Sanjay Kishan and Jogen Mohan on Saturday were sworn in as ministers in Sarbananda Sonowal’s ministry.

Seniority and experience is not a factor for the BJP in offering ministerial berths in Assam.

Rather, ethnic identity, which guarantees “electoral payback”, is the main factor to be ministers in the BJP-led state of northeast.

Sanjay Kishan and Jogen Mohan on Saturday were sworn in as ministers in Sarbananda Sonowal’s ministry.

Both Kishan and Mohan are first time legislators. But, they represent communities which may guarantee “votes” to BJP in the state assembly election in 2021.

He was not even a frontrunner in the race for ministership. But, he represented the tea tribal community, which, at present, is a “vote bank” of the BJP.

Kishan filled up the minister’s chair, which former Rangapara legislator Pallab Lochan Das had vacated. Das won the Lok Sabha election from Tezpur.

Similarly, Jogen Mohan, MLA from Mahmora was chosen a minister because he represented the Ahom community.

Mohan filled up the “vacancy” of ministership which former Sonari MLA Tapan Gogoi (also an Ahom) created after winning the Lok Sabha election from Jorhat.

Inclusion of Kishan and Mohan as ministers made it obvious on Saturday that “loyalty” and “seniority” in BJP is no factor to be ministers in Assam.

Ideally, Sonowal should have chosen two senior BJP legislators as ministers.

Prasanta Phukan, the BJP legislator from Dibrugarh is a senior member of the party. He has been an MLA since 2006.

Another senior BJP MLA, Padma Hazarika also missed the bus because he is neither Ahom nor tea tribal. Hazarika has been an MLA since 1996 from Sootea.

Similarly, Atul Bora, the BJP legislator from Dispur is definitely not happy. He was one of the strongest contenders.

Atul Bora, a former Asom Gana Parishad member, was a cabinet minister in Prafulla Kumar Mahanta-led government in 1985.

The BJP is convinced that despite the large-scale protests against CAA in Assam, the tea tribal community would continue to vote in favour of the BJP.

The tea community, popularly known as tea tribe, represents multiple ethnic groups of tea garden workers in Assam.

The population is estimated to be around 6.5 million in Assam, and the groups of people were brought to Assam mainly from the Chotanagpur plateau.

For the last six decades, the tea garden labourers were one of the main vote-banks of the Congress.

But, the BJP, during the last one decade managed to woo away the tea tribe from Congress.

And because of the BJP, at present, the tea tribal community of Assam is highly represented in the parliament.

Rameswar Teli, the BJP MP from Dibrugarh is Union Minister for Food Processing, and Kamakhya Prasad Tasa is a member of Rajya Sabha.

Pallab Lochan Das now represents Tezpur parliamentary constituency in Lok Sabha.

And now, Sanjay Kishan, who represents Tinsukia constituency, has become a minister of state in Assam. Terash Gowala is another BJP legislator from the tea tribal community in the Assam Legislative Assembly.

Similarly, Sarbananda Sonowal also had to keep the Ahom community in good humour to guarantee BJP’s electoral prospect in 2021 state assembly election.

Politically, Ahoms are an important factor for electoral politics in Assam, and neither the Congress nor the BJP can ignore them.

Traditionally, the Ahoms were supporters of the Congress, and have produced three chief ministers — Keshab Gogoi, Hiteswar Saikia and Tarun Gogoi.

Tarun Gogoi was the longest serving chief minister of Assam, and served three terms.

Towards the end of Tarun Gogoi’s last term, the BJP managed to woo support of the Ahom community with the promise to grant them Scheuled Tribe (ST) status.

But, the biggest challenge for Sarbananda Sonowal was to pick up Jogen Mohan as a minister as there are half-a-dozen BJP MLAs from the Ahom community in Assam assembly.

Sonowal is also caught on the back-foot as he could not grant ST status to the Ahoms, and is trying his best to appease the community.

On January 22, Sonowal promised a medical college in a Tai Ahom community-dominated area, besides adequate reservation of seats for students of the community in educational institutions.

The BJP government also promised to take steps for revamping the Tai Ahom Development Council with allocation of substantial funds.

While Assam is a melting pot of different ethnic groups and cultures, it is certain that the BJP will continue to pick up in-experienced and new legislators as ministers to guarantee “electoral payback”.

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Anirban Roy

Anirban Roy is Editor-in-Chief of Northeast Now. He can be reached at: editor@nenow.in