The Congress accuses the BJP of engineering defections and trying to dismiss the Congress govt in the state. The BJP says the CM has lost a majority in the assembly and must go for a vote of confidence, reports Aditi Phadnis
Congress President Sonia Gandhi led a delegation of her party to the Rashtrapati Bhavan to complain about the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s moves to engineer defections and dismiss a Congress government led by Nabam Tuki in Arunachal Pradesh. Parliament was disrupted on this issue for two days. What exactly is going on in Arunachal Pradesh?
First, the facts. In 2011, Tuki became the chief minister of a state that shares border with China. The assembly has 60 MLAs: The Congress won 47 seats, the BJP 11 and independents two. The MP from the Arunachal West constituency is Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju.
During the Lok Sabha election campaign, Narendra Modi made some bitter statements against the Congress. As a result, the Arunachal Pradesh chief minister skipped the prime minister’s swearing-in ceremony in May. But apparently at the persuasion of Rijiju in the interests of the state, Tuki made up. Modi agreed to provide a domestic window for funding of infrastructure projects in lieu of externally-aided funding from agencies like the World Bank and Asian Development Bank that was previously blocked by China.
Arunachal Pradesh has no appreciable funds at its disposal and is entirely dependent on the Centre for funding. This much Tuki confessed himself. Everything seemed hunky-dory for a while.
Then Kalikho Pul happened. In April this year, amid allegations of financial mismanagement, Tuki’s health minister was not only dropped from the cabinet but also expelled from the Congress for six years. He claimed he hadn’t even been served a show cause notice and appealed to the high court, which stayed his expulsion.
Understandably, he wasn’t going to stay at home twiddling his thumbs. He got a set of Congress MLAs together -- supposedly 37, including six ministers -- to try and effect a change of leadership. While the state BJP said it was ready for mid-term elections for obvious reasons, the MLAs were not overly enamoured by this option. The BJP also claimed that the CM had lost majority in the house and must go for a test of confidence.
The Bommai judgment (S R Bommai vs Union of India, 1994) is clear: The Speaker has to conduct the house if there is a vote of confidence. But what if the Speaker himself has lost the support of the house? The governor, J P Rajkhowa, then not only advanced a session of the assembly due on January 14, 2016, to December 14, 2015, but also directed the house to consider a motion to replace the speaker. In that event, the deputy speaker has to preside.
This is entirely constitutional, even if not the done thing. From time to time, the governor can send messages to the house, and he is advised by the council of ministers to call a sitting of the house. However, he can also exercise his discretion, which the Constitution says, cannot be questioned or quizzed in a court of law.
Presumably, what the BJP was planning was to advance the sitting of the assembly, get the deputy speaker to preside and have the Tuki government lose the vote of confidence with the help of dissident MLAs.The Congress then hit back. The government locked the door of the assembly. How could the speaker be replaced if the assembly was locked up? Apparently, some sort of sitting of the assembly took place in a school building nearby. But exactly what happened there -- beyond the fact that 33 Congress MLAs, 11 BJP MLAs and two independents passed a resolution to “impeach” the speaker -- is not known. In the interim, the Gauhati high court has stayed all actions of the assembly till February 2, 2016, and passed strictures against the governor, who is planning to appeal against the order.
It gets more sordid. The dissident Congress group has come out in the open and declared Pul its chief ministerial contender. Former parliamentary secretary Markio Tado said at a press conference that once a new government under Pul was formed, the state’s financial problems would be solved in a year.
Meanwhile, an audio clip is doing the rounds, the voice apparently of Pul negotiating with an Assam-based business tycoon to get his financial help in “buying” Congress MLAs to join the BJP in forming the government in Arunachal Pradesh. In the same clip, someone, allegedly Pul, is heard making derogatory remarks against the Nyishi tribe to which Tuki belongs. Pul is from the Mishmi tribe.
All this is happening in a state which shares border with a sometimes-friendly neighbour. In November last year, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar spoke in the Lok Sabha about a reported incursion into Indian territory by China: “The issue should be considered serious when they (China) set up their camps in our territory. Incursions like the one reported in Arunachal Pradesh happen many a time in many sectors and are tackled within a day or couple of days... It is not correct to call them major intrusions. They are a breach of Line of Actual Control.”
Political instability in a state, where “non-major” intrusions from a neighbouring country take place routinely, is maybe not such a good idea...?