Congress Pulls Out a Rabbit from the Arunachal Hat, Big Blow to BJP
ITANAGAR: Saturday morning, residents in the Arunachal Pradesh's capital, Itanagar, woke up to two kinds of storms, one climatic and the other political.
Muddy waters from the drains along the road here had over flown, thanks to the heavy rains that began in the wee hours today. Murkier still was the political scenario of the state as questions loomed large over whether Nabam Tuki would be able to produce the requisite numbers to win a trust-vote in the legislative assembly.
The Tuki-led Congress government was reinstated on July 13 following the Supreme Court verdict on the ‘discretionary’ powers of a governor. Tuki had assumed power from New Delhi itself on that day and arrived in Itanagar the next day when governor Tathagata Roy asked him to prove his majority in the House “no later than July 16”.
Tuki had responded by stating that July 16 would give him “less than 48 hours’ time to hold the floor test” and that many of his “colleagues/MLAs are out of station”.
He also cited the Sarkaria Commission’s recommendation that “reasonable time” must be given to the chief minister to prove his majority, requesting him to postpone the session to July 25 or 26 to hold the floor test. Roy however, had refused to budge from his decision but until this morning, it was still not certain whether the floor test would be held.
Just as the clouds parted, the political scenario became clearer and threw up a major surprise. Following a CLP meeting that was attended by both Tuki and his rival Kalikho Pul, Pema Khandu was elected as its leader and would be the next chief minister of the state.
Khandu had sided with Pul when dissidence within the Congress began last year in rebellion against Tuki and was a key player in the entire episode. Surprisingly, it was Tuki who had put forward Khandu’s name today for the choice of the CLP leader which was unanimously accepted by the 44 Congress MLAs who were present. Speaker Nabam Rebia missed out on the meeting since he was in the state assembly in case the floor test had to be conducted. Two other Congress MLAs, Gabriel Wangsu and Wanglam Sawin, were also absent. Khandu also has the support of two independent MLAs.
The 37-year old is the son of former chief minister late Dorjee Khandu, who died in a helicopter crash while still in office in 2011. After his death, Pema was first elected uncontested in 2011 from Mukto assembly constituency in the strategically important district of Tawang.
While Tuki has resigned as chief minister and Khandu has staked claim to form the government, the governor is yet set a date for the swearing-in ceremony. In fact, it is unclear if Roy, a former BJP man, will invite Khandu before asking him to prove his majority in the assembly.
Speaking to the media, Khandu and Tuki both said that the dramatic decision was taken in the interest of the party in consultation with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi.
Today’s development comes as a major blow for the BJP which had recently formed the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), a congregation of non-Congress parties of the region. The stated goal of the NEDA is to rid the region of Congress rule where it has traditionally been strong.
However, the BJP has been able to make inroads in the region with the recent victory in Assam state election. The saffron party was also supporting the regional People’s Party of Arunachal (PPA) in here which Pul and 29 other MLAs had joined after rebelling against the Congress.
While Khandu’s ascendency to the post of chief minister comes as a bit of a surprise, those in the know said that talks to bring back the rebel MLAs to the Congress were already underway.
Sources said that negotiations to elevate Khandu to the post of the chief minister began “some time back” after they learnt that some of the MLAs in Pul’s camp were unhappy with the idea of possibly merging with the BJP which had extended outside support to Pul and his MLAs.