New Delhi: In a huge setback to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Congress is set to return to power in Arunachal Pradesh after picking up a new Chief Ministerial candidate from the rebel group on Saturday morning, hours before its incumbent Chief Minister Nabam Tuki was to take a floor test as per the orders of the acting state Governor Tathagata Roy.
The new Congress Legislative Party (CLP) leader, 37-year- old Pema Khandu, met Governor Roy early in the day to stake claim to form the next Congress government. Speaking to The Wire from Itanagar, Khandu — son of the former state Chief Minister Dorji Khandu who died in a helicopter crash in 2011 — said, “It looks like the new government will be sworn in by Monday.” In the letter he handed over to the Governor soon after getting elected as the new CLP leader, Khandu claimed the support of 44 Congress MLAs and two independents.
The latest turn of events is certainly a huge setback to the BJP as the party lent its support to Congress rebel MLA Kalikho Pul to unseat Tuki, who blamed the Governor for setting off a political crisis in February. The BJP extended the support of its 11 MLAs to help Pul, who had rebelled against Tuki, to meet the shortfall of 10 MLAs and get the majority mark of 30 to be able to form a government in the state under the aegis of a new party – the People’s Party of Arunachal (PPA). Later, 19 other Congress MLAs, including Khandu — a former minister in the Tuki government — joined the PPA to be a part of the Pul government.
Tuki had gone to the Supreme Court which last week reinstated him as the Chief Minister, but he still had to prove his government’s majority in the floor of the house. With only 15 of his 47 MLAs backing him, it looked like an uphill task and the Congress to seek more time from acting Governor Roy, who rejected the plea.
Rebels asked to come back
The Congress swung into action overnight and to rustle up the numbers, the party opened backdoor channels for talks with the rebel MLAs and asked them to “return home”. The MLAs seem to have not much choice. After the SC verdict, they faced being either disqualified from the assembly under the Tenth Schedule or lose their seats on voluntarily resignation from the Congress. “The last assembly election was held in 2014. Nobody wanted a mid-term poll so soon,” said a state party leader. A compromise was reached under which Tuki made way for Khandu.
On Saturday, Khandu, a Hindu college alumnus, thanked Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Vice President Rahul Gandhi for helping the MLAs to “reunite.”
“The decision to have a new CLP leader obviously has the blessings of both Soniaji and Rahulji. At the Saturday morning meeting, all the MLAs felt the need to be under one roof once again. Then, my name was recommended,” he told this correspondent. The initial demand of Pul and the rebel MLAs was removal of Tuki from the Chief Minister’s post which the Congress national leadership didn’t agree to, thus leading to the crisis.
Interestingly, Saturday’s meeting to elect the new CLP leader was attended by Pul too — as a Congressman. In the entire saga of intense battle for power, Pul turns out to be the biggest loser. “From the Chief Minister and the founder of the only regional party of Arunachal, Pul has now been reduced to a disgruntled Congress MLA. He has only one option now, either keep quiet or resign from his seat to relaunch PPA,” said an MLA from the Tuki camp.
Khandu, however, said, “Since both Tuki and Pul have remained chief ministers, it would not be proper to include them in my government as ministers. But both of them will be advisers of the new government for sure.”