The two-month old political stalemate in Arunachal Pradesh that had arisen from some decisions taken by state governor JP Rajkhowa in the backdrop of assembly Speaker Nabam Rebia disqualifying 14 rebel legislators of the ruling Congress party on December 15, looks like heading for a close. This has become evident after the Supreme Court on Thursday referred to a Constitution bench a whole bunch of petitions arising out of some orders passed by the Gauhati High Court in the past one month.
Dissidence against chief minister Nabam Tuki has been there for nearly two years now; he first sensed rebellion and dropped three senior ministers and inducted three others in February 2014. Four months later he re-inducted a couple of them in order to cool down the tempers. But then the anti-Tuki camp had already gained strength with some of his colleagues revolting from within the cabinet, thus prompting him to drop four top ministers in October 2015.
By then the CLP in Arunachal Pradesh had clearly suffered a vertical split, with the rebels projecting veteran Kalikho Pul as their candidate to replace chief minister Tuki. By November 2015, the rebels served a notice seeking removal of Speaker Nabam Rebia, reportedly related to chief minister Tuki, when governor Rajkhowa –appointed in June 2015 – stepped in, and summoned a session of the state assembly to exclusively take up that notice.
While Speaker Rebia refused to let the assembly session take place, the rebels held their own session, backed by the governor’s orders, in a separate venue. They not only removed the Speaker but also “elected” Kalikho Pul as the new leader of the House. The 21 rebel Congress legislators also have the backing of 13 BJP and two Independent MLAs. However, since the effective House strength, according to Speaker Rebia is only 44 (after 14 were disqualified and two reportedly forced to resign), and since Tuki enjoys support of 23 of them, hence the government is “stable.”
But a series of petitions, most of them in the Gauhati High Court and a few in the Supreme Court, filed by both sides in the past two months have not only complicated the political situation in the frontier state, but also further deepened the crisis, bringing the government to a total standstill. Arunachal Pradesh being a state with numerous ethnic groups and tribes, the situation has also remained very sensitive, especially with certain groups attempting to interpret the on-going crisis on ethnic lines. Thursday’s decision of the Supreme Court to refer the petitions to a five-member Constitution bench comes, in one way, as a significant step; the decision of the Constitution bench will at least bring the stalemate to an end. Both politicians as well as the common people in Arunachal Pradesh are now looking eagerly ahead for the Constitution bench’s verdict. Both sides have meanwhile announced they were ready to accept the apex court’s verdict. For Tuki, it appears to be 50:50 chance of remaining in office. And, waiting in the wings is the BJP, ready to grab the first available opportunity to remove the Congress from power there.