Guwahati, July 7: With the induction of Sarbananda Sonowal, Rajkumar Ranjan Singh and Pratima Bhowmik into the Union Council of Ministers on Wednesday, the number of central ministers from the northeastern states has risen to five.
Kiren Rijiju, who was elevated to Cabinet rank, and Rameswar Teli are the incumbent ministers from the region in the Narendra Modi ministry.
For Sonowal, the former Assam Chief Minister, it is his second innings as a Union minister. Teacher-turned-politician Rajkumar Ranjan Singh, a BJP Lok Sabha member from Inner Manipur, and Pratima Bhowmik, who was elected to the Lok Sabha from Tripura West, are first-time ministers. Elected from Arunachal West, Rijiju, 50, until his promotion, was the Union Minister of State for AYUSH, Youth Affairs and Sports (independent charge) and MoS in the Minority Affairs Ministry. Rameswar Teli, 49, who was elected to the Lok from Dibrugarh in eastern Assam, is Minister of State for Food Processing Industries (independent charge).
Political observers believe that Singh was included in the Union Ministry with an eye on next year's elections to the 60-member Manipur Assembly. Singh is a popular leader among both tribals and non-tribals.
The 69-year-old teacher-turned-politician joined the Bharatiya Janata Party before the 17th Lok Sabha elections in 2019. He was then serving as the Director, College Development Council, at Manipur University. He has a Ph.D. in Geography, which was awarded to him in 1982 by Gauhati University, Assam.
Bhowmik is the ruling BJP's Tripura state unit Vice-President. After unsuccessfully contesting several elections to the Tripura Assembly, she was finally elected to the 17th Lok Sabha from the West Tripura constituency in 2019.
A science graduate, Bhowmik had played a vital role in the party's sweep to power in the 2018 assembly elections, delivering a crushing defeat to the CPI(M)-led Left Front, which had been ruling the state for 25 consecutive years.
The 52-year-old BJP leader is the first central minister from Tripura and lone woman Union Minister from the entire northeastern region.
BJP sources said the party's central leadership, including the Prime Minister, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and J.P. Nadda had decided to include Sonowal in the Union Cabinet when Himanta Biswa Sarma was named the new Assam Chief Minister after the saffron party-led alliance stormed back to power in the March-April Assembly elections.
The 59-year-old Assam leader began his political career as President of the All Assam Student Union (AASU) from 1992 to 1999, before he joined the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and was elected to the Assam Assembly on an AGP ticket from the Moran seat in 2001.
He was then elected to the Lok Sabha from Dibrugarh in 2004 and again won the 2014 Lok Sabha election from Lakhimpur. That was when he became the Union Sports and Youth Affairs Minister (independent charge) in Prime Minister Modi's first term.
Sonowal joined the BJP in 2011 and was appointed national executive member of the party. In the following year he was elected president of the party's Assam unit.
Ahead of the 2016 Assam Assembly elections, Sonowal was sent back to the state, where he was the face for the electoral battle, which the BJP along with its allies won with aplomb and formed the first government to be led by it in the northeast. Sonowal had won from the reserved constituency, Majuli (ST), which has the distinction of being the world's largest river island. Majuli was a Congress stronghold with the party's candidates winning the seat five times since 1962, yet Sonowal was re-elected from the constituency to the Assembly in the recent Assembly elections, defeating the Congress candidate and former Minister Rajib Lochan Pegu, who had won the seat for three consecutive times since 2001.
Pegu earlier this week resigned as the president of the Majuli District Congress Committee. Media reports suggest that the tribal leader is likely to join BJP.