While the BJP has named Union sports minister Sarbananda Sonowal as the party’s chief ministerial candidate for the ensuing Assam assembly election, the big question in the state today is: Can Sonowal really win Assam for the BJP?
Credited with registering not just a record win of seven of the 14 Lok Sabha seats of Assam in the 2014 general elections, but also of reducing the Congress to an all-time low of just three seats, Sonowal was only a couple of months back reappointed president of the BJP’s state unit.
But the ground reality now is much different from what used to be about two years ago. It is a fact that the Modi wave has already become history. But what people in Assam have not forgotten are the tall promises that the present prime minister had made for the state during the 2014 Lok Sabha election.
Sonowal, who had quit the AGP and joined BJP only in 2011, and become its state president twice in a span of four years, has no black spot so far. But that alone is not enough. He will have to answer many questions to the average Assam voter in whose mind promises of the 2014 election are still fresh.
The most important of them is the issue of detecting and deporting the Bangladeshi infiltrators. Modi had, in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls said that the infiltrators would have to pack up once he assumed office. The reality is that not a single Bangladeshi has been pushed out. Two: The BJP had said it would not give away even an inch of Assam’s land to Bangladesh. The reality is: The Land Boundary Agreement with Bangladesh has been already implemented, with several acres of Assam land formally handed over to the other country. Three: The BJP had stood by the people in the agitation against construction of the Lower Subansiri hydel project. The reality: Construction work has been resumed.
The Congress too has come out with a long list of questions that Sonowal will have to answer correctly in order to get more marks in the upcoming election. Question No 1: Central ministers including the PM have made over 200 trips to Assam in the past 19 months; what has the state got? Question No 2: Why did the NDA government curtail the Special Status of Assam and the Northeastern states? Question No 3: How many projects and how much fund has Sonowal brought to Assam as a central minister? Difficult questions indeed.
Sonowal, as state BJP president, also has to settle a number of issues within his party. The most important of them is to strike a balance between those leaders who had worked hard to defeat the Congress in 2014 and those Congress leaders who have recently joined the party. (The Congress has already declared that it has become free of its sins after those Congress leaders had quit.)
There is a third group of leaders who had come to the BJP from the Asom Gana Parishad. How is Sonowal going to accommodate them? Difficult questions indeed. Only Sonowal will have to find the answers, and that too as the election is fast approaching.