Arunachal Pradesh

Revolving door

Print edition : February 03, 2017

Chief Minister Pema Khandu after he and 32 other legislators joined the BJP, at Itanagar in on December 31, 2016. Photo: PTI

For the second time, the BJP forms the government in Arunachal Pradesh with the help of defectors from other parties.

THE Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has never won the mandate of the people of Arunachal Pradesh in an Assembly election. Yet, for the second time the party has managed to form the government in the north-eastern State, which has borders with China, Myanmar and Bhutan, with the help of deserters from the Congress and regional parties.

The first BJP-led government was formed in the State in 2003, when Gegong Apang, the then lone Arunachal Congress legislator in the 60-member Assembly, joined the saffron party and led a coalition government for 42 days. This time around the BJP has got a full-fledged government after Chief Minister Pema Khandu, along with 32 legislators of the People’s Party of Arunachal (PPA), joined the BJP on December 31, 2016. They joined the BJP after the PPA suspended Khandu and six PPA legislators for alleged anti-party activities.

Following the defection of the 33 PPA legislators and two Congress members, the strength of the BJP in the Assembly increased to 47. It also enjoys the support of two independent legislators.

Former Chief Minister Nabam Tuki is the lone Congress legislator in the current Assembly. The PPA, a regional party formed on April 10, 1979, has currently 10 members in the House.

The Congress polled 49.5 per cent of the votes in the 2014 Assembly elections to win 42 seats to rule the State for a third consecutive term and Nabam Tuki became the Chief Minister. The BJP polled 31 per cent of the votes to win 11 seats in the elections, which were held simultaneously with the Lok Sabha elections when a Modi wave swept the country. The PPA polled 8.96 per cent of the votes and won five seats. Independents won two seats.

The State has had four Chief Ministers in the past one year. The political tug of war led to President’s Rule and even reached the Supreme Court.

However, rumours refuse to die in the corridors of power. Speculative reports in a section of the media that Union Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju might replace Khandu as Chief Minister prompted the State unit of the BJP to issue a clarification that “there is no question of replacing Chief Minister Pema Khandu, who enjoys full support of [the] entire BJP party”.

A statement issued by State BJP president Tapir Gao said: “Pema Khandu enjoys support of 47 BJP and two independent MLAs in the 60-member House. The State unit of the BJP endorsed full support to the leadership of Shri Pema Khandu.” The BJP’s national president, Amit Shah, and senior leader Ram Madhav, who is in charge of north-east affairs, also expressed full faith in the leadership of Khandu.

The political resolution adopted at the BJP’s National Executive meeting held in New Delhi on January 6 and 7 also welcomed Khandu into the BJP parivar. “The year [2016] has ended on another happy note with 33 MLAs from the PPA in Arunachal Pradesh, including the Chief Minister, opting to join the BJP. The National Executive welcomes the new BJP Chief Minister Pema Khandu into the BJP parivar,” stated the release issued from New Delhi. On January 7, the Chief Minister’s Office issued an official release stating that “the BJP National Executive officially welcomed Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu into the BJP parivar”.

Unique case

The recent political developments in Arunachal Pradesh present a unique case where the Chief Minister himself has led the defection to another party. Pema Khandu, 37, became Chief Minister for the first time on July 17, 2016, following his election as the leader of the Arunachal Pradesh Congress Legislature Party the previous day. He and a few other rebel Congress legislators had just returned to the party’s fold.

Politics in Arunachal Pradesh has always been knotty. On January 26, 2016, President’s Rule was imposed in Arunachal Pradesh on the grounds of political instability and constitutional breakdown. But on July 13, 2016, a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court restored the Nabam Tuki government after it quashed the decision of the then Governor, J.P. Rajkhowa, which had led to the imposition of President’s Rule. In effect, Kalikho Pul, who meanwhile had become Chief Minister on February 19, 2016, with the help of 30 rebel Congress legislators and the outside support of 11 BJP legislators and two independent legislators, had to make way for Tuki to be reinstated at the helm.

In less than three weeks after the formation of the Pul government, rebel Congress legislators joined the PPA alleging that the “Congress high command sidelined them”. Tuki managed to woo all of them, including Pul and Khandu, back to the Congress fold. He stepped down to facilitate the unanimous election of Khandu as the Chief Minister on July 17. Pul was found dead on August 9; his body was found hanging in the official residence of the Chief Minister.

In a dramatic move on September 16, 2016, Chief Minister Khandu and 42 Congress legislators defected to the PPA, which led to the installation of another PPA-led government in the State. Justifying the merger, Khandu said that the change was in tune with the aspirations of the people. But the Khandu-led PPA government lasted only until December 30, 2016, when the PPA president suspended Khandu, Deputy Chief Minister Chowna Mein and five other party legislators. This time Khandu said the people of the State wanted a stable government “in line with” Narendra Modi’s government.

The PPA is a constituent of the BJP-led North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA). The BJP floated the NEDA on May 24, 2016, with 10 regional parties to achieve its goal of a “Congress-mukt north-east”. However, the BJP’s open welcome to Khandu is likely to strain the party’s relations with the PPA. All eyes are now on the PPA to see if it will remain with the NEDA or exit the BJP-led platform to avenge the political humiliation.

Tough challenge

For the BJP it will be a tough challenge to please party legislators, old as well as new, who have been left out in Khandu’s new Ministry. The Constitution’s 91st amendment limits the size of the Ministry in the State to 12, including the Chief Minister.

Political instability in Arunachal Pradesh has established that crossing the halfway mark in the Assembly can in no way ensure the stability of a government. Rather, it creates more instability with too many aspirants for ministerial berths. This has also brought into focus the debate over the efficacy of the anti-defection law in preventing legislators from shifting loyalties without going back to the people who give their mandate in favour of a particular party or coalition of parties to govern them.

The BJP’s strategists have in mind how the limited size of the Ministry was leveraged by disgruntled Congress legislators in north-eastern States such as Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya to effect frequent change of guard or to raise the banner of revolt as happened in Assam during the third term of the Congress government headed by Tarun Gogoi. For this reason, the incumbent Assam Chief Minister, Sarbananda Sonowal, appears to have delayed the expansion of his Ministry. The first BJP-led government in the State has been functioning with 10 Ministers for the past eight months though Sonowal can induct eight more Ministers.

Development has taken a back seat in Arunachal Pradesh because of the political instability, as could be gathered from Chief Minister Khandu’s own admission. “Development is not possible without a stable government. Now when we have it... you can very well expect development to rush in,” he said, addressing residents of Wakka village in Longding district which was ravaged by a fire that broke out on December 22. A 70-year-old woman, Bangman Gangsa, died, 52 houses were gutted and more than 100 families were rendered homeless.

He apologised for not being able to visit the village on December 30 as planned and explained that political compulsions forced him to cancel the visit. He, however, assured the residents that the “small” hiccup that his government had to encounter in the last few days had been resolved and that a stable government was in place, stated an official release issued on his visit on January 3.

The very first Cabinet meeting of the BJP government, held on January 4, approved the work of the Itanagar-Banderdewa four-lane highway and the compensation estimate prepared by a government-constituted committee, and directed the release of the compensation amount to the beneficiaries through the Deputy Commissioner. The real challenge for Khandu is to keep his team together until the next Assembly elections, which is due in 2019 along with the Lok Sabha election.

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