The en masse defection in Itanagar and the BJP’s subsequent comments reinforce party president Amit Shah’s “mission statement” that he would work to ensure that the sensitive border states of the Northeast, including Arunachal Pradesh, should be “Congress-mukt”.
It was towards this that he launched, last May, the political platform of the Northeast Democratic Alliance (NEDA). This was envisaged as a coalition of regional parties which could anchor with the Centre’s National Democratic Alliance without having to worry about the “saffron tint”.
The idea behind the platform was to bring more bargaining power — with New Delhi — to a collective of smaller political players, says its convenor Himanta Biswa Sarma. The development in Arunachal Pradesh, therefore, is being seen as a first big political success of Shah, Sarma and Ram Madhav who is in-charge of Arunachal Pradesh.
Madhav told The Indian Express, “We welcome the legislators to NEDA. The People’s Party of Arunachal (PPA) — to which the Congress MLAs have moved — is a member of NEDA which is an ally of NDA.” In fact, sources say, the party is looking at a similar forum in the south.
BJP leaders claim that the political message from Itanagar is that the judgement of the Supreme Court restoring power to the Congress did little to keep the MLAs in the party. They say that their defection casts a shadow on Rahul Gandhi’s capability to inspire the party’s regional leadership.
However, C P Joshi, Congress leader in charge of AP, sees it differently. “Look at the larger picture,” he told The Indian Express. “The BJP is telling Supreme Court we don’t care for your judgement. We are not surprised at all. The SC judgement compelled these legislators to return to the Congress but, for all practical purposes, they have always been in PPA.”
“Khandu had to leave Congress because he thought his state will not get funds,” said Joshi. “He was promised extra funds if he became part of NEDA. It was all about funds for development.” There were few in either political camp who were surprised today since the rebellion started as early as the winter of 2015.
On July 13, the BJP government got a setback when the Supreme Court restored the Nabam Tuki-led Congress government and quashed Governor Jyoti Prasad Rajkhowa’s decision to advance the state Assembly session by a month. That evening, however, the BJP top brass was well aware that the Congress cheer was short-lived given the dissension in its ranks.
More on Arunachal: Congress loses Arunachal two months after it got it, 43 of 44 MLAs defect
In fact, late that evening, Sarma had told The Indian Express, “Arunachal story is not over, yet.” Shah had deputed Sarma to keep a tab on Khandu’s government. Sources said that many rounds of debate took place in the BJP whether the Congress MLAs should join the BJP or PPA. The leadership is said to have taken the view that the Congress MLAs’ wish to quit the Congress is an “internal matter of the party” and the BJP should distance itself from their move. Alleging corruption by the Congress government, some BJP leaders argued that if the BJP is “seen encouraging defection,” it could hit the party too.
Sources said before and after becoming CM, Khandu was constantly in touch with BJP’s top leadership and met Shah as well. Ram Madhav and Sarma were also in touch with Khandu. Still, the Congress may find it hard to shrug off responsibility for losing the party and power.
Two weeks ago, Khandu flew down to New Delhi to meet the PM and Rahul Gandhi. He is said to have got an emotional reminder from the Congress high command — which was aware of his impending defection — about his father’s political legacy. Said a senior Congress leader: “Khandu keep telling us that he needs funds from the Centre. And that he has no choice but to quit.”