During the years from 1992 to 1999, a young graduate of English and Law from Dibrugarh University rose the ranks and climbed up the rungs of leadership to become President of All Assam Students Union (AASU), the state’s largest regional students’ organisation; and this was just the beginning of a well-crafted and arduously successful still, long political career.
That young leader is none other than the incumbent Chief Minister of Assam, Sarbananda Sonowal whose ascent in politics has been tremendously swift.
Having rightfully earned the title of ‘Jatiya Nayak’ (regional hero), his political trajectory has been nothing but eventful: He spent seven years as AASU President; was then elected as MLA in the state assembly from the Moran constituency as a member of the Asom Gana Parishad in 1999; and then in 2004, became the member of Parliament during the 14th Lok Sabha elections from the constituency of his birth city, Dibrugarh, after beating Union minister Ranee Narah from Congress.
And over the next two years, he was appointed member of the Consultative Committee in the Ministry of Home Affairs, and then the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
He remained MP from Dibrugarh till 2009, where he continued to fight against illegal immigration of Bangladeshis to Assam – a cause for which he earned a lot of recognition as protector of indigenous identity.
His biggest political victory came in 2005 when the Supreme Court scrapped the Illegal Migrants (determination by tribunals) Act, 1983 (IMDT) as a result of continuous battle and ardent stance.
He had long campaigned against the act that was claimed to be in favour of illegal Bangladeshi migrants, as the onus of proving their citizenship was on the complainants, instead of the migrants. Unlike the Foreigners’ Act of 1946, migrants from Bangladesh who settled in Assam before 25 March 1971 could claim Indian citizenship, while the cut-off date everywhere else in the country is 19 July 1948.
For Sonowal, on whose petition the Supreme Court had passed the order, it was a huge personal victory too. For at the time, the Tarun Gogoi led Congress Government had supported the continuance of the IMDT.
But in 2011, when Sonowal joined the BJP it marked a true turning point both for the party – which then went on to etch their place significantly in the local politics, and the now future Chief Minister.
His decision to join the BJP marked his entry into national politics, and he was made a member of the national executive by then Party President, Nitin Gadkari.
A hard working ethic and honest demeanour took Sonowal places; he became the State Spokesperson and Party General Secretary. And within a year, he was promoted to State President of the Assam unit of the BJP and two years later, in 2014, he led BJP’s campaign for the 16th Lok Sabha elections in the state.
That year, after BJP swept the general elections in the country, Sonowal represented the Lakhimpur constituency as an MP.
He had also been appointed the Union Minister of Youth Affairs & Sports and it came as no surprise when the BJP declared their local face in Assam as the party’s chief ministerial candidate for the Assembly elections in 2016.
And that marked only the incredible rise of the State and the Minister’s popularity.
The BJP’s chief ministerial candidate in Assam, who contested from the Majuli constituency, showed an early lead over the Congress candidate, ahead by about 20,000 votes. He is the second tribal Chief Minister of Assam after Jogendra Nath Hazarika, who was the state’s CM in 1979 for 94 days, before the state came under President’s Rule at the time.
Sonowal has for long, had very stringent opinions on certain issues and that includes a support for indigenous people, and a respect for the native land.
A number of policies have come out in the recent years, that have actively and effectively brought up the question of the native people; and worked on immediate action plans for resolving the issue on the same.
His vision has been all-inclusive, with a determination to curate a State that is known for its developmental agenda and success stories. He wants to create a wholesome and “greater Assamese society” along with the important integration of non-Assamese. Asking for the Assamese to live and work “like brothers” he often says, “That will be our guiding principle. We will work like a family and work for unity.”