The Bharatiya Janata Party officially joined the government in Arunachal Pradesh on Friday with the induction of senior leader and MLA Tamiyo Taga in the cabinet. The party had earlier extended outside support to the ruling People’s Party of Arunachal.
The BJP is now in power in 14 states in India, six of those in alliance with regional parties. And its tally of states in the North East has risen to three – it ended the Congress’ 15-year rule in Assam in Assembly elections earlier this year and is a part of the coalition headed by the Naga People’s Front in Nagaland. It hopes to make it four with Manipur scheduled to go to polls early next year.
Both the People’s Party of Arunachal and the Naga People's Front are part of the North East Democratic Alliance floated by the BJP.
Friday’s development comes after months of political turmoil in Arunachal Pradesh that started with the fall of the Congress government in December 2015 after 14 party MLAs rebelled against Chief Minister Nabam Tuki, leading to the imposition of President’s Rule in the state. In February 2016, Central rule was lifted and Kalikho Pul, who had led the rebellion, formed the government with other Congress rebels, with outside support from the BJP.
But the power equations changed again when the Supreme Court in July restored the Nabam Tuki government. Three days later, the Congress leadership asked Tuki to step down and appointed Pema Khandu as chief minister to enable the return of the rebels.
In August, Pul was found dead in the chief minister’s home that he had not yet vacated, having allegedly committed suicide.
The Congress government, though, proved short-lived. In September, Khandu led 43 of the 44 party MLAs and joined the People’s Party of Arunachal, whose government he now heads.
In a House of 60, the People’s Party of Arunachal now has 44 MLAs and the BJP 11 while the Congress has just one.
The inclusion of Taga has led to a controversy with speculation doing that rounds that Khandu dropped Industry and Handicraft Minister Tapang Taloh to accommodate the BJP leader. The Arunachal Times, quoting unidentified government officials, reported that Taloh had submitted his resignation to the chief minister on Thursday. However, there was no official confirmation of this from the chief minister’s office.
The state BJP unit had felt the cabinet induction of Taga, a former leader of the Opposition, was long overdue. Taga’s name had started doing the rounds even during the days of the Kalikho Pul government. And after getting over the setback of the Supreme Court verdict in July, the BJP had started hoping again when Khandu joined the People’s Party of Arunachal.
“After getting permission from party leaders at the Centre, I am being inducted today, but this should have actually been done six months ago,” Taga told the media on Friday after he was administered the oath of office and secrecy by Governor V Shanmuganathan in the presence of Khandu, Assembly Speaker TN Thongdok and BJP National General Secretary Ram Madhav.
On the alleged dropping of Taloh to make way for him, Taga said this had to be done but it did not mean there was a rift in the alliance.
Madhav said the BJP’s decision to join the government as a coalition partner was taken after consultations at the highest level and with the primary intention of bringing the benefits of various development programmes launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the people of the state.
Development of Arunachal Pradesh along with the rest of the country is the BJP leadership’s main goal, he stated. Attending a two-day state council meeting of the BJP in Itanagar on Friday, he urged party workers to work for the state’s progress.
He also assured the state government that the BJP would take on the role of a responsible coalition partner and the Centre would extend all its support to help realise the prime minister's development goals.
Madhav, who is in charge of the BJP’s affairs in the North East, said the main reason for rising corruption in Arunachal Pradesh was the expenditure candidates incur during elections, which leads to a cycle of corruption once the candidate gets elected. He said the only way to break this cycle was to abstain from this practice.
He also expressed hope that the Khandu government would bring about a transformation in governance with the support of the BJP.
Also speaking about Modi’s development goals, the BJP’s state unit president, Tapir Gao, asked party workers to strengthen the party right down to the booth level in villages.
Congress fights on
As the BJP makes strides in the North East, the Congress is fighting for survival. Yet to get over its dramatic loss of power in Arunachal Pradesh, the party’s state unit has sought the disqualification of the 43 MLAs who joined the People’s Party of Arunachal.
In a statement, the Arunachal Pradesh Congress Committee said it had filed a petition with the Assembly speaker on October 14 challenging the merger of the 43 Indian National Congress MLAs with the regional party under the anti-defection law.
“Although a notification was issued by the Legislative Assembly showing these MLAs as PPA MLAs, no separate order for merger has been issued,” the committee said in a statement. “However, these 43 INC members have voluntary joined PPA and are holding various positions and offices without any legal sanction, authority and competence.”
Seeking an expeditious decision, “preferably within three weeks”, the Congress asked the speaker to issue directions “that none of the council of ministers, parliamentary secretary and other holders of position shall act or function in their respective capacity”.