Uphill task for Apang

Print edition : November 05, 2004

With factionalism simmering in the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party expanding its influence on the ground, Gegong Apang faces a tough challenge as Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister.

in Guwahati

THE well-timed political move of rejoining the Congress just before the State Assembly elections helped the longest-serving Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh, Gegong Apang, realise his dream of ruling the State for another term as the Congress secured a majority in the October 7 elections.

Arunachal Pradesh Congress president Mukut Mithi, Chief Minister Geong Apang, Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi and Union Minister Oscar Fernandes at the CLP meeting in Itanagar.-

The Congress won 34 seats and the Bharatiya Janata Party nine in the 60-member Assembly. While the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Arunachal Congress bagged two each, the independents won 13 seats.

Although the Congress secured three seats more than the midway mark of 31 seats, its strength declined sharply from the 53 seats it had won in the 1999 elections. This decline gave the political space required for the BJP to grow and translate its influence into electoral gains. The Congress won three seats unopposed this time.

The BJP's vote share increased from 25.16 per cent in 1999 to 28 per cent this year while the Congress' vote share declined from 51.57 per cent to 36 per cent. In 1999, the BJP had contested 24 seats but failed to win even one. This time it contested 38 and won nine.

The Congress contested in all the 60 seats, while the BJP contested 38. Of the 48 independent candidates, 13 won giving a new dimension to politics in the State. The number is quite big for a relatively small legislature.

Apang, who contested from his home constituency of Tuting-Yingkiong in Upper Siang district, defeated BJP candidate Ojing Komboh by a margin of 4,632 votes. Former Chief Minister and Pradesh Congress Committee president Mukut Mithi won from the Roing Assembly constituency by defeating the BJP candidate Laeta Umbrey by a margin of 1,337 votes. Congress nominees and former Ministers - Tsering Gyurmey, Nabum Tuki and Dorjee Khandu - were elected unopposed from the Dirang, Sagalee and Mukto Assembly constituencies. Apang described the poll outcome as "a victory for good governance and stability for which the Congress stands for".

Asked about the BJP winning nine seats, All India Congress Committee observer Imran Kidwai told Frontline: "Going by the outcome of the last Lok Sabha polls, the Assembly polls were a big gain for the Congress. The BJP had won in 53 Assembly segments in the Lok Sabha polls while the Congress came first only in seven segments. So from seven Assembly segments our strength has increased to 34 whereas the BJP's strength has come down to nine."

Mukut Mithi also played down the BJP's gain by claiming that its candidates have won on their "individual popularity" and that the victory did not in any way establish that the party was gaining ground in the State.

V. Satish, who is in charge of BJP affairs in the northeastern States refuted the Congress claim and pointed out that seven of the nine BJP candidates have won for the first time, which indicated that the Congress' influence in these constituencies had declined and that the voters gave the mandate to new faces. He attributed the Congress' defeat in these constituencies to "non-performance" by the sitting legislators. "Electorates in these constituencies were totally disillusioned with the sitting Congress legislators for their failure to undertake any development work and they wanted a change," he added.

Whatever be the Congress' interpretation, the fact remains that the BJP has succeeded in making inroads into the Congress bastion by winning nine seats, when it failed to win a single seat in the 1999 Assembly elections despite a poll alliance with Gegong Apang-led Arunachal Congress. The BJP hopes that the party's victory in the Itanagar Assembly constituency would give it a foothold in the capital, and an opportunity to translate its electoral gain into organisational strength. Apang's return to the Congress, however, checked the advance of the BJP as the party was heavily banking on his popularity to capture power.

On the other hand, the Congress suffered a big jolt when the working president of the party and Mithi's confidant Takam Sanjoy lost the election to the BJP candidate and first-timer Balu Raja in Palin constituency. Sanjoy, former president of the All Arunachal Pradesh Students Union (AAPSU), had won from the constituency twice and was also the official spokesman of the Mithi government. Moreover, in Thirzino-Buragaon Assembly constituency the BJP candidate Govardhan Nimasaw lost to Congress candidate Naresh Glow by a slender margin of 43 votes in a straight contest, which indicated the growing influence of the BJP in the State.

Besides, the BJP legislature party is headed by former Deputy Chief Minister Kameng Dolo, a political heavyweight in Arunachal Pradesh, who refused to accompany Apang to the Congress camp. Apang had dropped Dolo from the Ministry a few days before the polls.

The victory of large number of independent candidates indicated that these former Congressmen were more popular than the party they had represented once. Kidwai, however, attributes the victory of a large number of independents to Apang and his followers rejoining the party at the last minute.

The rejoining came at a time when the Apang and Mithi factions had already finalised the list of aspiring candidates of the BJP and the Congress respectively. After Apang's return to the Congress' fold the party had no option but to give the ticket to maximum number of aspiring candidates from each faction. In the process, some heavyweights who did not figure in the Congress list contested as independents for their own political survival.

Although the October 7 elections made the Congress weaker in Arunachal Pradesh, Apang managed to consolidate his position in the party and score over Mithi with more loyalists on his side. Congress sources said that Mithi lost his bargaining power to stake claim to the chief ministership as only six of his 16 hardcore loyalists, known as "super sixteen" in party circles, could win.

The pre- and post- election periods in Arunachal Pradesh witnessed a tug-of-war between the two political heavyweights. Although Apang's election as leader of the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) passed off smoothly with Mithi himself proposing the name and the newly elected Congress legislators supporting the proposal overwhelmingly, party insiders said that Mithi managed to secure Ministries for his loyalists.

The rivalry between them manifested itself in other ways too. When 11 of the 13 independents formed the Arunachal Democratic Legislators Forum and extended support to the Apang-led government, Mithi insisted that the Congress does need not their support as it got a majority on its own. The chairman of the Forum, R.K. Kirmey, conveyed the decision to Apang and the Congress Working Committee (CWC) member Ramesh Chennithala, describing their support as an "effort to form a stable government". The two Arunachal Congress legislators also pledged support to the new government.

IN the 1995 elections, the Congress had secured an overwhelming majority by winning 54 seats and formed a government with Gegong Apang as Chief Minister. However, Apang left the party following differences with Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao and formed the Arunachal Congress in September 1996 with the support of 54 MLAs.

In the 1998 Lok Sabha elections, the Arunachal Congress allied itself with the BJP. Gegong Apang's son Omak Apang was elected from Arunachal West and was later inducted into the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Ministry. Subsequently, Apang dropped five Cabinet Ministers, including Mithi following a revolt by them. The dissidents led by Mithi formed the Arunachal Congress (Mithi) with 40 MLAs on their side to topple the Apang government. Later, the Arunachal Congress (Mithi) merged with the Congress and formed the Congress government.

The Congress swept the polls in 1999. Apang's Arunachal Congress was decimated and he was the only candidate from the party to be elected to the Assembly. Apang was waiting for an opportune moment to avenge this political humiliation and his patience paid off when the Mithi government was reduced to a minority after 35 Congress MLAs parted ways with him on July 27, 2003. Apang joined the BJP to head the first ever BJP-led government in the State. But the mandatory exercise of downsizing the Ministry saw those who were left out shifting their loyalty to Mithi, prompting Apang to recommend the immediate dissolution of the House.

APANG, during the election campaign, promised to provide a strong, stable and efficient government, which he said would primarily focus on infrastructure development. With the Congress getting majority on its own political instability is not a problem for the time being. However, the size of the Ministry being restricted to a maximum of 12, Apang would certainly face a daunting task of meeting the demands for ministerial posts.

Developmental activities in the State had taken a backseat because of the political instability since mid-1990s. In fact, the State still does not have a road connecting its districts. Travel from one district to another is a long, tedious journey via Assam. Owing to poor road links the State has not been able to harness its rich tourism potential. Arunachal Pradesh is considered the powerhouse of the country with a hydropower potential of 49,000 MW. However, only a tiny fraction of this hydropower potential has been harnessed so far.

With the BJP banking on non-performance of the previous Congress governments to increase its influence in the State, the Apang-led government will be under pressure to pursue an aggressive development agenda and timely implementation of its election promises.

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