajhar East constituency for the sixth straight time.