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Tribe trumps party: decoding the crisis in Arunachal Pradesh

Rajeev Bhattacharyya | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 1:51 IST

The crisis

  • The Congress government in Arunachal Pradesh is facing a rebellion
  • This is a repeat of what happened in 2003 when Gegong Apang defected to the BJP with his loyalists

The context

  • The instability in Arunachal stems from tribal rivalries. The state has 26 major tribes
  • CM Nabam Tuki is a Nyishi while Apang is from the Adi tribe

More in the story

  • What\'s different about this crisis?
  • What role has the Governor played in the present mess?
The game of toppling governments has come back to haunt Arunachal Pradesh. The ongoing crisis is almost a repeat of the events that took place more than a decade ago, when a Congress regime was replaced by the BJP.

Instability driven by tribal rivalries

In 2003, Gegong Apang revolted against chief minister Mukut Mithi of the Congress and joined the BJP with many MLAs to form a government. A few years later he rejoined the Congress with his loyalists.

The hill state has 26 major tribes and around a hundred sub-tribes. Like some other states in the Northeast, tribal loyalties are stronger than party loyalties.

Read- Arunachal govt in trouble: 22 Cong MLAs align with BJP, party blames Centre

After every Assembly election, the leader of the ruling party faces a Herculean task of accommodating representatives from all the tribes.

Apang belongs to the Adi tribe and his long reign of over two decades created resentment among some bigger tribes like the Nyishi. The current CM Nabam Tuki belongs to the Nyishi tribe, the largest in the state. But there have been allegations that he has ignored communities from eastern districts like Anjaw and Lohit.

Efforts to oust Tuki had begun well before last year's Assembly elections. But the party high command threw its weight behind him.

The opposition grew and the BJP began supporting the dissidents as it saw an opportunity to form a government in the state.

Governor's role

The difference this time is the active role played by the Governor, Jyoti Prasad Rajkhowa, in hastening the downfall of the Congress government and the subsequent intervention by the Gauhati High Court.

The Governor has been on a collision course with the state government soon after he was appointed last June. He had accused the government of corruption and commented on the law and order situation in Itanagar.

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Matters worsened when it became known that Rajkhowa had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi making a case for upgradation of the airport at Lilabari in Assam. This went against the government's demand for a new greenfield project near the state capital Itanagar.

Arunachal Pradesh is among the few states in the country that does not have an airport in its capital.

The latest developments

The Gauhati High Court issued a stay order on Thursday on the resolutions adopted by the dissident Congress MLAs along with the BJP and independent legislators.

The Congress had 47 seats out of a total of 60 in the state Assembly before 14 legislators were disqualified for their dissidence.

But last Wednesday, 20 MLAs from the Congress joined hands with 11 from the BJP and 2 independent legislators to "impeach" speaker Nabam Rebia at a venue near the Assembly at Naharlagun.

The dissident MLAs were of the opinion that the Speaker had defied the Governor's directive to hold the Assembly session from 16 December. The Governor's decision meant advancing the session from it's scheduled date of 14-18 January.

The 33 MLAs met again on the second day with Tenzing Norbu Tongdhok as the Speaker to pass a no-confidence motion against CM Tuki and elected Kalikho Pul as their leader.

Also read: If #ArunachalCrisis is a T20 match, the umpire just ruined it for the BJP

Pul was a Cabinet minister before being dropped for anti-party activities. He was among the 14 legislators disqualified by the Speaker last Monday.

Incidentally, the first agenda on the Governor's list was the impeachment motion against the Speaker that was moved by 11 Congress MLAs last month.

The Congress government has accused the Governor of playing a partisan role since he ignored another impeachment motion by 16 loyal MLAs of chief minister Nabam Tuki against the former deputy speaker Thongdok.

It was clear that the matter was heading for a constitutional crisis.

Former Union minister Kapil Sibal, who is also an eminent lawyer in the Supreme Court, flew down to Guwahati on Thursday to argue on the writ petition filed by Speaker Nabam Rebia. The petitioner argued that the Governor's decision to reschedule the Assembly was in violation of Articles 174 and 175 of the Constitution. The Court has fixed 1 February as the next date of hearing.

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First published: 18 December 2015, 9:23 IST
Rajeev Bhattacharyya

Rajeev is a senior journalist in Guwahati and author of 'Rendezvous With Rebels: Journey to Meet India's Most Wanted Men'.