Take a blank political map of India and conduct an amateur survey at any average middle class haunt, asking people to name the states in the Northeast. Chances are high that only a miniscule number of people would be able to correctly identify them. Trying to go beyond and asking either names of chief ministers of these states or the names of the principal tribe or community will illicit blank, amused looks. You will be considered obtuse if you happen to ask a question on recent developments in any of the Northeast states, political or otherwise.
To cut the long story short, most Indians from the “mainland” have scant knowledge and “interest” in the affairs of the seven sisters (eight now if one includes Sikkim about which too knowledge is scanty). But while ordinary people may be excused for their deficiency, those in professions where they are expected to be sufficiently equipped do not have the right to be ignorant. This is particularly true of political parties and leaders. The situation gets complicated if the deficit of political interest is about a sensitive border state.
Arunachal Pradesh is crucial because of its vantage position and since it borders China which stakes claim on the state’s territories, contesting India’s territorial right. Recent developments there are worrisome to say the least and the problem is compounded because China’s obvious interest in political turmoil in the state would enable them to build a case about the Indian government’s insincerity to apply the same parameters that apply to other states.
The story goes back to parliamentary elections in 2014 when state polls were held simultaneously in Arunachal Pradesh. The Congress swept to power by winning 42 out of the total of 60 Assembly seats and Nabam Tuki, chief minister since November 2011, was re-elected. The Bharatiya Janata Party came a distant second with 11 seats.
Political stability, however, suffered the first blow in December 2014 when Mr Tuki sacked an important minister, Kalikho Pul. Following which two MLAs allegedly were forced to resign and in August 2015, four ministers were dismissed. One senior minister quit in October.
Meanwhile, in June 2015, the BJP government changed the governor and the new appointee was J.P. Rajkhowa, a former chief secretary of Assam. The Congress leadership erred at this point by not taking note of developments and directing Mr Tuki to set his house in order. Congress dissidents gathered ground and sensing a sympathetic governor in saddle, pressed for a change. The Congress legislature party split vertically though in questionable circumstances.
Mr Rajkhowa stepped in to reschedule the state Assembly session from January 4 to December 16. When Speaker Nabam Rebia, backed by Mr Tuki, resisted the House session being held in the Assembly complex, the dissidents were joined by 11 BJP members and two independents to hold the session in a make-shift Assembly on December 16 and 17, 2015, during which a “no-confidence motion” was “adopted” with deputy speaker T. Norbu Thongdok, who is also a rebel Congressman, in the chair.
Thirty-three MLAs said yes to the “no-confidence motion” against chief minister Nabam Tuki. They also “elected” Mr Pul as Leader of the House, in addition to passing the impeachment motion against Mr Rebia.
The governor played a clear part in precipitating the constitutional crisis, beginning with advancing the Assembly session. All eventual developments took place with the Raj Bhavan playing a direct role which, it now appears, is being justified by Mr Rajkhowa in his report to the Centre. He has said that Central rule was necessary to prevent cow slaughter and ensure Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang) terrorists not getting a toehold.
The cat, however, was let out of the bag by a Bharatiya Janata Party leader earlier this week when he said there was no need to get incensed because traditionally the party in power at the Centre has also governed Arunachal Pradesh.
The tumultuous events since December 2015 leading to the imposition of President’s Rule have to be, therefore, seen in the context of the attempt of the BJP to cobble together a government that is politically aligned with it. The sordid episode, however, raises questions of political strategy and impropriety and the role of governor as the ruling party’s political agent.
Finally, because the matter is now before the Supreme Court, its verdict on the events will have great bearing on the conduct of the governor, Article 356 and the “impartiality” of the judiciary.
Two vital questions will remain for the Supreme Court to examine — first, if the reasons stated by Mr Rajkhowa merited President’s Rule and, the apex court will have to give its opinion on whether the governor should have provided Mr Tuki with a chance to prove his majority.
The developments in Arunachal Pradesh will rock Parliament as the Congress now gets more ammunition to bring proceedings in the Rajya Sabha to a grinding halt. The government will find it tough to secure parliamentary ratification for imposing President’s Rule. But, in all probability, Congress rebels backed by BJP legislators will soon visit the Raj Bhavan to stake claim to form a government and provide necessary supporting documents.
The governor will invite Mr Pul, who has already been elected leader of this group. He will be sworn-in as chief minister and be given ample time to demonstrate majority in the Assembly. This will be proved easily and it will be politics as usual thereafter, till the next episode!
This is not the first time that the region has witnessed such political turmoil. And it’s not the first time that the faith of the people in the Centre to allow them the right to decide their political future is being eroded. For short-term political benefit, the BJP has heaped on itself another political crisis. But more than the BJP, the issue has more serious implications for our democratic republic.