Will Pema Khandu bring stability to the wobbly history of Arunachal Pradesh?

As a full-fledged state, Arunachal Pradesh is less than 50 years old, but what a tumultuous journey it has been for the erstwhile North-East Frontier Agency as it was known earlier. It has already seen 11 terms of chief ministers and has slipped into President's Rule twice, the latest stint being from 27 January to 19 February, 2016.

Arunchal Pradesh Chief Minister-designate Pema Khandu. Image from Khandu's Facebook profile

Arunchal Pradesh Chief Minister-designate Pema Khandu. Image from Khandu's Facebook profile

Baptised as Arunachal Pradesh by then prime minister Indira Gandhi in 1972, the union territory's legislature came into existence in 1975 with Prem Khandu Thungan assuming charge as the first chief minister. In fact, Arunachal Pradesh was conferred complete statehood on 20 February, 1987 when Rajiv Gandhi was prime minister.

Political upheaval has ironically become the only constant in the governance history of Arunachal Pradesh. The state's long-term chief minister Gegong Apang, who was in office from 18 January 1980 to 19 January 1999 at a stretch, perhaps is the best example of it. Having an unchallenged run for nearly two decades as a chief minister, Apang was quick to form the Arunachal Congress in September 1996, when he revolted against former prime minister PV Narsimha Rao. Arunachal Congress was formed as a breakaway unit of the Congress, which snatched 54 out of 60 MLAs of the Legislative Assembly to form the state government.

But there was a split in the split group as well with the then Arunachal Congress Lok Sabha MP Wangcha Rajkumar opposing the appointment of Omak Apang as a junior minister in the second BJP government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1998. Because of the revolt, Rajkumar was thrown out of the party along with five ministers in the state government. One of them was Mukut Mithi. Mithi then formed a breakaway unit called the Arunachal Congress (Mithi) and became the chief minister with 40 MLAs supporting him. However, the party merged with the Congress ahead of the 1999 Assembly polls. Following the victory in the state polls, Mithi became the chief minister under the Congress government and remained in power until August 2003.

However, Apang returned to power again by usurping Mithi after the Arunachal Congress and several other parties came together under the umbrella of United Democratic Front. Soon after, the front merged with the BJP allowing the national party to open its account in the North East. This honeymoon with the BJP however, did not last long after the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance wrested power from the NDA. Sniffing the change in political tide, Apang was quick to return to the Congress but had to finally give up his chief ministership with MLAs demanding his resignation and seeking Dorjee Khandu in his place. Being the opportunist he is, it is not surprising that Apang quit the Congress in February 2014 to join the BJP when the Narendra Modi wave was at its peak ahead of the Lok Sabha elections that year.

More than the governance itself, staying in power is a greater challenge for a chief minister in Arunachal Pradesh as revolts have become a common phenomenon in the political grammar of the state. Given the history of the state, the ouster of chief minister Nabam Tuki from power, in whatever form it may be, was not at all surprising. That Governor Jyoti Prasad Rajkhowa, who despite holding a Constitutional post, displayed such partisanship is another matter of course.

The no-nonsense verdict of the Supreme Court on Wednesday had put everything in place, including the restoration of the Tuki-led Congress government, but the phase of uncertainty is far from over. It is no wonder that Congress chose to keep its celebrations low key as it knew the real test lay ahead on the floor of the House when the strength of the government would get tested.

Fearing another disaster, the Congress leadership convinced Tuki to resign as chief minister and allow a more acceptable Pema Khandu to take over as the leader of the Congress Legislature Party (CLP).

"Pema Khandu has the support of all 45 reunited Congress MLAs. To appoint him as the CLP leader was a collective decision," Tuki told Firstpost from Itanagar.

Even as the outgoing chief minister on Saturday claimed that there would be no floor test as a letter of support from all 45 Congress MLAs and two Independent legislators to Pema Khandu have been submitted to in-charge Governor Tathagata Roy, it is for the Raj Bhavan to decide as to how it is going to implement the Supreme Court verdict.

The apex court in its order on Arunachal Pradesh governance crisis had clearly said, "The Sarkaria Commission recommended that if a government loses its majority, it should be given a chance to prove whether it has a majority or not on the floor of the House."

Technically, it should hold the same for Pema as well.

With rogue MLA and former chief minister Kalikho Pul including other rebel legislators returning to the Congress fold for now, there is no immediate threat to the chief minister-designate. However, given the fluid nature of politics in the state, it would require real guts to brim with confidence over longevity of a government.

As this copy was being written, there was no information on the date and time of the swearing-in. Although Governor Roy had fixed Saturday as the floor test day for Tuki, the equation changed after Pema was elected as the Congress Legislature Party leader.

Congress leader and former state minister Bamang Felix said that the legislators braved inclement weather to be in Itanagar to participate in the floor test that was earlier scheduled for Saturday.

"There is monsoon in Arunachal Pradesh and at many places roads are blocked. Some MLAs even had to risk their lives and walk for hours together to reach Itanagar today," the Nyapin MLA said. "Because of them we had 100 percent attendance in the CLP meeting this morning."

When asked if Congress is facing an uncertain future in the state, the Nyapin legislator replied in the negative.

"There are tussles everywhere. It is like a small family issue. Tuki is a large-hearted man and a seasoned politician. He resigned for the larger interest of the state and welfare of the people and the party," Felix told Firstpost from Itanagar.

Welcoming the elevation of Pema as the CLP leader, he said, "Pema Khandu would work for the unification of the party. He would work for the betterment of the state. He would follow the footsteps of his father Dorjee Khandu."

Dorjee Khandu was the chief minister of the state when he passed away on 20 May, 2011 in a helicopter crash near Tawang.

Bolstered by the landmark judgment of the Supreme Court, the Congress leader made it clear that there is no fear from Governor Rajkhowa after he joins back as he is now undergoing treatment at a Guwahati hospital.

What actually holds water is at the end when Felix said, "Pema won't make any blunder."

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Updated Date: Jul 17, 2016 12:08:17 IST

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