Battle for the hills

38GhulamNabiAzad Holding turf: Congress leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mallikarjun Kharge, Kapil Sibal and Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Nabam Tuki after a meeting with President Pranab Mukherjee | Getty Images

Congress infighting makes it easy for the BJP in Arunachal Pradesh

J.P. Rajkhowa likes writing letters. Soon after taking charge as governor of Arunachal Pradesh in June last, he began writing regularly to Chief Minister Nabam Tuki, asking questions about the alleged financial bunglings in the government. In the past six months, more than 100 letters were exchanged between the two, even as the opposition to Tuki grew within his own party. A sizeable section of the state unit of the Congress started challenging Tuki's leadership.

Rajkhowa was also writing to the Centre—he sent as many as 15 reports on law and order to the Union home ministry. On December 17, the governor recommended President’s rule in the state. And, on Republic Day, shortly after the At Home he hosted at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, President Pranab Mukherjee put his signature on the presidential proclamation placing the state under Central rule.

The opposition cried blue murder, and the Congress moved the Supreme Court, questioning the legality of president’s rule. Rajkhowa, it alleged, had acted in a politically motivated manner, under instructions from Delhi. The BJP defended the governor, saying the government in the state was highly unpopular because of misgovernance and corruption and its own legislators rebelled against the chief minister.

Opposition to Tuki from within the Congress had taken a turn for the worse in November, when the chief minister sacked his main rival in the party, health minister Kalikho Pul. Along with other dissidents, Pul took the matter to the governor and the Congress high command. With 21 of its 47 legislators against the chief minister, the Congress legislature party faced a vertical split, and the rebelling legislators joined hands with the BJP.

These MLAs moved a no-confidence motion against the speaker, and to take it up, the governor called an assembly session on December 16. When the Congress did not allow the assembly building to be opened, the MLAs met in a wedding hall, with the deputy speaker presiding over the proceedings. The first item on the agenda was removal of the speaker. A subsequent assembly session, held in a hotel, saw the removal of Tuki and appointment of Pul as leader of the house.

A ROUND OF protests by Tuki’s supporters ensued, which included blockading of roads around the Raj Bhavan and the sacrifice of a mithun, which is considered a sacred animal in Arunachal, outside the gates. The sacrifice was mentioned in the governor's report recommending imposition of president’s rule. He is said to have referred to it as 'cow slaughter'.

The Congress alleges the process to put Arunachal under Central rule began with the appointment of Rajkhowa as governor. It accuses him of stoking rebellion in the Congress ranks and facilitating moves to topple the Tuki government. V. Narayanasamy, AICC general secretary in charge of the northeastern states, said Arunachal became the first case in the “sinister design” of the Narendra Modi government to saffronise the northeast. “If we look at the northeastern states, only RSS-backed, RSS-minded persons have been appointed as governors, be it Nagaland, Tripura, Meghalaya or Assam,” he said.

Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said the manner in which an elected government was sought to be destabilised and then all norms were flagrantly violated to recommend president’s rule was reflective of the character of the Modi government. “Disregard of Constitution, mockery of democracy and disdain for federalism have become the hallmarks of the government,” he said.

The Union government, however, justified the imposition of president’s rule in the state, saying it was left with no option. Kiren Rijiju, minister of state for home, said if the Centre had been in a hurry, it would have intervened when the assembly building was sealed or Raj Bhavan was seized with the “ugly slaughtering of precious animal mithun”. The government’s stand is that the president is satisfied with the cabinet’s recommendation.

THOUGH THE SUPREME Court ordered Rajkhowa to respond why he recommended president’s rule in the sensitive border state, it recalled the order a few days later, saying it made a “mistake” by not realising that governors had “complete immunity” and were not answerable to courts for acts done in their official capacity. “President’s rule in the state is a Central issue,” Constitutional expert Subhash Kashyap said. “If the court decides that the Presidential proclamation is not valid, the assembly will come back to life.”

What remains to be seen is how the Congress and the BJP deal with the fluid political dynamics in the state. The Congress dissidents, who have been camping in Delhi along with BJP MLAs, insist that they still owe allegiance to the Congress. They are willing to support a new leader who enjoys majority support. The BJP has been showing keen interest in Arunachal, in keeping with the RSS blueprint on expanding its influence in the northeast. Party president Amit Shah visited the state in April 2015. Though the party has taken advantage of the infighting in the Congress, how it would take it forward holds the key.

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