The Congress suffered a big blow at the hands of BJP in Arunachal Pradesh on Friday as 43 of its 44 MLAs, including Chief Minister Pema Khandu, joined the People’s Party of Arunachal (PPA), a part of the North-East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) led by BJP. After joining the NEDA, Khandu ruled out the possibility of his group joining the BJP.
Friday’s development happened abruptly although talks of a possible merger were going on between Khandu and the BJP. The latter had deputed Assam leader Hemant Biswa Sarma, Ram Madhav, and Amit Shah to negotiate the terms of Khandu joining the NEDA. It was agreed between Khandu and BJP negotiators that the former should join the PPA with his band of legislators to help BJP avoid any charge of having engineered the coup.
BJP leaders claim that the political message from Itanagar is that the judgement of the Supreme Court restoring power to the Congress did little to keep the MLAs in the party. They say that their defection casts a shadow on Rahul Gandhi’s capability to inspire the party’s regional leadership.
Barely two months ago, Khandu and his band of Congress rebels had deserted the PPA and returned to the Congress to form the government.
The 60-member State Assembly has an effective strength of 57. The status of two MLAs, Wanglam Sawin and Gabriel D Wangsu, is currently pending with the Speaker following contentions that they were wrongly disqualified. Another seat fell vacant when Pul allegedly committed suicide on August 9. After Friday’s development, there are currently 43 PPA MLAs, 11 BJP MLAs, two independents and one Congress, with Tuki being the lone Congress member.
On July 16, Khandu became the Chief Minister replacing Nabam Tuki, who in turn had replaced Kalikho Pul after the Supreme Court reinstated the Tuki government. During his four-and-a-half month tenure, Pul and other MLAs had formed the PPA and joined the NEDA.
The Congress described the new dispensation as an “illegitimate child of the BJP” and blamed Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah for the coup. “The mandate of the people of Arunachal Pradesh, who voted the Congress to power, has been robbed in broad daylight,” Congress spokesman and media cell chief Randeep Surjewala told reporters in New Delhi.
However, State BJP chief Tapir Gao welcomed the decision and said the decision to join the BJP at a later stage lies with Khandu. “The ball is in his court,” Gao said. He congratulated Khandu “for joining the Congress-mukt Arunachal”.
In Itanagar, Khandu justified the coup. He pointed out that the State lacked resources and hence the state government needed to have a better rapport with the central government.“I have already released Rs 1,200 crore and we have more deficit,” Khandu added
Government spokesperson Pasang D. Sona said the Centre and the State “need to be in tandem”, and that the decision was fuelled by regional aspirations of the people. “We felt that a regional identity is needed right now to fulfil the aspirations of the people,” he added. Deputy Chief Minister Chowna Mein echoed Sona, saying the move was initiated to “build better relations with the Centre.”