From student politics to joining Asom Gana Parishador AGP, then switching to the saffron party and becoming a Union Minister, BJP’s Chief Ministerial candidate in Assam Sarbanada Sonowal’s journey to the peak has been a steady climb marked by twists and turns.
The name of Mr Sonowal, 54, as the party’s face came as no surprise as he came with a clean image and no baggage and enjoyed the confidence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
He was included in the Union Cabinet as the sole representative from the North East, though it left many senior party members from the state none too happy considering that he had joined the BJP only in 2011.
The state unit, however, put up a united front in the elections under Mr Sonowal, who also took charge as the party chief before the polls, to script history as the first state in the North East where the BJP has come to power.
Credited with challenging the controversial Illegal Migrants’ Determination by Tribunal (IMDT) Act in the Supreme Court which finally scrapped it, Mr Sonowal’s foray into politics began with his joining the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) where he served as its President from 1992 to 1999.
A major figure in the students’ politics of the region, Mr Sonowal, a law graduate, also became the Chairman of North East Students’ Organisation (NESO) from 1996 to 2000. From AASU he predictably went on to join the Asom Gana Parishad in 2001, founded by his erstwhile seniors in the students’ organisation, and was elected the party’s MLA from Upper Assam’s Moran constituency in 2001.
In 2004, he went on to successfully contest the Lok Sabha polls wresting the seat for the first time from the Congress by defeating former Union Minister Paban Singh Ghatowar. He, however, lost the 2009 parliamentary polls to Ghatowar from the same constituency which was once considered a Congress bastion.
Mr Sonowal left the AGP in January 2011 following differences with the party leadership and went on to join the BJP in February 2011 in the presence of then party President Nitin Gadkari and other senior leaders.
He went on to become the BJP state unit President in 2012 and was credited with raising the party’s tally to seven from the earlier four and reducing the Congress’ margin to three from seven in the 2014 Parliamentary polls.
Mr Sonowal has been also credited with making inroads for the party in erstwhile Congress bastion of the tea districts of Upper Assam by ensuring party wins in Dibrugarh and Jorhat parliamentary constituencies.
He, himself, wrested the Lakhimpur constituency from former Union Minister Ranee Narah of the Congress and was made the Union Minister of State for Sports and Youth Development. He also played a key role in ensuring the hosting of the South Asian Games (SAG) in Guwahati and Shillong.
Mr Sonowal, who belongs to the Sonowal-Kachari tribe, has contested this assembly polls from Majuli, the world’s largest river island and the seat of Vaishnavite culture.
Born on October 31, 1962 in Molokgaon in Dibrugarh district to Jibeswar Sonowal and Dineswari Sonowal, he is a bachelor and a devout follower of Assam’s renowned Vaishnav saints Sankardeva and Madhavdeva.
An ardent sportsman, the Union Sports Minister is a keen follower of football, cricket and badminton.