Early lead

Print edition : October 23, 2009
in Guwahati

Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu was elected from the Mukto consitituency.-PICTURES: RITU RAJ KONWAR

THE ruling Congress in Arunachal Pradesh has already established a lead over the opposition parties in the Assembly elections scheduled for October 13, with three of its candidates, including Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu, being elected unopposed. Khandu created political history by getting elected unopposed for a record third time from the Mukto constituency in Tawang district, which borders China. He was elected unopposed from the same constituency in the 1999 and 2004 Assembly elections as well. The other two Congress nominees to win unopposed are sitting legislator Tsewang Dhondup from the Tawang constituency and debutant Jambey Tashi from the Lumla constituency. In the 2004 Assembly elections, too, the Congress won three seats including Khandus unopposed.

Altogether, 154 candidates will vie for the remaining 57 seats of the 60-member Assembly. Those left in the fray include 57 candidates from the Congress, 18 from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), 36 from the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), 26 from the All India Trinamool Congress, 11 from the Peoples Party of Arunachal, three from the Janata Dal (United) and three independents.

In a swift change on the election scene, the Nagaland Peoples Front (NPF), the ruling party of Nagaland, decided to drop its plan to contest 12 Assembly seats in Tirap and Changlang districts, which have a sizable Naga population. The NPF decision to contest had stirred a political storm, with the influential All Arunachal Pradesh Students Union (AAPSU) vowing to prevent legislators elected on the NPF ticket from entering the State capital, Itanagar, and to treat anyone who contests as an NPF candidate as anti-Arunachalee.

According to a statement issued by K.G. Kenye, secretary-general of the NPF, the decision to pull out was taken by the executive committee of the NPF after the Election Commission (E.C.) of India failed to grant the party approval to contest the Arunachal Pradesh elections. He said the decision had been necessitated following the E.C.s delay in approving the change in the partys name, from the Nagaland Peoples Front to the Naga Peoples Front, which would have made it possible for the party to contest Assembly elections in other parts of the north-eastern region.

The NPFs latest decision, however, left the major political parties including the Congress wondering whether the NPF would back the candidates of any other party in those 12 constituencies and work for their victory in order to be able to play a role in the post-election situation.

Sushil Kumar Modi (centre), Deputy Chief Minister of Bihar, attending an election rally near Itanagar, the State capital, on September 19 with Lichi Legi (left), the BJP`s candidate for the 13th Itanagar constituency.-

The BJP has made many promises to be fulfilled by the party once it comes to power but has fielded only 18 candidates, far fewer than the halfway mark. In the 2004 elections, the party put up candidates for 38 seats and won nine, though all of them later joined the Congress. Although the BJP has claimed to have reached internal understandings with smaller and regional parties and kept open the option of post-election alliances, the fact that these parties have not announced any pre-election tie-up means that the possibility of voters considering them an alternative to the Congress is low.

Two major partners of the Congress in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre the NCP and the Trinamool Congress tried their best to rope in those ticket aspirants in the Congress, including sitting legislators and former Ministers, who had been denied nominations this time. However, given the States past political record of defections and switching of loyalties, it will be an uphill task for these parties to retain their winners after the elections and stop the Congress from forming the next government on its own.

However, all is not well in the Congress camp. Even though there is no division in the partys top hierarchy in the State, resignations and the expulsion of a number of grass-roots leaders and workers have marred the run-up to the elections. The general secretary of the Arunachal Pradesh Youth Congress, Mongol Yomso, resigned from the party, saying that he had lost trust in the Congress leadership and that it was not focussing on its true ideology.

The Chief Minister, Arunachal Pradesh Congress Committee president Nabam Tuki and other senior State Congress leaders maintained that there was no rift in the party and downplayed the resignation of ticket aspirants and a section of their followers. They maintained that the selection of party nominees was decided by the high command on the basis of the performance of the legislators and on whether they were able to get the desired results in the general elections earlier this year.

With the last date for withdrawal of nominations expiring on September 29, the focus shifted to campaigning. The perceived Chinese threat to Arunachal Pradesh has turned into a major campaign issue, with the parties raking it up in their manifestos and election speeches. Chinas repeated claim over Arunachal Pradesh and [the] Centres subsequent meek response to it does not go down well with the Arunachalees. A sense of insecurity engulfed and panic gripped the Arunachalees living in areas bordering China in the wake of repeated Chinese incursions along the Sino-Indian border in recent years, stated the BJP in its manifesto.

Takam Sanjoy, the Congress Member of Parliament from Arunachal Pradesh and general secretary of the North East Congress Coordination Committee, alleged that China was creating problems on the border with the State and demanded a special defence strategy to counter the threat. India will be safe if Arunachal Pradesh is safe, and the 1,080-kilometre border with China has to be protected at any cost. The Chinese have been building national highways and modern bunkers and developing infrastructure on their side of the border, and India should do the same to counter this, he said. Sanjoy insisted that a separate base for the Indian Air Force should be set up in Arunachal Pradesh.

Janata Dal (United) candidate Tami Taniang campaigning near Itanagar on September 21. He is the only physically challenged candidate contesting in these elections.-

Khandu said he believed that Chinas policy was to force India to increase its defence expenditure at the cost of the economy. The more the defence expenditure, the less will be the expenditure on the developmental front. They want to weaken India through this game of psychological warfare.

The NCP and the Trinamool Congress harped on the fact that the Centre was not taking a bold stand on the issue. The Congress, however, refuted the opposition charge that the UPA government had responded meekly.

The opposition campaign over the issue has posed a tough challenge to local Congress leaders as the UPA government led by the party at the Centre has been taking the utmost care not to allow the issue to cause diplomatic strain between the two neighbouring countries. At the same time, the ruling party cannot afford to allow the opposition parties hijack the issue and woo voters away, particularly the middle-aged and the village elders who still remember the 1962 war fought between India and China. The Chinese army penetrated deep into Arunachal Pradesh and inflicted heavy casualties on the Indian Army.

However, for the Congress the main election plank is development. Its campaign states that the Congress is the only party that stands for development and prosperity and understands the pulse of the young.

The NCP has promised to work to promote social equality, communal harmony and balanced regional development in the State and to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor irrespective of tribe, religion and region while distributing the fruits of development.

The BJP has promised to free the border State from poverty, corruption and insecurity and to provide government jobs compulsorily to one member of every below-the-poverty line (BPL) family, a special allowance of Rs.1,000 a month to the educated unemployed belonging to economically weaker sections, free electricity to BPL families, and so on. How far these promises have influenced voters will only be seen when the votes are counted and the results are declared on October 22.

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