Sarbananda Sonowal, among the Narendra Modi government’s first two minsters from the northeast, is back in the Union ministry as the in-charge of Ports, Shipping and Waterways and the Ministry of Ayush after a five-year stint in Assam. His removal, party sources have indicated, is meant to give a clear field to Himanta Biswa Sarma, who was rewarded with the top job after helping deliver the northeast to the BJP.
For the BJP, it was a tough choice between the good image Mr Sonowal had cultivated in the state and the indispensable strategizing and trouble-shooting skills of Mr Sarma.
As the first BJP Chief Minister of Assam, much of it a Congress bastion, Mr Sonowal, 59, had steered the state through the Centre’s controversial moves including the National Registry of Citizens that had upset not only the people but the leaders of his party.
Ahead of the state election this year, he indicated that none of it would matter, as his government had has “earned the trust of people” with its development-centric policies and by ensuring peace in the state.
In 2016, as Assam was ripe for a change after three terms of Congress government led by Tarun Gogoi, the BJP, in a change of strategy, had projected Mr Sonowal as its face in the state.
The genial personality and graciousness of the former student leader the state knew, worked, and the BJP won 60 of Assam’s 126 seats, powered by a sweep of Upper Assam, traditionally a Congress bastion.
Later, Mr Sonowal had visited Mr Gogoi and personally invited him to the oath ceremony.
Mr Sonowal was President of the All-Assam Student Union between 1992 and 1999.
He then left the body to begin his political career by joining the Asom Gana Parishad, getting elected MLA from Moran in 2001.
Three years later, in 2004, he entered the Lok Sabha from Dibrugarh.
In 2011, he joined the BJP saying later that he made the shift as he felt that Assam’s core problems like the illegal immigrant issue, could be solved only by intervention at a national level.
In 2014, he returned to the lower house, contesting from Lakhimpur and became the Union Sports Minister during Prime Minister Modi’s first term.