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Sonowal’s roller-coaster journey to 2nd time berth in Modi cabinet

Sarbananda Sonowal, who rose from the rough and tumble of student politics to assume the chief minister’s chair in Assam, is back for his second innings at the Centre.

IMAGE: Sarbananda Sonowal greets after taking oath as minister during a swearing-in ceremony of Cabinet expansion at Rashtrapati Bhawan in New Delhi . Photograph: ANI Photo

As a dynamic student leader who went on to join the state’s most prominent regional party Asom Gana Parishad, before switching to the saffron camp, Sonowal was Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s obvious choice for the job of Assam’s chief minister when he scripted BJP’s historic first electoral victory in any northeastern state, five years ago.

Before being entrusted with running Assam, Sonowal who started out life as president of students’ body All Assam Students’ Union, was inducted in Modi’s first cabinet as northeast’s sole representative as a minister of state with independent charge.

 

However, earlier this year, when Assam polls were announced, the Bharatiya Janata Party decided not to project him as the chief ministerial face. An obvious sign that he would be eased out of the top job. With Himanta Biswa Sarma getting that job, many political pundits had predicted that he would be accommodated in the Union cabinet in the next reshuffle.

Sonowal, a law graduate, is considered to be a rarity — an honest politician who also worked to unite different communities with his oft-repeated lines ‘Barak-Brahmaputra-plains-hills’.

The greatest challenge to his rule came during widespread protests in the state against enactment of the Citizenship Amendment Act which saw his former comrades from the AASU turning against him.

He was accused of failing to lobby the BJP leadership against the bill which AASU saw as compromising Assamese interests.

His former colleagues termed this the “ultimate betrayal” by a man who was given the title of ‘Jatiya Nayak’ (leader of the community) after the scrapping of the controversial Illegal Migrants’ Determination by Tribunal Act by the Supreme Court in 2005 which Sonowal had challenged as AASU president.

Sonowal’s foray into politics began with his joining the AASU where he served as president from 1992 to 1999.

From AASU he predictably went on to join the Asom Gana Parishad in 2001, founded by his seniors in the students’ organisation, and was elected the party’s MLA from Upper Assam’s Moran constituency in 2001.

In 2004 he went on to successfully contest the Lok Sabha polls wresting the Dibrugarh parliamentary seat for the first time from the Congress by defeating former Union Minister Paban Singh Ghatowar.

Sonowal left the AGP in January 2011 following differences with the party leadership and went on to join the BJP in February 2011.

He went on to become the BJP state unit president in 2012 and was credited with raising the party’s tally to seven from an earlier four in the 2014 Parliamentary polls.
He, himself, wrested the Lakhimpur constituency from former Union Minister Ranee Narah of the Congress and was made the Union Minister of State for Sports and Youth Development.

Sonowal, who belongs to the Sonowal-Kachari tribe, retained for the second consecutive term Majuli, the world’s largest inhabited river island and the seat of Vaishnavite culture.

Born on October 31, 1962 in Mulukgaon in Dibrugarh district as the youngest of Jibeswar Sonowal and Dineswari Sonowal’s eight offsprings, Sonowal is a bachelor and a devout follower of Assam’s renowned Vaishnav saints Sankardeva and Madhavdeva. 

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