Theatre of toppling regimes

Theatre of toppling regimes

Arunachal crisis: The state has seen ouster of yet another government amid murky developments

Theatre of toppling regimes
The sensitive state of Arunachal Pradesh on the India-China border has once again
witnessed political crisis, following a rebellion against the Congress chief minister leading to imposition of President’s Rule amid controversial decisions by the governor. But the crisis is on – the Supreme Court is hearing a batch of petitions, while some of the MLAs who crossed over have indicated they will come back to the Congress’ fold.

The political crisis in Arunachal Pradesh has caught the nation’s attention for about two months now, and more after a series of high-pitched political drama.From the Special Assembly session in community halls and banquet halls to sacrificing Mithun, a local bison, at the gates of Raj Bhawan in capital Itanagar, the crisis had all the ingredients of a sensational story.

A series of petitions before the Gauhati High Court and later the Supreme Court turned the issue into a complex legal battle, and the climax was perhaps the imposition of Presidents’ Rule. But observers believe the anti-climax is yet to arrive.

The roots of the two-month old conflict dates back to 2014 when the Congress won the Assembly polls convincingly under the leadership of Nabam Tuki, the former chief minister. So mighty was the Congress that they won 11 seats in the 60-member Assembly unopposed, and won a total of 42 seats. The BJP also made inroads, winning 11 seats, while two independents, too, managed to win. The regional party, the Peoples’ Party of Arunachal, managed to win five seats, only to later defect to the Congress, taking its tally to  47.

Right after government formation, Tuki was a bit unstable. To being with, he started sidelining some of the senior members of his Cabinet like Chowna Mein and Kalikho Pul. Discontentment against Tuki and his way of functioning had been brewing within the Congress in Arunachal Pradesh for a long time.

But the recent political impasse has risen from the decisions taken by Governor J P Rajkhowa, now being examined by a five-member Constitution bench of the Supreme Court.

It all began on December 9 when Rajkhowa, a former chief secretary of Assam, sent a one-page note to the Assembly under Article 175 (2) of the Constitution, asking for advancing the session to December 16 from January 14, 2016. In that note, the governor had also ordered that a resolution seeking the removal of Speaker Nabam Rebia “shall be the first item on the agenda of the House” and the Deputy Speaker “shall preside over the House from the first moment of (its) first sitting”.

The crisis began as the Congress said some of its MLAs had given a notice last month seeking removal of the Deputy Speaker, also of the Congress, accusing him of anti-party activities. Soon afterwards, MLAs from the BJP gave a notice for the removal of the Speaker. The governor apparently acted on the resolution given by the 11 BJP MLAs.

A meeting took place between the governor, chief minister and his Cabinet colleagues at Itanagar on December 14, where there was heated exchange of words, the video of which went viral on social media. The same evening, Speaker Nabam Rebia disqualified 14 Congress MLAs, but Deputy Speaker T N Thongdok overrode the decision.

The next day, December 15, the gates leading to the state Legislative Assembly were locked, as per the Speaker’s order. The rebel Congress camp held the Assembly session in a community hall and impeached Speaker Rebia. The next day, December 16, the rebel camp organised a Special Assembly session at the banquet hall of a hotel in Itanagar and passed a no-confidence motion against Tuki and `elected’ Pul as the chief minister. The governor approved the proceedings held on both these days. Pul would have been sworn in chief minister if not for the Gauhati High Court stay order.

It is true that the Congress has been a divided house in Arunachal Pradesh for over a year since Pul was dropped from the Cabinet. The rebel camp has 21 of the 47 Congress MLAs and they are backed by 11 BJP and two independent MLAs, while Tuki has only 26 Congress MLAs with him.

Tuki shot his own leg

Even as the dissidence was brewing, Tuki kept dropping ministers and parliamentary secretaries and appointed those who supported him. One of the major allegations against Tuki has been that he is corrupt and his family members are landing government tenders. The RTI replies from the state government to a few anti-corruption activists back these allegations. The activists then moved the Gauhati High Court against the Tuki government for corrupt practices and the court had ordered a CBI probe against the then chief minister, only to be stayed by the apex court a few months ago. Tuki has also been criticised for only favouring the Nyshi tribe, to which he belongs.

Pul has used the corruption allegations, worsening financial situation and clan favouritism to build up a rebellion against Tuki, but for over three moths, the Congress high command did not meet them and this perhaps allowed an internal feud within the party turn into a huge political crisis.

The situation is not new to Arunachal politics. The first chief minister P K Thungon and the Gegong Apang who served as chief minister for the longest period, have earlier been arrested on graft charges. Also, whosoever becomes a chief minister tends to care more for his clan and community. This is more of a political compulsion as elections are won by thin margins of single-digit difference. This, political observers say, leaves little choice for the Arunachal Pradesh politician but to first remain loyal towards his tribe.

But this time around, what perhaps made the mess ugly is the involvement of the high office of the governor and a kind of behind the curtains play by the BJP, both at the Centre and the state. Many observers believe that Union Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju is a key player who tried to fish in troubled waters and they see him as the chief minister in the waiting as well.

While the Centre is sticking to its claims that it had no option but to recommend Presidents’ Rule after the governor reported breakdown of law and order, it seems like the apex court is taking its time to understand if the governor’s moves were politically-motivated or not. The Congress high command has finally woken up, a damage control exercise has begun and attempts are being made to broker a piecemeal deal.

Still, the fact remains that a divided Congress, a belligerent BJP, an over-active governor and an opportunistic Central government have turned Arunachal once again into a politically volatile state.
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