The current political imbroglio in Arunachal Pradesh has raised serious questions on governing structures. The controversy has arisen out of Governor Jyoti Prasad Rajkhowa having advanced the winter session of the state assembly by about a month and put a motion – moved by the opposition – that sought the removal of Speaker Nabam Rebia as the first item of the agenda. This is has raised the political temperature in the state and triggered off a debate over the powers enjoyed by a governor.
While Speaker Rebia refused to allow the assembly session be held from December 16, the opposition and rebel Congress legislators, together with Deputy Speaker TN Thongdok (“authorized” by the governor to hold the session “because the Speaker was facing an impeachment motion) went ahead and held the “session.” The “session” – first day in a community hall and the next day in a hotel conference room – not only impeached the Speaker but also “passed” a no-confidence motion against Chief Minister Nabam Tuki. That was followed by the “election”of former finance minister Kalikho Pul as “leader” of the House.
Things were moving so fast that had Speaker not approached the Gauhati High Court (which took it up as an unlisted matter as permitted by the Chief Justice), Kalikho Pul would have been sworn in as chief minister, leading to an unprecedented situation where the state would have had two chief ministers simultaneously. And there was another obstacle: blockades put up by the Congress party workers in the capital town to prevent Pul from approaching Raj Bhavan with his list of 34 MLAs to stake claim.
The Gauhati High Court’s stay on the governor’s orders till February 1, 2016 clearly described events in Arunachal Pradesh as “disturbing developments” arising out a tussle for power by opposing groups. It also put on record that the governor, who, as Constitutional head, was expected to discharge his duty with dispassion and within the constitutional framework, had played a “non-neutral role” that undermined the democratic process.
The stay order has cooled down tempers – though temporarily – but there is every possibility of the situation boiling over again, as the BJP, which has been accused of trying to topple Nabam Tuki’s Congress, will now get more than six weeks to wean away more Congress legislators. Smaller states in the Northeast are known for such defection games, and Arunachal Pradesh has a history of an entire Congress government converting to the BJP. That had happened in 2003.