As expected, the Supreme Court’s verdict of turning the clock back in Arunachal has only muddied the already murky politics in the state. The Congress legislature party (CLP) has chosen Pema Khandu, son of former Chief Minister Dorgee Khandu, as its leader in place of Chief Minister Nabam Tuki, who resigned hours before the much-anticipated floor test was scheduled to prove his majority in the Assembly.
The SC had recently turned back the clock in Arunachal by restoring the Nabam Tuki-led Congress government in the state and by quashing Governor Jyoti Prasad Rajkhowa's decision issued on December 2015 to advance the state Assembly session by a month.
Kalikho Pul, who was acting as the chief minister before the SC verdict, also rushed to the legislature party meeting and endorsed the decision of choosing Khandu as Tuki’s successor. Will this mark the end of all the political problems?
Apparently not, as there are signs that suggest the beginning of yet another bout of uncertainty, sooner rather than later. Judicial intervention can hardly be a substitute for morality and ethics in politics. And, the key players of Arunachal politics are guided by a compass whose coordinates are set by chicanery and greed of the highest order.
Take for the instance the reason behind the rebels joining the legislature party on Saturday. It would be naïve to believe that the CLP in Arunachal Pradesh would become a cohesive and solid group under the leadership of Pema Khandu. Their reasons for attending the legislature party meeting has more to do with deterrence of the anti-defection law than their love for the Congress.
Since the clock was turned back, rebel legislators chose discretion over valour and avoided any move that could be seen as adequate grounds for disqualification by the Speaker Nebam Rebia. They would have been exposed to action under the anti-defection act should they have decided to stay away from the meeting. Given the fact that the rebels fall far short of the required figure of two-third of the CLP strength, they have chosen to play along and buy time.
The BJP would be waiting in the wings to strike at a time when inner contradictions within the Congress would play out, at the time of the trial of strength. Governor JP Rajkhowa, who acted in the past as the Centre’s agent, is absent on account of illness.
Acting Governor Tathagata Roy may be more discreet this time, while playing his role. But his adherence to constitutional propriety would remain suspect. Though the inherent fragility of the Arunchal Pradesh government is very much evident, the Congress and the BJP would use offices of the speaker and the Governor respectively to pursue their political ends.
The script in Arunachal is so familiar that it hardly requires any imaginative thinking. Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat and many other states have gone through similar situations.
Remember the Jagdambika Pal versus Kalyan Singh case in Uttar Pradesh in 1998, when the SC asked the State Assembly to hold a composite floor test to elect a chief minister. More recently in Bihar, Jitan Ram Manjhi tried every trick of the trade to retain his chief ministership, with the tacit connivance of the Raj Bhavan, but was eventually outmaneuvered by Nitish Kumar.
The signals emanating from Itanagar are quite clear. The real battle will begin once Governor Roy appoints Pema Khandu as the chief minister and asks him to prove his majority on the floor of the House. Till then, the key political players would hold their horses and adhere to the rulebook, more in letter than in spirit.
This is the precise reason why the unanimous decision by the five-member bench by the SC is unlikely to the restore the moral and ethical compass to politics. In contrast to the SR Bommai judgment, which incorporated recommendations of the Sarkaria commission and made the imposition of the President’s rule justiciable, the Arunachal Pradesh verdict has left enough space for manipulation which may push the state to instability sooner rather than later.