Stung by the defection of former Chief Minister Gegong Apang, the BJP goes on the back foot, brightening the Congress' prospects in Arunachal Pradesh.in Guwahati
THE wind is clearly blowing in favour of the Congress in Arunachal Pradesh. The party has already won unopposed three of the 60 Assembly seats. Its victory is further ensured by the Bharatiya Janata Party's decision not to contest 21 seats in the elections scheduled for October 7.
The BJP seems to have reconciled itself to the fact that its prospects of coming back to power are bleak, with senior party leaders going on record that the party would not try to form the next government without a clear mandate. The party had earlier pinned its hopes on the State's longest-serving Chief Minister Gegong Apang to ride back to power to consolidate the gains of its one-year rule of the northeastern region's first BJP-governed State. Apang severed his coalition's year-long ties with the BJP and rejoined the Congress along with his Cabinet colleagues.
Staggering under the jolt delivered by Apang in early September, the BJP made "political stability in Arunachal and an end to the culture of defection" its main poll plank. "The group of defectors and opportunists who have tarnished the image of Arunachalees in general and politicians in particular are now in the same party and seeking the people's mandate," the BJP said in its manifesto, promising to put an end to political instability in the State.
V. Satish, the BJP leader in charge of the northeastern region, dismissed the Congress' assertion that it would repeat its 1999 performance of a "clean sweep". He was confident that the electorate were fed up with the "Aya Ram Gaya Ram politicians" (here now, there tomorrow) and would reject them.
The voters, it appears, are not impressed. They point out that the BJP had encouraged Apang and his loyalists to defect from the Congress. The BJP is, however, determined to put up a tough fight and prevent the Congress from repeating its past performance.
To achieve this, the BJP has pinned its hopes on independent candidates, a majority of them are rebel Congress candidates. It has decided to back the independent candidates with high winning chances in the 21 constituencies where it has no nominee.
THERE are 6,83,265 voters in the State with Itanagar being the largest constituency with 42,595 voters and Anini being the smallest, with 4,737 voters. Twenty-six of the 57 constituencies will witness straight contests between the Congress and the BJP or between the Congress and the independents. Satish accused the Congress of "using money power" to influence the voters. Pradesh Congress Committee president Mukut Mithi dismissed the allegation as a manifestation of the frustration in the BJP camp. "The BJP leaders have realised that the Congress is going to sweep the polls and hence they are making such wild allegations," Mithi said.
A total of 165 candidates were left in the fray following the BJP's withdrawal of 21 candidates. While the Congress has fielded its candidates in all the constituencies, the BJP has put up its nominees in 39 constituencies, the Arunachal Congress in 11 and the Nationalist Congress Party in 10. Forty-eight independents are contesting.
Three Congress nominees - Tsering Gyurmey, Nabum Tuki and Dorjee Khandu - all former Ministers, were elected unopposed. While Tsering was the lone candidate to file the papers for the Dirang seat, Tuki and Khandu were elected after their opponents from the Arunachal Congress in Sagalee and an independent at Mukto respectively withdrew their papers.
The extent of the threat posed by the Congress rebel candidates could be understood from the fact that both Apang and Mithi joined the AICC general secretary in charge of the region, Ramesh Chenithala, in appealing to the rebels to withdraw in favour of the official party candidates. Addressing a joint press conference at the release of the party manifesto, Apang and Mithi said seven Congress rebels were contesting against official party candidates as independents or with the support of rival political parties. Mithi, however, maintained that since most of the rebel candidates had resigned from the Congress, the party had no control over them.
FOR the electorate, the election manifestoes of the Congress and the BJP had nothing new to offer except the vague promise of providing a clean, transparent and efficient administration, of building roads and infrastructure and so on.
The Congress manifesto promised to strengthen the public distribution system and devolve more powers to the panchayats to take the administration closer to the people. The Congress is determined to bring in greater transparency in the administration in order to make the government more responsive to the needs and aspirations of the people, the manifesto said. The BJP manifesto also focussed on devolution of powers. It promised to build roads, allow rapid industrial growth, tap the huge hydel power potential and boost tourism.
The campaigning, which was low key until end September, gained momentum after the political bigwigs of both the Congress and the BJP embarked on whirlwind tours.
Political observers feel that much would depend on the outcome in the 12 constituencies in Tirap and Changlang districts where security was still a dominant issue with militant groups issuing diktats to the people's representatives. The political parties demanded adequate security for their candidates in these two districts in view of threats from underground elements. During the Lok Sabha elections in April, there were incidents of snatching of arms from policemen by militants.
Although the situation appears favourable for the Congress, with the party enjoying the advantage of wooing the voters with promises of development and smooth flow of funds from the Centre where it is in power, it is certainly not going to be an easy sailing for the party this time.
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