The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the opposition alliance led by the Congress are yet to announce their chief ministerial candidates in the elections to the Assam assembly to be held in three phases, starting March 27.
The BJP usually names its sitting chief minister as the candidate (something that hasn’t happened only once in recent years), but it hasn’t done so in the case of Sarbananda Sonowal. And all indications are that it is an open field. On Monday, senior party leader Himanta Biswa Sarma, considered a candidate for the top post by some, said the chief minister will be picked by the legislators. On Sunday, state BJP president Ranjeet Kumar Dass said the decision would be taken by the BJP parliamentary board after the election.
“ We announce a CM candidate in states where we are not in power, but in those where we are in government, we don’t do that. We will abide by whatever decision the party takes on this,” Dass said. Interestingly, the BJP usually does not announce candidates in states where it is not in power.
The BJP announced Manohar Lal Khattar and Devendra Fadavanis as chief ministerial candidates in Haryana and Maharashtra, respectively, for the assembly polls in November-December 2019 (both were sitting chief ministers). In 2018, it announced incumbent Vasundhara Raje as its CM candidate for Rajasthan.Only in the case of Jharkhand in XXXX, did it not announce incumbent Raghbar Das as its chief ministerial candidate.
On Friday, when the BJP’s first list of 70 candidates was announced in New Delhi, national general secretary Arun Singh too said a decision on the chief ministerial candidate would be taken by the party’s parliamentary board after the election. The BJP, which came to power in Assam for the first time in 2016, is contesting the polls in alliance with old ally Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), which is contesting 26 seats, and new ally United Peoples Party Liberal (UPPL), which will put up candidates in eight constituencies.
Sarma had earlier declared that he was not interested in contesting the assembly polls and had intimated his decision to the party leadership. As a caveat, he added that any decision on him contesting would be taken by the party and he would abide by it. When the candidates were announced, his name was on the list, as was Sonowal’s.
While Sonowal would be contesting again from Majuli , Sarma will continue with his home constituency of Jalukbari. There is buzz that if Sonowal continues as chief minister for another term, Sarma could be given a place in the Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre, or that if Sarma is given charge, Sonowal could head to Delhi.
Meanwhile, the Congress-led grand alliance which comprises the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), the Bodoland Peoples’ Front (BPF), three Left parties and a newly formed regional party has also decided not to put forward the name of a chief ministerial candidate.
Party leaders said there is no unanimity within the Congress, leave alone the larger alliance on a candidate.
“Having a CM face is not the issue. We are fighting together to defeat the BJP and provide good governance,” said a senior Congress leader who asked not to be named. The party’s posters feature photographs of Gaurav Gogoi, Sushmita Dev, leader of the opposition in the state assembly, Debabrata Saikia and state Congress chief Ripum Bora , to project a united front.
The regional alliance of the Raijor Dal and the Assam Jatiya Parishad, formed last year as an outcome of the violent anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests in December 2019, have also refrained from naming a CM candidate. While the AJP is headed by Lurinjyoti Gogoi, jailed activist Akhil Gogoi is president of the Raijor Dal.
Polling in Assam will be held in three phases on March 27, April 1 and April 6. Filing of nominations for the first phase on March 27 started on Monday.
“There is a tussle between Sonowal and Sarma for the CM’s post and the BJP doesn’t want to risk its election campaign by projecting one or the other as the face for the top post at present. Though the party is quiet on this tug of war between both leaders, it is clearly becoming clear that Sarma is increasingly being projected as someone who can lead the campaign as well as take charge after polls, if required,” said Akhil Ranjan Dutta, political columnist and professor of political science at Gauhati University.