The battle has just begun
First Uttarakhand and now Arunachal Pradesh. The Supreme Court has foiled the NDA Government’s blatant attempt to subvert the Constitution and topple governments of other parties by suborning their legislators. Money played a big role both at Itanagar and Dehra Dun.
Arunachal’s current Chief Minister, Congressman-turned-rebel Kalikho Pul, is in a defiant mood. He has said he will move a Review Petition before the apex court. So, the last has not been heard of the Arunachal drama, but what has already happened has jolted the BJP. History was made in post-Independence India when an “Assembly session’’ was held, not in the Assembly building but in a hotel because the House had been locked under the Speaker’s order.
This fraud on the Constitution was allowed by the Governor of Arunachal, J. P. Rajkhowa, who had taken office by swearing that he “will to the best of my ability preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.” Now it is to be seen whether, in view of his scathing criticism by the Supreme Court on the role he had played in this sordid drama, Rajkhowa resigns on his own, or is sacked by the President, or nothing happens and he continues in office.
What the BJP does not realise is that once the toppling of an elected government through horse-trading is accepted as a normal practice, it will make a mockery of the Constitution and reduce democracy to a farce. Kalikho Pul has asserted that the courts do not run a State Government; that it is run by “numbers”. True enough. But once the “numbers” have been decided by the people through an election, how justified is it to alter the people’s verdict by suborning the loyalty of their elected representatives? Ousted Chief Minister Nabam Tuki is, however, not yet out of the woods. He will have to face a fresh floor test if he is sworn in again.
Having said this it is also to be noted that the crisis in both Arunachal and Uttarakhand was precipitated by the refusal of the Congress High Command to give an audience to the disgruntled party legislators, hear their grievances and address them before the crisis boiled over. The rebel legislators complained in both the States that they had failed to meet Sonia and Rahul Gandhi despite repeated attempts.
At a time when the Congress is on the decline all over the country, such a dismissive attitude will only complicate matters as disgruntled legislators have now an alternative before them – joining the BJP. The same thing happened in Assam where the State Congress leaders failed to deal with the brewing crisis in the party and allowed the dissident-in-chief Himanta Biswa Sarma to win over more MLAs to his side and then desert the party and migrate to the BJP shortly before the State Assembly elections. No attempt was made to isolate Sarma within the party. Rather, he was allowed to become the focal point of all party legislators who were nurturing grievances against the then Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi.
As far as Arunachal is concerned, it is a strategically located border State. China calls it “Southern Tibet” and claims the whole of it. The western end of Arunachal touches Bhutan, while in the north it has a 1126 km long border with China. Its eastern end abuts on Myanmar. It has 26 major tribes and over a hundred sub-tribes. To counter Chinese propaganda beamed to Arunachal, the All India Radio has set up as many as twenty relay stations in the State. To destabilise an elected government in such a sensitive State for narrow partisan gains only shows the myopic vision of those that did it.
Irrespective of what ultimately happens in the Supreme Court, the Congress in Arunachal Pradesh is girding up its loins for a political battle with the BJP-supported coalition. It has just constituted an inquiry committee to unearth facts about the allegation of huge fund collection for different schemes in the State capital complex and payment of Rs. 1,600 crores without observing the rules of expenditure.
The same toppling game was sought to be played in Manipur when 25 Congress MLAs rebelled against Chief Minister O. Ibobi Singh recently. But having burnt its finger twice in Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, the High Command acted quickly in Manipur. The dissidents were given a hearing. Action followed soon. T. N. Haokip replaced Gaigkhangam Gangmei as PCC chief. A Cabinet reshuffle was conducted. The rebels were happy and reconciled to the chief minister. “Operation Topple” failed.
The Congress organisation in the North-East has become anaemic. It is not that the BJP has a wide political and ideological following among the people here. not even in Assam. It is the failure of the Congress to revitalise its organisation and throw up a crop of new leaders that is the cause of its present moribund condition. The BJP is taking advantage of it.
(The views are strictly personal.)