23 December 2021 | 4 min read
On May 10, 2021, Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma of the Bharatiya Janata Party was sworn in as the 15th Chief Minister of the State of Assam in Northeast India. With the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) retaining power by securing 75 out of the 126 seats in the Legislative Assembly elections of 2021, the BJP seems to have set a strong foot in the state politics of Assam. By drawing upon data from TCPD’s state-wise Chief Ministers of India dataset that can be accessed here, this article attempts to analyze the trends of political stability in Assam by looking at the tenures of its Chief Ministers, and the parties and regional divisions they represent, from the 3rd Legislative Assembly in 1962 to the 15th (and incumbent) Assembly in 2021.
Chief Ministers’ Tenures and Party Representation
Since the 1st Assembly elections in Assam in 1952, there have been 15 CMs for the 15 Legislative Assemblies. Of these, only 7 have completed the full term of 5 years, and 4 of them, Shri B. P. Chaliha, Shri Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, Shri Hiteshwar Saikia and Shri Tarun Gogoi served for more than one term as the Chief Minister. The longest serving Chief Minister in Assam was Shri Tarun Gogoi, who served as CM for 15 years, for three consecutive terms. Shri Sarat Chandra Sinha, who served as the CM in Assam’s 5th Legislative Assembly during the time of the National Emergency, held Office as the Chief Minister for 6 years, making him the longest serving CM of Assam in a single term. Of the remaining 6 Chief Ministers (not taking into account the incumbent minister), 5 of them served for less than a year, with Shri Bhumidhar Barman being the shortest serving minister of just 22 days.
A party-wise distribution of Chief Ministers and their respective tenures becomes an interesting point of analysis (Figures 1 and 2). INC dominated the political scene in Assam well into the 1980s. 7 out of the 14 CMs were from the INC. Even the first Chief Minister of Assam, Gopinath Bordoloi, who was in office during the 1st and the 2nd Provincial Assembly elections, was an INC candidate. Both the longest and the shortest serving ministers of Assam were INC candidates, exhibiting a kind of paradox in terms of Congress stability in the state. It is interesting to note that the only female and only Muslim Chief Minister that Assam has had till date, Shrimati Anwara Taimur, was also an INC candidate.
Three CMs belonged to the Janata Party (JNP), and all their terms lasted less than a year. The youngest Chief Minister of Assam, Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, who was also the founder and leader of Assam’s first regional party Axom Gana Parishad (AGP), served two terms as the CM, first as an independent candidate (IND) and second as an AGP candidate.
The BJP was absent from political leadership in the state until the decline of the Congress in 2016. It was in 2016 that Sarbananda Sonowal, who is the Minister of Ports, Shipping and Waterways and Minister of AYUSH in Narendra Modi’s current cabinet, became the first Chief Minister in Assam from the BJP. This was followed by a two-time victory of the BJP in 2021, and the first time that a non-Congress alliance won consecutive Assembly elections. In May 2021, BJP candidate Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma was sworn in as the 15th CM of Assam.
Figure 1: Party-wise representation of Chief Ministers (1962-2021)
Figure 2: Party-wise representation and their respective tenures
Regional representation becomes another interesting aspect to look at. The 33 districts of Assam are placed under five regional divisions – Barrack Valley, Central Assam, Lower Assam, North Assam and Upper Assam. A close look into the constituencies of the Chief Ministers (Figure 1) reveals that 7 Chief Ministers contested from constituencies in Upper Assam, 4 (including the incumbent minister) from Lower Assam, 2 from Central Assam and one from North Assam. Not only were three out of the four Chief Ministers, who held office for more than one term, from Upper Assam, till date there has been no Chief Minister from the Barrack Valley, representing a stark lack of representation.
Figure 3: Regional Representation of Chief Ministers
Moreover, the INC was most diverse in terms of regional representation. Three of the seven Chief Ministers from the INC were from Upper Assam, three from Lower Assam, and one from North Assam. While the longest serving Chief Minister, Shri Tarun Gogoi was from Upper Assam, Dr Bhumidhar Barman, who held office for only 22 days, was a candidate from Lower Assam. All the Chief Ministers from the JNP represented Upper Assam constituencies, while Prafulla Kumar Mahanta remains the only CM to contest from a Central Assam constituency till date.
Analyzing Political Stability in the State
The 4th Legislative Assembly (1967-1972), 6th Legislative Assembly (1978-1983) and the 10th Assembly (1996-2001) witnessed more than one change in the leadership of the state government (Figure 4). The 6th Assembly, which witnessed the Assam Agitation (1979-1985), was the most unstable Assembly, with a total of 4 changes in leadership. The Assembly was also disrupted by the imposition of three elongated periods, adding up to more than 900 days in total, of President’s Rule. As shown in Figure 4, President’s Rule was imposed 4 times in the state. The first three were during the period of the Assam Agitation, and the fourth during the ULFA uprising in the beginning of the 1990s. The second and third President’s Rule, which was imposed during 1979-1985, during the peak of the Assam Agitation, lasted almost an entire year, while the other two were for relatively shorter periods of time. Thus, through an analysis of the trends in political leadership in Assam, we see the state has enjoyed relative political stability marked by stability in the leadership of the government, except during the Assam Agitation of 1979-1985.
Figure 4: Assembly-wise representation of the number of Chief Ministers and the number of times President’s Rule was imposed
Implications and Conclusion
In this article, we looked at TCPD’s Chief Ministers’ Dataset and analyzed the trends in Chief Ministers’ representation in terms of party and regional divisions, their respective tenures and political stability in the northeastern State of Assam. Through a study of the party-wise distribution of the Chief Ministers, we saw that Congress, which dominated the politics of Assam till the 1980s, started to weaken as newer parties, including regional parties like the AGP entered the scene. Having made its way into the politics of Assam in the assembly elections of 2016, trends suggest that the BJP’s political foothold in Assam is growing. Moreover, a study of the regional division-wise representation of the Chief Ministers revealed a lack in diversity, as the Upper Assam region continues to be most represented in the dataset. Finally, by looking at the number of Chief Ministers in each Assembly, and the number of times President’s Rule was imposed, it is revealed that except during the years of the Assam Agitation and the ULFA uprising, Assam has experienced relative stability in its political leadership.
Jubakshi Chakravorty is a third-year undergraduate student at Ashoka University. She is pursuing Political Science, International Relations and Media Studies.
I would like to express my gratitude towards Aishwarya Sunaad, Shoaib Mirza and Priyamvada Trivedi for their assistance and guidance in writing this article. I would also like to extend my gratitude towards Ananay Agarwal, Neelesh Agrawal, Prachi Arya, Mohit Kumar, Omkar Mishra and Basim U Nissa for compiling a comprehensive dataset on the Chief Ministers of the various States of India. Lastly, I would like to thank Team TCPD for giving me the opportunity to write this article for the Columns.
TCPD Chief Ministers of India Dataset (TCPD-CMID), 1962-current, Trivedi Centre for Political Data, Ashoka University.