Intense speculation, political jockeying/lobbying—all spread across primetime news on TV channels and banner headlines in local papers till after a week the BJP retained Assam in this summer’s assembly elections, the outcome declared on May 2. And then, a smooth transition of power. Sarbananda Sonowal, the 59-year-old outgoing chief minister, walked out gracefully, even showing the way to the stage to his deputy of five years on the day he was sworn in as the next CM. Himanta Biswa Sarma—the go-to guy of the BJP in the Northeast, and the Congress on Tarun Gogoi’s watch before he switched sides—took oath, thanked and praised Sonowal, and declared that his predecessor will be a margdarshak, a guide. The dust has thus settled over the question of who would be chief minister, and Sarma has hit the ground running.
But a question, a corollary to the bigger one, has remained unanswered. What’s next for Sonowal? He submits an impressive resume: an influential leader of the All Assam Students Union (AASU), progressing to be a politician with the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) that he joined in 1999, fighting against the controversial Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act, which the Supreme Court scrapped subsequently in 2005. He then aligned with the BJP, became a parliamentarian and was rewarded with the Union sports ministry before the party’s 2016 assembly elections victory in Assam that catapulted him to the chief minister’s post. Sonowal was the natural choice because of his clean image and the ‘Jatiya Nayak’ title conferred on him endearingly by the public for his persistent prodding against the illegal migrant law. Besides, he had the confidence of the BJP top brass, including the Prime Minister.