BARELY two months after the Supreme Court restored it to power, the Congress on Friday lost its government in Arunachal Pradesh when its entire Legislature Party (CLP) barring former Chief Minister Nabam Tuki joined the People’s Party of Arunachal (PPA) which, in turn, will become part of the BJP-led North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA).
“We have all joined the PPA today (Friday) morning in the larger interest of Arunachal Pradesh. Since the PPA is already part of NEDA, we think that is the best option to work for the larger interest and overall development of the state,” Arunachal Pradesh deputy chief minister Chowna Mein told The Indian Express over the telephone from Itanagar.
“Our government now is a PPA government and Pema Khandu, who led us into joining the PPA this morning, continues to be Chief Minister,” Chowna Mein added. “Nabam Tuki has not joined the PPA. Only he can say why he did not,” Chowna Mein said. Tuki was not available for his comments.
While the Congress had a strength of 44 in the 60-member state assembly following the demise of former chief minister Kaliko Pul, the PPA strength in the Assembly stands at 43 because another former chief minister Nabam Tuki chose to remain with the Congress.
Khandu, who replaced Nabam Tuki following a dissident campaign in July, paraded 42 MLAs before Assembly Speaker Tenzing Norbu Thongdok, who accepted their joining the PPA. The merger would be notified in the Assembly bulletin, formalising the political development that leaves Congress with governments only in Manipur, Meghalaya and Mizoram in the northeast.
On July 16, Khandu became Chief Minister after months of political turmoil that unseated Tuki, who himself was reinstated as chief minister by the apex court only two days before.
In a House of 60, the Congress had 44 MLAs with one seat falling vacant after former chief minister Kalikho Pul committed suicide on August 9, while the BJP has 11 members including two Independents. The status of two Congress MLAs is yet to be decided as they put in their papers before the recent series of political developments that led to first Tuki government falling in January this year, imposition of President’s rule and installation of the late Kalikho Pul government on February 19 for a short span.
Pul was forced to resign on July 13 following a Supreme Court judgement. On March 3, Pul along with 29 Congress MLAs had joined the PPA.
PPA chairman Kameng Ringu termed the development as a “homecoming” after a short temporary self exile of the party. Asked for the reasons behind the development, Deputy Chief Minister Chowna Mein said that for a resource-starved state like Arunachal, it is necessary to be with a bigger party to get more development funds from the Centre.
Meanwhile, state BJP President Tapir Gao, while welcoming Khandu’s move, stated that the decision should have been taken earlier. “We are happy that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dream of a ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’ is becoming a reality now,” Gao said.
While blaming the Congress high command for the mess in the party, Gao said party president Sonia Gandhi and Vice President Rahul Gandhi should have taken care of this. Asked about the possibility of PPA MLAs merging with the BJP, Gao said the party’s door was open.
In Guwahati, NEDA convenor and senior Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma claimed that the BJP had no role to play. “The BJP had not engineered this. I came to know about it only at 9 am today when Pema Khandu called me up and said there would be some major developments later in the day. It was finally only around 4 pm that I was informed about the merger,” Sarma said this evening.
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Sarma also claimed that Arunachal Pradesh had “finally” become “Congress-mukt” with the CLP merging with the PPA. “Arunachal Pradesh has finally become Congress-mukt today. Moreover, the move has also strengthed the North East Democratic Alliance, and that, in turn, the NDA. After all the PPA has been a constituent of NEDA from the first day itself,” Sarma said.
The NEDA convenor ruled out any immediate plans for the merger of PPA with the BJP. Sarma claimed that Khandu, and for that matter most of the Arunachal Pradesh MLAs who had joined the PPA in February this year, did not want to go back to the Congress.
“It was only for legal compulsions arising out of the Supreme Court order of July 13 that they went back to the Congress. Khandu had particularly told me that day (July 13) that he did not want to return to the Congress but for the legal compulsions,” Sarma said. “The Arunachal Pradesh development is also a clear-cut message for Rahul Gandhi that his leadership was not acceptable to anybody in his own party. No independent-minded person can accept Rahul Gandhi as his or her leader,” he said.