Acid test for BJP

Print edition : April 26, 2019

Arunachal Pradesh is the first State in the north-eastern region to have had a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government. It was formed in 2003 and headed by Gegong Apang. In December 2016 Pema Khandu, along with 32 legislators of the People’s Party of Arunachal (PPA), joined the BJP, which helped the party come to power in the State for the second time. Khandu had been elected Congress Chief Minister in July 2016, but he defected to the PPA to become its Chief Minister in September 2016. On both occasions, in 2003 and 2016, the BJP formed the government by tampering with the mandate and engineering defections.

Khandu has been projected as the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate in the upcoming elections to the 60-member Assembly. The elections will be the acid test for the BJP’s popularity and capability to form a full-fledged government with its own elected legislators. The party has already won three seats uncontested. Elections to the remaining 57 seats will be held on April 11 simultaneously with elections to the two Lok Sabha seats. The ruling party is banking on the leadership of Khandu and Union Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju to steer it to victory. The Congress, on the other hand, will be fighting the election as an opposition party for the first time in the State.

Less than three weeks before the election, the BJP was jolted when 18 leaders, including the State BJP general secretary Jarpum Gamlin, Home Minister Kumar Waii and Tourism Minister Jarkar Gamlin and six legislators, quit the party and joined the National People’s Party (NPP). This has made the NPP, which is a key constituent of the BJP-led North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), another key player in the Assembly elections. The NPP, which is led by Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma, is making its electoral debut in Arunachal Pradesh.

Gegong Apang, who headed the first BJP government in the State in 2003, resigned from the primary membership of the BJP in January, disappointed over its “undemocratic functioning”. Apang was Chief Minister for 23 years, quit the Congress, which he had returned to, in 2014 to join the BJP again. He has now joined the Janata Dal (Secular) and is contesting on its ticket from Tuting-Yinkiong Assembly constituency in Upper Siang district.

Dissidence in Congress

In 2014, the Congress won 42 seats, 12 of them uncontested, to retain power for the third consecutive time. However, dissidence gripped the party and resulted in the election of four Chief Ministers in one year. Dissidence continued to grow, leading to the defection of 43 of the 44 Congress legislators to the PPA in 2016. Nabam Tuki, who was elected Chief Minister in 2014, remained the lone Congress legislator in the House.

On December 31, 2016, Khandu along with 32 PPA legislators defected to the BJP and formed the BJP government. In 2014, the Congress won 42 seats and 49.50 per cent of the vote, the BJP 11 and 30.97 per cent of the vote, the PPA five and 8.96 per cent and independents two.

In the outgoing Assembly, the BJP has 40 legislators, the NPP 13, the Congress five and there are two independents. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who led the party’s campaign in the State that has borders with China, Myanmar and Bhutan, claimed that the BJP was gaining substantial popularity in Arunachal Pradesh, like the rest of the north-east. “Our good work stands in contrast to Congress’ apathy and loot,” he said.

“Arunachal Pradesh now has rail connectivity, two new airports, new highways, better roads, electricity supply to the remotest villages, a new football stadium and sports facilities. These are already done, and a lot more is being done. You all are credited for it.... It was your decision to support a government that works and delivers,” Modi said at an election rally at Pasighat on April 3. The State BJP in its Vision Document for Arunachal Pradesh said: “More than three decades of statehood were lost decades for Arunachal Pradesh under the Congress government.” It claimed that in the past 27 months of BJP rule, the State took path-breaking steps “to correct this historic wrong inflicted on the people of Arunachal Pradesh”. The party’s vision is to focus on hydel projects in the State, operation of the 2,000-megawatt Lower Subonsiri hydroelectric power project, commissioning of the 600 MW Kameng hydroelectric project and the promotion of mining industries.

The Congress has made the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019, and the issue of Permanent Resident Certificate (PRC) the main election planks. Three persons were killed, public and private properties and vehicles were set ablaze and vandalised during violent protests that erupted in the State capital, Itanagar, in February following a recommendation by a government appointed high-level committee to grant PRC to six communities. Pema Khandu rushed to clarify that his government had not accepted the recommendations of the panel and that there was no plan to bring a Bill to grant the PRC to the six communities.

The Congress released a “charge sheet” against the BJP-led governments at the Centre and in the State. It alleged that the Khandu government had failed on all fronts and that the law and order situation had deteriorated in the State. It blamed the government for the escalation of the PRC issue and attributed it to a government announcement made without finalisation of the framework.

In the campaigning for the simultaneous Assembly and Lok Sabha elections in the State, political parties are pushing their agendas, but the people want political stability to be the key issue in the Assembly elections.