Rebellion over, Pema Khandu is Cong's choice to be new Arunachal CM
Hours before the Congress government in Arunachal Pradesh was to undergo a floor test in the Assembly to prove its majority, Chief Minister Nabam Tuki tendered his resignation. This paved the way for 36-year-old Pema Khandu to take over as the CM.
Claiming the support of 45 Congress legislators and two independents, Khandu is set to become the youngest chief minister in the country.
Who is Pema Khandu?
Khandu is the son of former Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu, who was killed in a chopper crash in 2011. The young leader is a two-time legislator in the state Assembly. After his father's death, he was made the minister for water resources and tourism in the Jarbom Gamlin government.
After Tuki took over from Gamlin, Khandu was given charge of rural work, tourism and civil aviation.
Having been in Tuki's cabinet for almost four years, he resigned in 2015 and joined the Pul faction, which led to Governor JP Rajkhowa dismissing the Congress government in the state. Khandu, along with 30 Congress lawmakers, then joined the People's Party of Arunachal, which formed the government with support of 11 BJP MLAs.
Representing the Mukto (ST) constituency, Khandu is a graduate from Delhi's Hindu College, and was named secretary of the Arunachal Pradesh Congress Committee in 2005. He was also the the president of the district Congress committee in Tawang in 2010.
How Tuki was replaced with Khandu
The Congress Legislative Party met early on Saturday in Itanagar. After frantic behind-the-scenes negotiations, the breakaway faction led by Kalikho Pul decided to attend the meeting.
Arunachal East MP Ninong Ering worked tirelessly behind the scenes to reach out to the rebels, especially Khandu and Chowna Mein, who were offered the chief ministerial berth if they returned to the party fold.
At the meeting itself, hectic parleys led to the decision to replace Tuki, since it was his authoritarian style of functioning that the Pul faction had originally rebelled against in December 2015.
The CLP then decided to elect Khandu as its leader, and Tuki soon rushed to Acting Governor Tathagata Roy's residence to submit his resignation, which was later accepted.
With a letter of support from Congress legislators, including the rebels, Khandu met the Governor in the afternoon.
Clock stops ticking
These dramatic developments early in the day deferred the floor test that Tuki was supposed to undergo, after Supreme Court passed a landmark judgement directing the state to return to status quo ante (as things were) on 15 December 2015. Roy had asked Tuki to prove his majority on Saturday.
Tuki had sought more time from the Acting Governor, claiming the decision to have the floor test on Saturday was "hasty" and "completely unwarranted". Tuki cited the Sarkaria Commission's recommendations of holding a floor test within 30 days.
However, Roy had dismissed Tuki's plea and directed him to prove his strength on the floor of the Assembly on Saturday.
With the support of only 15 legislators, Tuki was set to lose the Chief Minister's post, forcing the Congress into a huddle to ensure a compromise was reached.
On Wednesday, Tuki had informed Catch about being in touch with all Congress rebels, and how efforts were on to make them return to the party fold.
Catch had earlier reported about the party's decision to look for a consensus candidate if talks with the rebels failed on the issue of extending support to Tuki.
Congress 2, BJP 0
After the apex court's verdict, this has come as yet another setback for the BJP, which was banking on Pul to continue to lead the rebel faction with the support of BJP legislators. A senior Congress leader, currently in Itanagar, said that even the BJP had made the offer to support Khandu's candidature, but the rebels didn't take the bait.
The Congress was able to checkmate the BJP by announcing Khandu as its CM choice, and sources say Rahul Gandhi played a key role in diffusing the crisis. Earlier, the rebels had accused the Gandhi scion of not listening to their pleas of replacing Tuki with a consensus candidate.
In the backdrop of the Supreme Court judgement, this is yet another victory for the Congress, which is likely to offer more resistance to the BJP, which has aggressively been pushing the idea of a Congress-free Northeast.
However, with rebellions brewing in Meghalaya and Manipur, among other states, the Arunachal crisis should be a lesson for the Congress, which had turned a blind eye towards this region, helping the BJP make inroads in what was once a Congress bastion.
Edited by Shreyas Sharma
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