The BJP on Saturday named Union minister Sarbananda Sonowal as its Assam unit president, potentially elevating him as the party’s chief ministerial candidate in the Congress-ruled state going to the polls early next year.
The move, which also saw Sonowal, 53, being made the head of the election management committee in Assam, came just a few days after the BJP suffered a debacle in the Bihar assembly polls which many within the party attributed to its failure to project a chief ministerial candidate.
Himanta Biswa Sarma, a former Congress stalwart who joined the BJP recently, has been made as the convenor of the poll panel, Union minister Prakash Javadekar said on Saturday. Sarma, once a close confidante of Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi, is known to be an astute poll strategist.
Elections for 126 assembly seats in the northeastern state are expected to be held in March-April.
The Congress has been ruling the state for the past 15 years but is expected to face a tough challenge from the BJP which had won seven out of 14 Lok Sabha seats last year. The Congress had managed only three.
The BJP has already announced a ‘Mission 84+’ in Assam, targeting to win that many seats in the assembly elections.
Javadekar, however, parried a query on whether Sonowal will be the party’s chief ministerial face, saying a decision will be taken by the parliamentary board at an appropriate time.
“This is the beginning of our election preparation for Assam. In 2016, BJP will return to its winning ways,” he said.
Sonowal, who reached Guwahati on Saturday morning, said he was glad to take charge as the state unit president.
“Our leadership has given me an important task today. With my party colleagues and wish of the people of the state, I will try my best to achieve our goal,” he told reporters.
Sonowal had once led the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) as well the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) before switching over to the saffron brigade in 2011. He was the BJP state president before being made a minister in the Narendra Modi government.
Former chief minister and AGP leader Prafulla Kr Mahanta said Sonowal’s reappointment as state president won’t help the party in the elections.
“Despite appointment of a new president, the BJP will not be successful in the next assembly election. Its mission of 84 seats will never be a reality,” Mahanta added.
Firebrand RTI activist and leader of the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) Akhil Gogoi said the people of Assam have lost faith on Sonowal after witnessing his poor performance as Union minister.
“Sarbananda Sonowal has lost credibility as a good leader. He was failed in raising Assam’s issues in Parliament. The BJP’s chance of winning in Assam is very remote,” Gogoi said.