Sarbanada Sonowal

Son of the soil

Print edition : June 10, 2016

SARBANANDA SONOWAL will take oath as Assam’s 14th Chief Minister and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) first in the State on May 24. He has been elected to the State Assembly from the Majuli (Scheduled Tribe) constituency.

Born on October 31, 1962, at Bhindhakota Mulukgaon in Dibrugarh district, Sonowal belongs to the Sonowal-Kachari ethnic tribe.

A law graduate of Gauhati University, he had served as the president of Assam’s oldest students body, the All Assam Students Union (AASU), from 1992 to 1999. This became the stepping stone to an active political life in subsequent years. He was known to be vocal about the illegal migrants issue even during his college days.

Sonowal joined the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) in 1999 and was elected to the State Assembly from Moran in 2001. Moran is considered a powerful constituency because of its predominant tea tribe population, which has time and again swung elections in favour of a party.

In 2004, Sarba, as he is fondly called, was elected to the Lok Sabha on the AGP ticket from Dibrugarh. He severed ties with the AGP in 2011, citing the party’s inability to tackle the foreigners’ issue and its failure to respect the martyrs of the Assam Movement as the reasons.

In 2011, he joined the BJP and quickly rose through its ranks to first become a member of its National Executive and later the spokesperson for the party’s State unit.

In 2012, Sonowal was appointed president of the State party unit. He was tasked with the duty of handling the BJP’s 2014 Lok Sabha election in the State. The BJP pulled off a surprise win under his leadership, winning seven of the 14 seats. Sonowal himself won from Lakhimpur and was made a Union Minister of State with independent charge in the Narendra Modi government. Sonowal was projected as the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate as soon as the dates for the Assam election were announced.

Sonowal is often referred to as the “Jatiya Nayak” (national hero), a sobriquet he earned from the AASU after he successfully petitioned the Supreme Court challenging the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act, 1983, or IMDT Act, which was devised to detect illegal migrants in the State. The court struck down the Act on July 12, 2005, as unconstitutional and termed the Bangladeshis’ infiltration as an external aggression by saying they had no legal right to be in India and were liable to be deported.

The IMDT Act came into being after the Assam Accord was signed on August 15, 1985, between the AASU and the Government of India, ending a decade-long anti-foreigners’ struggle, commonly known as the Assam Movement.

Prabir Kumar Talukdar

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