The great Arunachal flip-flop
Is the Northeast moving towards a “Congress-mukt Bharat”, a political wish expressed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his campaign? Of the eight northeastern states, four are led by either BJP or its allies. Congress rules Manipur, Meghalaya, and Mizoram, and the CPI(M) rules Tripura. The BJP hopes that “Congress-free Bharat” might not be unrealistic, given the fact that the “Seven Sisters” are known for defection and are almost entirely dependent on the Union government for funds.
The latest state to move out of the Congress fold was the tiny Arunachal Pradesh. Has anyone ever heard of a party coming to power with no legislator in its kitty? This is what happened to the Peoples Party of Arunachal last week when its fortunes turned for the better within hours. It was Haryana which “gifted” Indian politics a name for turncoats. Bhajan Lal, who was heading a Janata Party government in Haryana, defected with all the party legislators to the Congress after Indira Gandhi came back to power in 1980. The Arunachal situation is similar but the difference is that the Congress benefitted then and the BJP has benefitted now.
The PPA did not have a single member in the Assembly until Friday morning. “(But) thanks to Pema Khandu and his team’s decision to join the PPA, by Friday afternoon the government was ours,” Party chairman Kamen Ringu has admitted. Khandu, along with 43 Congress legislators, defected to the People’s Party of Arunachal (PPA) on September 16 with the Congress losing power yet again two months after the Supreme Court paved the way for its return. Also, the PPA is back in power after a two-month gap – the third time in 39 years since the formation of the party.
Late Chief Minister Kalikho Pul, a Congress minister in the Nabam Tuki Cabinet, had joined the same PPA in February 2016 along with 24 Congress MLAs. Arunachal has had three CMs in three days. Pul paved the way for Nabam Tuki after the apex court's verdict on July 14, but Tuki resigned to install Pema Khandu on July 16.
The BJP comes into the picture because the PPA is part of the newly formed North East Democratic Alliance, an anti-Congress front of regional parties created by the BJP two months ago. The BJP has shrewdly allowed Khandu and his MLAs to join the PPA and not the BJP.
When the Supreme Court restored the Congress government on July 16, the Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi tweeted, "Thank you Supreme Court for explaining to the Prime Minister what democracy is." Senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal who had argued the case in the apex court said, "It is a great victory, a message for the government and the Governor. If the Centre does some mischief with the government, the Supreme Court says we are here to restore the Constitution."
But the Congress missed the real message. This could not have come at a worse time when the Congress is making efforts to improve its chances in UP, Punjab, and other poll-bound states but the Congress leadership has failed to keep the Congress-ruled states intact.
After the birds have flown now it claims that the MLAs were kidnapped and the whole thing was engineered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP chief Amit Shah. The Congress also claims that they were lured by inducements and fabrication of communal fault lines. The Congress is yet again facing an existential crisis in Arunachal Pradesh with the former Chief Minister Nabam Tuki now the lone Congress legislator in the 60-member Assembly. The party cannot invoke the anti-defection law as almost all party legislators have switched over.
Politically it is advantage BJP. Although it may not join the government, for all practical purposes it will have the BJP stamp. After all the whole operation was designed and executed by the BJP leader Hemanta Biswa Sarma who had been the architect of the Assam victory. The BJP has been using him since then for digging its heel in the northeast. Even the formation of NEDA has played a significant role in creating a rift in Congress governments. Pema Khandu realised that he had no support from the Centre. Except for Sikkim, which boasts of a flourishing tourism industry, the other states in the region depend on the Centre for financial support.
As a resource crunch state, Arunachal had to plug the massive leakages. So to save his skin Khandu had decided to change parties lock stock and barrel. There is now an increasing concern over the fate of the Congress governments in Manipur, Meghalaya, and Mizoram. Sarma’s job was to execute Shah's blueprint for a larger coalition of non-Congress forces in the Northeast through NEDA. Arunachal was the first step.
Arunachal has played out one more time the sad story of “aya rams and gaya rams”. The curse of the region is that the states are quite fragile politically. Although back in power, even the PPP chairman has no illusion that the government may not last for long. Arunachal developments have made one wonder the democracy in the country is working as envisaged by the framers of the Constitution. IPA
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)