GUWAHATI: Union Sports and Youth Affairs Minister Sarbananda Sonowal has a daunting task ahead. As Assam gears up for next year’s Assembly elections, he has been named as the face of the BJP to fight the united front.
Shunning the factionalism within the party, the BJP leadership on Saturday appointed him as the state unit chief. Putting to rest all the speculations, Union minister and senior party leader Prakash Javadekar announced that Sonowal will look after the party affairs in the state while Siddhartha Bhattacharya will work as the spokesperson.
But for Sonowal, the challenges will be far too many. He will not only have to revive the BJP’s image in the state, he will also have to come up with strategies to tackle a ‘grand alliance’ or ‘grand understanding’ of non-BJP parties.
In Assam, the BJP’s image took a beating after it backed the Indo-Bangladesh land swap deal and the construction of a mega dam. The fact that it advocated asylum to non-Muslim illegal Bangladeshi migrants didn’t go down well with the people. To keep the party at bay, the ‘grand alliance’ or ‘grand understanding’ is being considered a brainchild of Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, and it also has the backing of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
Explaining his idea of a ‘grand understanding’, Gogoi had said, “We can campaign in a particular constituency by asking people to vote for any party, but not BJP. Every party will tell voters to cast vote in favour of anyone but not BJP.”
Taking lessons from the Bihar debacle, BJP is trying to get its house in order. “Sonowal is the face of our party. His acceptability within a large section of the party and people is unquestionable. Unfortunately, a faction within our party is opposed to his appointment as state unit president,” a BJP MP told The Sunday Standard.
In Assam, BJP had the best-ever performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, winning seven of 14 seats. Party insiders give the credit to Sonowal for being able to turn the tide. Called ‘Jatiya Nayak’ (National Hero) of Assam—a title given by the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU)—53-year-old Sonowal is credited for changing the fortunes of BJP in the state.
As a leader of AASU and Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), Sonowal had pursued the issue of the immigrants. As a leader of the AGP, he had filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court in 2000, contending that the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act, 1983, encouraged vote-bank politics in Assam without addressing the problem. Five years later, the apex court struck it down, treating it as unconstitutional.
Now, as BJP finds itself on a sticky wicket, the party leadership is pinning their hopes on the sports minister.