Union Sports minister Sarbananda Sonowal made Assam BJP chief

New Delhi(PTI): Apparently learning quick lessons from the Bihar debacle, BJP today appointed Union Minister Sarbananda Sonowal as its Assam unit President and also as the head of election management committee ahead of next year’s Assembly polls, signalling that he could be its chief ministerial face. Making the announcement, Union Minister Prakash Javadekar said Himanta Biswa Sarma, a state Congress heavyweight who had recently joined BJP along with many Congress MLAs, will be the committee’s convener.


The party’s decision is a break from its strategy in Bihar where it had not projected a chief ministerial candidate. It had also not formed any statewide election committee and instead put many outsiders as well as local leaders in charge of various zones. A massive loss in Bihar triggered a backlash from within the party over its campaign. Sonowal currently holds independent charge of Sports and Youths Affairs Ministry. Javadekar parried a query on whether Sonowal will be the party’s chief ministerial face, saying a decision will be taken by the Parliamentary Board at an appropriate time. “This is the beginning of our election preparation for Assam. In 2016, BJP will return to its winning ways,” he said.

Party president Amit Shah will go to Dibrugarh on November 27 to attend a party meeting, Javadekar said. Assam is the only one of the five states, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Tripura being the other four–going to the polls in 2016 where BJP is said to have good chance of being in the fray.

After winning Assembly elections in four states in 2014, the BJP has suffered massive defeats in Delhi and Bihar that has invigorated the opposition. Sonowal (53), who was All Assam Students Union president and AGP leader before joining BJP in 2011, headed the party’s Assam unit before he was made a Minister in the Narendra Modi government. BJP won most Lok Sabha seats in Assam in 2014 elections and expects to repeat its feat in the Assembly polls likely to be held in April-May.

The term of Siddhartha Bhattacharya, who was was appointed head of Assam BJP, ended in October. Javadekar said Bhattacharya has been appointed as the party’s national spokesperson for north eastern states. He will also be one of the three vice-chairmen of the election management committee along with MPs Ramen Deka and Rajen Gohain. Bijoy Chakraborty, Kamakhya Tasha, Rajdeep Ray, Vijay Gupta and Mohammad Awal are the members of the election committee. Congress is in power in Assam for the last 15 years.

Javadekar said Assam was ready for a change and cited BJP’s victory in local body elections as en evidence of its strong position. “The way Congress has ruled in the state no section of society is happy,” he said. He also pooh-poohed coming together of non-BJP leaders at the swearing in of Nitish Kumar as Bihar Chief Minister, saying they were brought together by their bitterness against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. BJP was talking about development but the opposition leaders are talking about opposing Modi, he said.