Thursday, February 22, 2024

Sonowal takes oath as first BJP CM: His list of to-do’s a daunting one

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Sarbananda Sonowal’s swearing in ceremony was a grand affair with BJP supporters coming in from different parts of the state. Sonowal is the first BJP chief minister of Assam and the first tribal CM of the state. He belong to the Sonowal-Kachari tribe. It was a mammoth gathering and a show of strength for the BJP. The Assam election is a major comeback for the Party after it lost Bihar and Delhi.  

In his speech which resonated with the people of Assam, Sonowal promised a “foreigner and corruption-free” Assam and also asserted that whatever his government does will not “hurt” the people of the state.

Significantly, Sonowal’s swearing-in held at the Khanapara playground on Tuesday saw the august presence of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The CM’s of Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim were also in attendance. Meghalaya CM Mukul Sangma failed to attend although he was invited.

A good number of central ministers comprising Rajnath Singh, M. Venkaiah Naidu, Nitin Gadkari, Suresh Prabhu, V.K. Singh, Ram Vilas Paswan, Nirmala Sitharaman, Mahesh Sharma, Kiren Rijiju, Kalraj Mishra, Babul Supriyo and Jitendra Singh – graced the occasion as did BJP patriarch L.K. Advani.

BJP president Amit Shah and the chief ministers of Gujarat (Anandiben Patel), Maharashtra (Devendra Fadnavis), Madhya Pradesh (Shivraj Chouhan), Rajasthan (Vasundhara Raje), Jharkhand (Raghubar Das), Goa (Laxmikant Parsekar), Andhra Pradesh (N. Chandrababu Naidu), Punjab (Parkash Singh Badal), Chhattisgarh (Raman Singh), Haryana (Manohar Lal Khattar), Arunachal Pradesh (Kalikho Pul), Nagaland (T.R. Zeliang) and Sikkim (Pawan Kumar Chamling) were present. Also in attendance were former chief ministers Tarun Gogoi and Prafulla Kumar Mahanta. The highlight of the function was the large presence ofxatradhikars.

Having raised the aspirations of people, Sonowal tried to strike the right chord with his first speech as chief minister. Sonowal gave all credit to the wisdom of the voters saying, “It’s a historic moment and credit goes to the people of Assam. We will work towards ridding Assam of illegal migrants, corruption and pollution, adding that the greater Assamese society comprises Bengali, Marwari, Bihari, Nepali, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Christian, will work together for a developed Assam.

Sonowal thanked the central BJP leaders Ram Madhav, Mahendra Singh and Ajay Jamwal for their efforts in ensuring the historic mandate and ended by reiterating that whatever the new state government does will not hurt the people of the state.

He also tried to put behind the political bickering witnessed during electioneering when he wished a speedy recovery to Assam PCC president Anjan Dutta at the swearing-in ceremony. Dutta was today shifted to an ICU in a Delhi hospital. He is not keeping well since his return from South Africa on May 12.

Sonowal had earlier personally invited his predecessor, Tarun Gogoi, to the ceremony. Gogoi responded to his invitation by attending the function.

Before Sonowal, Prime Minister Narendra Modi reached out to the crowd by promising to be with Assam in its march towards development and lavished wholesome praise on the new chief minister. Modi began and ended his speech in Assamese, thanking the people of Assam for voting BJP to power and promising that Sonowal and his team will transform Assam as the crowd chanted “Modi, Modi”.

Modi also underlined that Assam is central to the Centre’s Act East policy and can play an important role in boosting the country’s economy. “India’s development has to be all-round and inclusive. The eastern part of India should also progress at the same pace as other parts of the country,” Modi said. “The Centre believes in cooperative federalism. We want to give the states maximum strength and enable them to progress. The Centre and the states must walk together for development,” he added.

BJP national president Amit Shah said, “Assam’s development and progress is our topmost priority and our BJP-led government in the state will leave no stone unturned to achieve our goal.”

Sonowal and his 10 ministers took the oath of office today. They include four cabinet ministers from the BJP (Himanta Biswa Sarma, Chandra Mohan Patowari, Ranjit Dutta and Parimal Suklabaidya), two each from alliance partners AGP (Atul Bora and Keshab Mahanta) and BPF (Pramila Rani Brahma and Rihon Daimari) and two ministers of state (independent charge) Pallab Lochan Das and Naba Doley.

Sonowal, Patowari and Doley were in the AGP before they switched over to the BJP. Induction of Doley in the ministry is significant because he represents the Mising community, which plays a decisive role in the North Bank and Upper Assam areas, including Majuli from where Sonowal was elected.

Sarma and Pallab Lochan Das were in the Congress before they joined the BJP while Ranjit Dutta, a three-time MLA, is a BJP old-timer. Sarma’s inclusion was a mere formality given his track record as one of the performing ministers in the Tarun Gogoi government. He is expected to get finance, health and Guwahati development portfolios. Das, a second-time MLA, was included in the ministry as a representative of the tea tribe community, which plays an important role in over 40 seats.

Hectic lobbying is on for ministerial berths with the AGP and the BPF expected to get one more berth each.

East Guwahati MLA and former Assam BJP president Siddhartha Bhattacharya was conspicuous by his absence at the function. Party sources said he was miffed at not being included in the ministry. Bhattacharya could not be contacted for his comments. This could be the first road-block on Sonowal’s journey, the next being the BJP promise to detect and deport Bangladeshi’s. Political observers say this will be the toughest call for Sonowal and a well nigh impossible task.

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