Narendra Modi will be the first prime minister to attend the swearing-in of a chief minister in Assam or any of the other seven north-eastern states. But May 24 for Sarbananda Sonowal would perhaps be remembered for the convergence of several Hindu spiritual gurus.
Sonowal, 53, and at least 10 ministers from BJP and allies Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) are taking charge at the Khanapara ground on the southern edge of Guwahati. The ground with space for 80,000 is below the hillock from where Sonowal’s predecessor Tarun Gogoi ruled for 15 years.
Yoga guru Baba Ramdev, criticised by ULFA for an “anti-Assam” land deal for his Patanjali plant, and Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar would be blessing Sonowal on his big day. What matters for local BJP leaders more, though, is the confirmation from seven Vaishnav monastery heads to be prominent guests for the event.
They include the satradhikars (abbots) of Garamur, Kamalabari and Aauni-Ati, the three main satras (monasteries) in Majuli, the island-constituency Sonowal that represents. The erosion-plagued Majuli, now reduced to 520 sq km, once had 65 such satras. Only 22 remain, some having been washed away and others having relocated to the mainland in the past six decades.
“I am grateful to the abbots for guiding us spiritually through this historic political journey,” Sonowal said after visiting the ashram of Krishnaguru, another Vaishnav spiritual guru in western Assam’s Sarthebari on Monday. The reclusive and controversial Krishnaguru heads a sect different from the other Vaishnav groups.
Ram Madhav, BJP general secretary in-charge of Assam, said Union home minister Rajnath Singh and defence minister Manohar Parrikar would accompany Modi for the BJP-led government’s swearing-in.
“The chief ministers of 10 BJP-ruled states are also scheduled to arrive,” Madhav said.
Heads of NDA constituents have confirmed their attendance too. They include Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu of Telugu Desam Party and Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Badal of Akali Dal.
The BJP has extended invitation to the chief ministers of the north-eastern states with Sonowal having personally requested Gogoi. Nagaland chief minister TR Zeliang of Naga People’s Front and his Arunachal Pradesh counterpart Kalikho Pul of People’s Party of Arunachal are certainties.
The BJP had won 60 out of a maximum 126 seats in the recently-concluded assembly elections. This is four short of the majority mark. AGP and BPF won 14 and 12 seats to give the BJP-led alliance a total of 86 seats. The Congress managed to win 26 seats, its second worst performance since 1985 when it won 25.
The All India United Democratic Front, which was on the upswing since its birth in 2005, had to be content with 13 seats, down by five from its 2011 score.