A mix of mistrust and growing communication gap between Pema Khandu and the Congress high command, and his eagerness to be part of the BJP’s North East Democratic Alliance, were said to be the reasons behind the CM’s exit from the party with all his MLAs barring his predecessor and rival Nabam Tuki.
“Ours was a homecoming of convenience forced by the Supreme Court verdict and it had to end,” a close associate of the CM told The Indian Express hours after the defection. While the Congress blamed Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah for the defection and called for fresh elections, the Khandu camp said the divorce was a natural extension of their rebellion last year. As many as 43 of 44 MLAs left the Congress and joined the People’s Party of Arunachal, which is a constituent of NEDA.
“We all had moved to a regional party. After the SC order, we came back to the Congress… It was a collective decision that once we had left the Congress, it becomes difficult and uncomfortable to be in that place again and looking after the aspirations of the people… a regional party works for the best interests of the state… that is the main reason,” a spokesperson for the group, Pasang Dorjee, said. Dorjee is also an MLA.
Sources close to Khandu said there was a trust deficit since he took over two months ago. The MLAs’ decision to elect Chowna Mein as Deputy CM and Tsering Norbu Thongdok as Speaker replacing Tuki loyalist Nabam Rebia, did not go down well with the Congress high command.
Then came the Cabinet reshuffle. There was pressure from the high command to accommodate Tuki loyalists — as the former CM had stepped aside on the orders of the central leadership — much to the chagrin of Khandu. Sources said Tuki had a greater role in selection of ministers. “Even in allocation of portfolios, nothing is decided unless the high command approves it. They were not aware of the ground realities… There was intervention even in appointment of parliament secretaries,” a leader close to Khandu said.
“There was a communication gap between the central leadership and state leadership. This was there since the dissidence started eight-nine months ago. There was no conviction on the part of the central leadership. I don’t think they were happy with Khandu’s leadership,” he said.
Khandu and those close to him also felt that being part of NEDA would be beneficial for the state. Khandu issued a statement reflecting this. “Arunachal Pradesh is a resource-deficient state and we are almost dependent on Government of India for all our needs. This is an undeniable fact,” he said.
Congress leaders like Arunachal East MP Ninong Ering said the friction between the high command and the CM was known, but Friday’s development was a bolt from the blue.
AICC general secretary in charge of north-east C P Joshi demanded fresh elections, saying the mandate in the last Assembly election was for the Congress. Addressing an emergency press conference, AICC communication department head Randeep Surjewala said, “People’s Party of Arunachal Pradesh is the illegitimate child of BJP’s diabolical design to decimate democracy.”
“The architects of extinguishing and murdering the very spirit of democracy and Constitution are Amit Shah and PM Modi, who rode to power on the solemn promise of ‘cooperative federalism’. They have abolished the Planning Commission. So the financial powers are at the whims and fancies of central government and that’s why they are misusing this power.”