Union sport minister Sarbananda Sonowal took oath as Assam’s 14th chief minister on Tuesday in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his cabinet colleagues and BJP president Amit Shah.
Assam governor PB Acharya administered the oath at 4.25pm, five minutes after Modi arrived at the expansive Khanapara ground on the southern end of Guwahati. Ten other ministers were also sworn in, including two each from BJP allies Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and Bodoland People’s Front (BPF).
“A great responsibility has been bestowed upon us. We will try to do justice to it,” said Sonowal, a 54-year-old bachelor.
He replaced Tarun Gogoi of the Congress who ruled for three consecutive terms. Before Gogoi, Hiteswar Saikia of the Congress and Prafulla Kumar Mahanta of the AGP held the post twice.
Gogoi, whom Sonowal had invited specially, shared the dais with Modi and other dignitaries.
The first of the ministers to take oath was Himanta Biswa Sarma, widely believed to have plotted Gogoi’s exit after quitting the Congress and joining the BJP in August 2015. He accompanied Shah to the Kamakhya temple earlier in the day.
Modi became the first Prime Minister to attend the swearing-in of an Assam chief minister or any of the other seven north-eastern states. “I am grateful to the people of Assam for giving Sarbananda and his ministers the opportunity to serve them,” Modi said, assuring the Centre’s commitment for the development of Assam and the Northeast.
At least 10 of his cabinet colleagues, including home minister Rajnath Singh and road transport minister Nitik Gadkari, attended the event, whose scale was compared to the AGP’s open-air oath-taking ceremony in 1985.
There were 13 chief ministers from states ruled by BJP and NDA constituents too. They included Madhya Pradesh’s Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Rajasthan’s Vasundhara Raje, Maharashtra’s Devendra Fadnavis, Andhra Pradesh’s Chandrababu Naidu of the Telugu Desam Party and Arunachal Pradesh’s Kalikho Pul of the People’s Party of Arunachal.
Yoga guru Baba Ramdev, criticised by the ULFA separatist group for a land deal for his Patanjali plant in western Assam, did not turn up. Neither did Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Both were invited.
However, the satradhikars or abbots of seven satras (Vaishnav monasteries) accepted Sonowal’s invitation. Among them were the abbots of three main satras – Garamur, Kamalabari and Auni-Ati – in Majuli, the island-constituency that Sonowal represents.
The erosion-plagued Majuli, now reduced to 520sq km, once had 65 satras. Only 22 remain, some having been washed away and others having relocated to the mainland in the past six decades.
“I am grateful to the abbots for guiding us spiritually through this historic political journey,” Sonowal had said after visiting the ashram of Krishnaguru, another Vaishnav spiritual guru in western Assam’s Sarthebari on Monday.
The reclusive and controversial Krishnaguru has a sect different from the other Vaishnav groups.
The BJP had won 60 of 126 seats in the April assembly elections. This is four short of the majority mark.
AGP and BPF won 14 and 12 seats to give the BJP-led alliance a total of 86. The Congress managed to win 26 seats, its second worst performance since 1985 when it won 25.
The All India United Democratic Front, which was on the upswing since its birth in 2005, had to be content with 13 seats, down by five from its 2011 score.