Politics

Congress Set to Lose Power in Arunachal After 43 MLAs Defect to Regional Party

MLAs withcm pema khandu in Itanagar after joining ppa

MLAs along with chief minister Pema Khandu in Itanagar after joining People’s Party of Arunachal. Credit: Special Arrangement

New Delhi: The struggle for power in Arunachal Pradesh took yet another turn on Friday when 43 of the 44 Congress MLAs quit the party to join People’s Party of Arunachal (PPA).

The PPA was formed in March of this year by the now deceased former chief minister Kalikho Pul and is an ally of the BJP’s North East Democratic Alliance.

The mass exodus of Congress MLAs indicates that the party is once again set to lose power in the northeastern state.

After the 2014 assembly elections, Congress had 47 MLAs in the 60-member assembly, 21 of whom left the party along with Pul early this year to form a PPA government with outside support from 11 BJP legislators.

The status of two other Congress MLAs is yet to be decided by the Supreme Court after they challenged their suspension from the assembly under the Tenth Schedule.

The court’s July 13 verdict that reinstated the Congress government in the state forced all 22 MLAs, including Pul, to return to the party, who then formed a new Congress government with Pema Khandu as the chief minister. The party had 45 MLAs, but the number reduced to 44 after Pul took his life on August 9. After this move, Nabam Tuki is the lone Congress MLA in the assembly.

As per news reports from Itanagar, Khandu will remain the chief minister of the new dispensation.

According to an MLA who preferred to remain anonymous, all the legislators met at the chief minister’s chamber yesterday where it “was more or less finalised to move en masse to PPA.”

“Things moved fast after BJP leaders Smriti Irani, Kiren Rijiju and Mansukh Mandaviya visited Itanagar on September 13 besides some Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leaders meeting Khandu recently. There is a lot of pressure from the BJP on Khandu to make the move; his government is forever dependent on the BJP-led Centre for funds, he [would] rather have a friendly central government with him. The only other option was to resign from Congress and go for fresh polls which none of the MLAs wanted to do before the term ends in 2019,” the MLA told this correspondent.

Rijiju, speaking to reporters in New Delhi on Friday, denied BJP’s role in the latest developments. He said, “Congress MLAs, including the chief minister, are angry with their own central leadership. They had to wait in New Delhi for four-five days to meet their own leaders. This eventually led them to join a regional party.”

State Congress sources did not completely deny it. “All the MLAs have been wanting removal of Padi Richo as the state PCC president as it was under him many of them were suspended from the party after they sided with Pul. They conveyed it to the high command in Delhi, but their request was turned down. This has been a cause of anger for some MLAs but it now looks more like an excuse to quit Congress,” said a party state functionary.

According to a senior journalist from the state, “This has everything to do with the present culture of money and power in the politics of Arunachal. More than governance, the MLAs are interested only in where from would they get money. In this ongoing war of one-upmanship between Congress and the BJP, the biggest casualty is the governance of the state. You can imagine how a state which saw three chief ministers in the last the two years must have functioned.”

At the time of filing of the report, most of the MLAs were still locked in a meeting with Khandu at the assembly premises and the decision to meet the governor to inform him about the latest developments had not been announced. Governor of Mizoram V. Shanmugananthan, who took charge as the Arunachal’s interim governor on September 14 after President Pranab Mukherjee dismissed J.P. Rajkhowa, is presently not in Itanagar.

According to a Raj Bhavan source, “Khandu is soon likely to be asked to take a floor test.”