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BJP's birthday gift to Modi: how Arunachal Cong MLAs were forced to rebel

Akash Bisht | Updated on: 17 September 2016, 22:59 IST

Bharatiya Janata Party strategists working in the Northeast gave a perfect birthday gift to Prime Minister Narendra Modi just a day before he turned 66.

On Friday, 43 of the 44 Congress MLAs in Arunachal Pradesh switched sides and joined the Peoples' Party of Arunachal (PPA), an ally of the BJP, leaving only former Chief Minister Nabam Tuki in the Congress fold.

Modi must have been mighty pleased with his strategists, who literally blackmailed the Congress legislators to switch sides.

CM Khandu's defence

While speaking to the media, the tone and tenor of Chief Minister Pema Khandu suggested that he and other legislators were not left with any choice. Justifying the move, Khandu said a resource-stressed state like Arunachal could not afford to have political differences with the Centre if it needed funds for developmental activities.

It seemed that the mounting deficit and reduced Central government funds forced Khandu and other Congress legislators to take the step.

Khandu cited the cumulative deficit, worth Rs 3,700 crore, as the compelling reason for making the switch and said: "Keeping in view how to bring development to the state keeping the regional flavour and sentiments of the people and their aspirations, we have decided to join the PPA... The present circumstances do not give us any space to overcome the burden of finances we had inherited, for which a decision in the larger interest of the state was compelling," he said.

Calling the decision "conscious and unanimous", Khandu said the political developments in the state were beginning to hurt the interests of the people, and hoped that being an ally of the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), a BJP initiative of which PPA is a part, will expedite the transfer of funds to Arunachal.

BJP's arm-twisting tactics

Khandu's statements suggest that in its quest for a Congress-free Northeast, the BJP is using this carefully-crafted strategy to destabilise democratically-elected governments.

Last January, former Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi had raised similar concerns, and said: "The Central government drastically reduced funds for Central schemes, and also changed the funding pattern from 90:10, where 90% was given by the Centre, to 50:50."

Even Tuki had raised similar concerns earlier, and said that apart from the BJP's intervention in the state, there was also a fund squeeze.

Except for Sikkim, which boasts of a flourishing tourism industry, the other states in the region depend on the Centre for financial support. And if the government in Delhi pursues vindictive politics, these states are bound to buckle under pressure.

Engineered rebellions?

Ever since the BJP upped the ante to take over the Congress-ruled states in the region, there has been a spike in rebellions within Congress ranks, making its central leadership concerned. Even the formation of NEDA has played a significant role in creating a rift in Congress governments, and the statements of NEDA convener Himanta Biswa Sarma should equally be unnerving for the Congress.

Sarma's comments after the rebellion suggested that the BJP is planning to employ similar strategies in other states, arm-twisting legislators to give in to the vindictive brand of cooperative federalism.

Sarma said: "With this development, stability should come to Arunachal Pradesh, and bring the entire Northeast under the development umbrella of the NDA government."

He went on to claim how the political situation in the region was changing.

Warning the respective state governments, the health and education minister of Assam asserted: "In Manipur, every MLA is unhappy with Ibobi Singh. In Meghalaya, the Congress is losing its grip and NEDA is very strong. In Tripura, too, there is political disconnect and re-alignment. There is huge resentment and the tribal population is unhappy with the Left Front."

Angry Congress lashes out

Meanwhile, the Congress called the PPA an illegitimate child of the BJP's 'diabolical' design to decimate democracy, and blamed the Prime Minister and BJP president Amit Shah for being the "architects of extinguishing and murdering" democracy and the Constitution.

In a statement, party spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said: "Having been thwarted on two previous occasions by the Supreme Court of India, they began by engineering mass defections - inducements, threats, Governor's rule and fabrication of communal fault lines to subvert the people's mandate."

The Congress said despite having "sacrificed the former Chief Minister (the late Kalikho Pul) and former Governor (JP Rajkhowa) who enjoyed their patronage, the Modi government has annihilated the very soul of constitutional supremacy".

Historical precedent

However, this is not the first time that the Congress is facing a rebellion of this sort, wherein legislators have en masse deserted the party to join the BJP.

Back in 1996, much of the state's economy was dependent on timber, and the Supreme Court enforced a blanket ban, which pushed the state towards a major financial crisis.

The then-Congress Chief Minister Gegong Apang rebelled against Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao, and floated a new party, with the support of 54 legislators. The Apang-led outfit extended support to the National Democratic Alliance, and finally merged with the BJP in 2003. A year later, Apang was back in the Congress.

But, the BJP is unlikely to give up its ambition of conquering the Northeast. And if it continues to fuel dissidence in non-BJP ruled states, Prime Minister Modi is likely to receive similar gifts in the near future. It wouldn't be a stretch to say he would gleefully accept them.

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

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First published: 17 September 2016, 22:59 IST