New Delhi: The year-long political drama in Arunachal Pradesh is over. The Congress returned to power today with rebel MLA Pema Khandu sworn in as the state’s 10th chief minister. Acting state governor Tathagata Roy also administered the oath of office and secrecy to yet another rebel MLA, Chowna Mein, as the deputy chief minister, besides 11 others as cabinet ministers.
Former chief minister Nabam Tuki, who made way for Khandu, and leader of the party’s rebel camp Kalikho Pul, who wrested power from Tuki with the outside support of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in February this year, sat next to each other at the Sunday’s swearing-in ceremony at the Raj Bhavan to watch the new chief minister taking oath of office and secrecy.
Khandu is the third chief minister the northeastern state has seen since the assembly elections in 2014. While Khandu, who will turn 37 on August 21, has become the state’s youngest chief minister, Pul, who took over the reigns on February 19 this year, will go down in history as the most short-lived head of Arunachal Pradesh’s government.
The existence of the Pul government was threatened on July 13 when the Supreme Court reinstated his nemesis Tuki as the state chief minister. As soon as the news of the verdict came in, Tuki along with taking over the reigns as the chief minister, opened backdoor channels for talks with groups of rebel MLAs who joined hands with Pul to form a new government under the aegies of the new People’s Party of Arunachal (PPA).
“We are in touch with some of them, let’s see what comes out of it. On reaching Itanagar, I will call a meeting of all the MLAs and urge them to return to the party. For me, they are still Congressmen and they should help form a Congress government in the state. Let’s see what they want,” Tuki told this correspondent at New Delhi’s Arunachal Bhavan on July 13.
The party state and national leaders’ relentless effort to work out the numbers by wooing back the rebel MLAs from the Pul camp to help form a Congress government in the state bore fruit on Saturday morning, hours before Tuki was to take a floor test following the governor’s orders. With Tuki having the support of only 15 of the initial 47 MLAs, the party’s national leadership agreed to the initial demand made by the rebels to remove Tuki. The party had refused to bow down to this demand earlier, which helped build the crisis that brought the state under president’s rule from January 26 to February 18. Speaking to The Wire from Itanagar on Saturday, Khandu thanked Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice president Rahul Gandhi for the “reunion”.
“The decision to have a new CLP (Congress Legislative Party) leader has the blessings of both Sonia ji and Rahul ji,” he said.
Following the Supreme Court verdict, the rebels, who were allegedly “kept in a five star hotel” in Guwahati by the Pul camp – reportedly with support from the BJP – to keep them away from entering into face to face talks with the Tuki camp, left for Itanagar late at night on July 15t. According to state Congress sources, “On arriving, they at once entered into discussing a compromise formula with the party leadership as they also feared losing either their assembly seat or suspension from the house on voting against the party in Saturday’s floor test”.
With the Supreme Court turnig the clock back on the state government, all the rebel MLAs continued to remain Congress members. The group, which falls short of the two-third majority in the house, would attract disqualification under the Tenth Schedule. On voluntary resignation from the party, they would lose their seat in the house.
On Saturday morning, all the MLAs attended a CLP meeting in Itanagar where Khandu’s name was endorsed as the new party leader and chief ministerial nominee. Thereafter, Khandu, accompanied by Tuki, state Congress in-charge Jayakumar and some other MLAs, went to the Raj Bhavan to give the governor the legislators’ letters of support and stake claim to form the next government. As per Khandu’s letter to the governor, he had the support of 44 Congress MLAs and two independents.
Tuki resigned from the post of the chief minister at once, thus avoiding the floor test ordered by the governor. Speaking to The Wire from Itanagar on Sunday morning, Tuki said, “The party is supreme. I have decided to step down in the interest of the party.”
Khandu too hinted at the supremacy of the party, saying, “Every MLA now wants to be under one roof”. He said, “Both Tuki and Pul will be the advisers of my government.” Son of former state chief minister Dorji Khandu, Pema Khandu was a minister in both the Tuki and Pul governments.
The fast changing political scenario in the state is not only being widely looked at as a blow to the BJP which aided Pul to grab power with the help of the “friendly” governor J.P. Rajkhowa and offer outside support of its 11 legislators, but also to Pul’s political ambition as the founder leader of the state’s only regional party – the PPA. Two days before returning to Congress, Pul pledged the support of his party to the BJP’s newly launched political alliance to make the Northeast “Congress mukt” by 2019 – the North East Democartic Alliance. The status of the PPA is not yet known.
The recent political developments also point to the existence of a possible five-corner fight for power among the Congress MLAs, the apparent seed of the political crisis. “There are five camps among the party MLAs, run by Tuki, Pul, Khandu, Chowna Mein and Kameng Dolo. While Pul made both Chowna Mein and Kameng Dolo his deputy chief ministers to keep their groups happy so that his government continues, Khandu too has made Chowna Mein his deputy CM for the same reason. For the last one and a half months, Khandu and some others had been sending feelers to the Tuki camp about being unhappy with Pul for giving in too much to the BJP,” said a state Congress leader, on the condition of anonymity.