THE results of the October 13 Assembly elections in the strategically located border State of Arunachal Pradesh were on expected lines. The ruling Congress swept the polls with a two-thirds majority, thanks to the waning influence of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the principal Opposition party in the State. The victory has helped incumbent Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu consolidate his position in the new government and within the party.
Of the 60 seats, the Congress won 42, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) five, the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) five, the BJP three and the Peoples Party of Arunachal (PPA) four while one seat went to an independent candidate. In 2004, the Congress won 34, the BJP nine, the NCP two, the Arunachal Congress two and independents 13. The Congress and the Trinamool emerged as the big gainers, while the BJP turned out to be the biggest loser.
The Congress gain was not just in the number of seats but also in the vote share. Its vote share increased from 36 per cent in 2004 to 50.38 per cent now, while the BJPs vote share declined drastically from 28 per cent in 2004 to 5.21 per cent. The NCP polled 19.33 per cent of the votes, the Trinamool 15.04, the Janata Dal (United) 0.62, the PPA and independents 9.42 per cent.
The BJPs undoing was that it banked more on the popularity of leaders who had defected from the Congress than on an organisational base. The saffron party lost its hold on the nine seats it had won in 2004 after all the nine legislators later returned to the Congress fold. Five of these sitting legislators were re-elected this time on the Congress ticket.
The BJP, however, wrested two new seats Pasighat West and Rumgong from the Congress. It also won the Daporijo seat, which the Arunachal Congress had bagged in 2004.
Arunachal Pradesh had become the first BJP-ruled State in the north-eastern region when a coalition led by Chief Minister Gegong Apang joined the party in 2003. However, Apang ended his year-long honeymoon with the BJP ahead of the 2004 Assembly polls, putting the latter in a tight spot. Even then, the BJP won nine seats and increased its vote share from 25.16 per cent in 1999 to 28 per cent in 2004. The drastic decline in vote share and seats this time is a clear indication that voters in Arunachal Pradesh have rejected the BJP, a development that is likely to impact the partys prospects in other north-eastern States.
Mamata Banerjees Trinamool Congress made its electoral debut in the State and won five seats. This was the first electoral victory of the party outside West Bengal. It put up 26 candidates, including former Congress Ministers and sitting Congress legislators who were denied the ticket this time. The Trinamool gave a surprising performance even without the party chief campaigning for its candidates.
In all the five seats the NCP won Tuting Yingkiong, Mebo, Nyapin, Dambuk and Itanagar it is a first-time winner. In 2004, three of these seats went to the Congress, one to the BJP and one to an independent. The NCP, however, did not contest the two seats Yachuli and Longding Pumao it won in 2004; the NCP legislators who won from here in the previous elections later defected to the Congress.
Six of the 17 rebel Congress candidates, who contested on the ticket of other parties and as independents, won. These included two of the Trinamool, two of the PPA, one of the NCP and one independent.
It is too early to conclude that the results are indicative of the actual strength of the political parties. Rather, the victories of some of the candidates of the smaller parties can be attributed more to the popularity of individual candidates than to the growing influence of the party concerned.
Two of the nine women candidates came out successful. The 2004 Assembly had no woman member. One of the winners, Karya Bagang, defeated former Deputy Chief Minister and veteran Congress leader Kameng Dolo in Chayeng Tajo constituency by 342 votes. The other successful woman candidate, Nang Sati Mein, won from the Namsai constituency, defeating Chow Pingthika Namchoom of the Trinamool by 5,699 votes. Nang Mein is also the lone independent candidate to have won this time.
According to an analysis done by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and the National Election Watch (NEW), 35 of the 60 MLAs elected this time are crorepatis. They include 25 from the Congress, two from the BJP and three from the NCP. Takam Tagar of the PPA, elected from Palin constituency in Kurung Kumey district, who declared total assets worth over Rs.209 crore, leads the club. Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu is also a crorepati.
Khandu won from the Mukto Assembly constituency unopposed for a record third time. In the absence of power centres like former Chief Ministers Gegong Apang and Mukut Mithi, Khandu became the unanimous choice for the Congress Legislative Party leaders post. Apang, who ruled the State for 23 years, lost to the NCPs Alo Libang, while his son, former Union Minister Omak Apang, was defeated by a BJP candidate, Tangor Tapak. In Roing constituency, Pomoya Mithi, wife of Mukut Mithi, lost to the sitting legislator, Laeta Umbrey, who contested on the Trinamool ticket after being denied the Congress ticket.
Despite the easy victory, ministry formation appeared to be a difficult task for Khandu. He did not seem to want a hasty team selection, and hence he took the oath of office on October 25. As the size of the ministry for a small State like Arunachal Pradesh has to be limited to 12 Ministers including the Chief Minister, chances of those who are left out raising the banner of revolt and switching their loyalty to a new leader are always high. In the past the State has witnessed several such crises. Khandu himself replaced Apang as Chief Minister in October 2007 following a two-week-long political crisis when 25 Congress legislators demanded Apangs ouster.
Even after choosing 11 legislators for inclusion in the ministry, Khandu will have to keep the remaining legislators happy in order to continue in power. Winning the election was probably easy but holding onto the hot seat for a five-year-term may turn out to be a tough game for Khandu.