As Sarbananda Sonowal took charge of the first BJP government in Assam on Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi used the platform to pitch his “Act East” policy. Addressing the gathering after Sonowal and 11 ministers took oath of office, Modi said, “Assam will be the centre point to bring about effective all-round development of the entire Northeast, and this region will emerge as a powerfully developed part of the country as a part of our Act East policy.”
The swearing-in ceremony at the Khanapara Veterinary College grounds was a show of strength for the BJP and its allies, with BJP president Amit Shah, 14 chief ministers and many union ministers in attendance.
“We have a vision of all-round and balanced development in all parts of the country. We cannot rest if only the western part of the country progresses and the eastern part lags behind. We are committed to ensure development of Assam, West Bengal, Bihar, Odisha and the entire Northeast,” said Modi.
Promising full support for the development of Assam, he said, “The faster your (Assam) government runs, I can promise you that the Centre will run one step ahead. The government in Delhi believes in competitive cooperative federalism. It will give maximum support to states wanting to embark on the path of development and handhold them through challenges.”
He said Assam, West Bengal, eastern Uttar Pradesh and Odisha could add to the country’s financial muscle — barring Assam, all are states where BJP in not in power.
Besides Sonowal, the others who took oath are: Himanta Biswa Sarma, Parimal Suklabaidya, Chandra Mohan Patowari, Naba Kumar Doley, Pallab Lochan Das, Ranjit Datta — all BJP; Atul Bora and Keshab Mahanta of the AGP; Pramila Rani Brahma and Rihan Daimary of the BPF. Das is the only other former Congress MLA, who left the party with Sonowal, to make it to the BJP ministry.
Outgoing Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi was the only Congress leader on the unusually crowded stage, flanked by central ministers on one side and chief ministers like Parkash Singh Badal, Vasundhara Raje, Chandrababu Naidu, Kalikho Pul, Anandiben Patel and Devendra Fadnavis on the other.
Modi praised Sonowal and also named both former CMs present on the stage — Gogoi and Prafulla Kumar Mahanta. But neither he nor Sonowal mentioned key strategist Himanta Biswa Sarma, who acted as the master of ceremonies in the second half of the programme.
In his speech, Sonowal thanked party leaders like Ram Madhav and Mahendra Singh and even wished speedy recovery to PCC chief Anjan Datta who is currently in hospital, but did not acknowledge Sarma’s contribution. It was left to BJP president Amit Shah to name Sarma among the people who made the victory in Assam possible.
Sonowal positioned himself as the protector of Assamese identity — the BJP’s principal poll plank. The crowd cheered as he promised a “foreigner-free” and “corruption-free” Assam. “Our ways of worship are different but our culture is the same.
My government will take care of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, and protect the larger Assamese identity,” said Sonowal. Even as the stage became a celebration of the NDA — Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal, Andhra CM Chandrababu Naidu and MP CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan also spoke — there were no speeches from any of the state allies, AGP or BPF.
In fact, after the programme had begun, the organisers realised that BPF chief Hagrama Mohillary, who was among the first to arrive, had not even been felicitated with the traditional gamocha. When the gamocha finally arrived, Mohillary waved it away.