New Delhi: Two days after the Supreme Court turned the clock back on the Arunachal Pradesh Government, a hectic tussle between the two main contenders – the Congress and People’s Party of Arunachal (PPA) – is underway to grab power in the northeastern state, with some “outside” support from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The floor test for the Nabam Tuki government to prove its majority in the house is scheduled on Saturday and this has only speeded up the power games in the state.
In fact, the countdown to this intense battle for the CM’s office began soon after the Wednesday’s apex court verdict. Congressman Nabam Tuki didn’t even wait to return to state Capital Itanagar to resume charge as the Chief Minister, a position he lost early this year to his former Health Minister-turned-rebel party man Kalikho Pul after a bitter fight.
From the Chief Minister’s suite at the Arunachal Bhavan in New Delhi, Tuki shot off a letter to the acting state Governor and BJP leader Tathagata Roy on Wednesday evening to apprise him of his “taking over” of office. He also telephoned the state police chief and the Chief Secretary on “the future course” of his government after his arrival at the state capital Itanagar on Thursday.
On landing at the Itanagar airport on Thursday, a confident Tuki drove straight to the CM’s office. He also rushed to Raj Bhavan on Thursday afternoon to meet Roy to seek “at least 10 days’ time” as per his party’s decision. Roy, however, refused to relent from his earlier decision and insisted that the floor test be taken on Saturday.
All about the numbers
As the day wore on, the plot thickened with the focus shifting from the “historic” SC verdict to the arithmetic of numbers as it became clear that Tuki had to prove his majority at the floor of the house to save his government.
Even as he held his first cabinet meeting with four of the original 12 ministers at the CM’s office, his nemesis, Pul, paraded 30 former Congress MLAs at a press meet held at a five-star hotel in Guwahati in neighbouring Assam. Pul told newspersons, “Legally, I am the Chief Minister of Arunachal and this is my Cabinet.”
He also claimed the support of 13 others – “Apart from these 30 from the Congress who have joined the PPA, two independents and 11 BJP MLAs are supporting the government from outside.”
By this arithmetic, Tuki, who began with 47 Congress MLAs when he took over office early 2014, now has the support of only 15 of them. He urgently needs to rustle up the support of another 15 to prove his majority in the 60-member assembly. (The present strength of the house is 58 as two Congress MLAs, who also rebelled against Tuki, were disqualified by Speaker Nabam Rebia under the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution much before the rebellion went beyond Tuki’s control.)
This has set off a round of power games. Both camps are blaming each other for ‘horse trading’ and poaching MLAs. Sources on Tuki’s side said that “Pul and the BJP have not allowed the MLAs to return to Itanagar after attending the inaugural meeting of the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) in Guwahati on Wednesday to stop them from meeting Tuki”. Pul meanwhile told local media on Thursday that Tuki might try to seek more time to prove his majority at the floor of the house. “What would happen if a beleaguered CM, visibly reduced to a minority, refuses to call the House at the earliest and indulges in horse trading?” Pul asked.
Court’s fault, says Sibal
“It is barely 48 hours after Tuki took over as the CM. So the Congress party thought it should seek at least 10 days’ time from the Governor to take the floor test,” Congress leader Kapil Sibal told The Wire.
Sibal, who was the legal counsel for Tuki at the SC, blamed the apex court “for the present situation.” “The present mess Arunachal is in lies at the door step of the Supreme Court. It is entirely the SC’s fault. It took too long to give the verdict which allowed the ground situation to change,” said Sibal.
For the former HRD minister of the Manmohan Singh Government, “the biggest setback” of the SC order was how it addressed the Speaker’s powers under the Tenth Schedule. “The order says when there is a no confidence motion against a speaker, he/she loses the right under the Tenth Schedule. This is dangerous because the Speaker, be it of the Lok Sabha or of a state assembly, is the tribunal in itself. It is a power given to the Speaker by the Constitution. After this ruling, anyone who has been disqualified by the Speaker under the Tenth Schedule can move a no confidence motion against the Speaker and remove him/her. It is a serious view, dangerous for all the parties. Today, BJP will do it, tomorrow the Congress can also do it.” He said, “That is why, I am writing a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the need to challenge it.”
Amidst all the hectic goings-on, the Congress national leadership, however, is harking back to not only the July 13 SC verdict but also the recent Uttarakhand High Court verdict to save the Tuki Government.
“The SC verdict called for status quo. So going by that order, all the 45 MLAs continue to be Congressmen. So the party is going to issue a whip to all of the MLAs. If they violate the whip, they face action from the party. And if their group is not one third of the majority, they would come under the Tenth Schedule and attract disqualification from the house. If they have voluntarily given up the membership of the party, they should have to resign from the house,” said Sibal. The May 9 verdict of the Uttarakhand HC which dismissed the plea of the nine Congress rebel MLAs would apply in Arunachal too, he contends.