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Sonowal, tribal factor proved decisive

 GUWAHATI/NEW DELHI, May 19 - Assam was waiting for him ever since he won a major legal victory over illegal immigrants in 2005. And in the next five years, Sarbananda Sonowal will script the State’s history, thanks to the decisive mandate handed to him by the people in the Assembly polls.

 Born in Dibrugarh district in 1962, Sonowal was a student leader in his younger days. He was a member of the AASU and served as its president between 1992 and 1999. He later entered active politics by joining the AGP.

Sonowal shot to fame in 2005 when he took up the issue of “illegal infiltration from Bangladesh” and moved the Supreme Court for removing the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act, 1983. In its landmark judgement on July 12, 2005, the apex court struck down the Act as being “unconstitutional” and termed Bangladeshi infiltration an act of “external aggression”. The judgement has had its impact on Sonowal’s political career: he became the ‘Jatiya Nayak’ (national hero) of Assam – a title bestowed on him by the AASU.

However, Sonowal was aiming to spread his wings beyond a regional outfit. In 2011, he left the AGP and joined the BJP. The same year, he was appointed to the party’s national executive and made the spokesperson and general secretary of the BJP’s Assam unit. Ahead of the elections, Sonowal was appointed as president of the State BJP, and there was no looking back since then. While much of the credit goes to Sonowal for BJP’s historic victory in Assam, it is also the “tribal” factor which catapulted the saffron party to power in the State.

In fact, Sonowal’s selection as the chief ministerial candidate was a well-thought out strategy. The BJP, though perceived by some as a “North Indian” party, was able to cobble up support of communities like Moran, Mottock, Tai Ahom, Koch Rajbongshi, Sootiya and the tea tribes, besides the Kachari tribe to which Sonowal belongs. These communities from the plains have a significant presence in upper Assam districts.

“BJP was always an accepted political force for upper caste Hindu Assamese, but Sonowal and a few others, like tea tribe leader Kamakhya Tassa, gave BJP new foothold. The election results in Assam exemplify this paradigm shift and hopefully it’s a new beginning under Sonowal,” Guwahati-based political analyst Ratnadeep Gupta told IANS. The alliance that BJP worked out with the BPF also helped the party.

Observers feel the basic credit should go to the strategy team which advised the BJP leadership to project Sonowal as the chief ministerial candidate and work out an alliance with BPF.

In the last Assembly election, the BPF was in alliance with the Congress. Till the end of November 2015, the BJP was not sure about the tie-up with the BPF. But Ram Lal, BJP’s organisational general secretary, had said that only such a tie-up will put the BJP on track in Assam. His calculation seems to have worked out pretty well. This alliance did well across the Bodoland Territorial Area Districts comprising Kokrajhar, Udalguri, Baksa and Chirang. The BJP’s calculation that Bodos can influence results in as many as 25-30 Assembly seats in the State paid dividends.

To Sonowal’s credit, he was able to synthesise his tribal identity with his brand of nationalistic politics. His staunch opposition to the illegal Bangaldeshi influx suited both the RSS and the BJP in their quest for power beyond the river Brahmaputra in the NE. – IANS

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