The BJP has said it will extend outside support to the government of Pema Khandu, who along with 42 MLAs defected from the Congress on 16 September and joined the People’s Party of Arunachal Pradesh. Referring to Khandu and his team as “natural allies”, the BJP has left the question hanging on whether they will join Khandu’s government in the days to come or woo the Congress defectors into the BJP.
“I and Himanta Biswa Sarma (Congress rebel who is now a minister in the BJP-led Assam government) were there and we welcomed him (Khandu) for coming back to the PPA. During Kalikho Pul’s (former Arunachal CM) term, the PPA had joined the NEDA (Northeast Democratic Alliance). So, by virtue of that Pema Khandu and team are our natural allies. We have categorically specified that the BJP has 11 MLAs and they will extend support to the government from outside,” Arunachal Pradesh BJP president Tapir Gau told The Sunday Guardian. He did not deny the possibility of a greater involvement with the Khandu regime in future or the induction of the Congress defectors into the BJP. “These are things I cannot predict. Only the fortune teller will be able to say… We will not be part of the government but extend our outside support, that is the stand as of today,” Gau told this correspondent.
He reiterated that the ruling party at the Centre had no role to play in the latest political developments in the northeastern state. On 16 September, CM Khandu, along with 42 MLAs joined the PPA, thus turning the Congress disposition into a PPA government, which, in turn, is a constituent of the NDA-led NEDA. Former CM Nabam Tuki, who was replaced by Khandu on popular demand, is the only Congress MLA left in the state.
Tuki earlier alleged to the media that the defection was engineered by the BJP, which stopped granting funds to Arunachal. “I spoke to Khandu before he left the Congress. He said they wanted development. He chose development over discipline,” Tuki alleged. According to Tuki, the BJP led Centre has promised Khandu that a Rs 25,000-crore special package will be released to Arunachal if he joined the NDA.
Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju has already rubbished the charge. “The BJP has nothing to do with this. The Congress shouldn’t blame the BJP for its own failure,” he had said. Gau too said Tuki was only trying to save the Congress from its own failings. “He has nothing to say at this juncture, so he is blaming the BJP. We don’t have any relations with Pema Khandu. It is their decision. But within the Congress they had all these difficulties. Stability was not there within the party… and Sonia and Rahul Gandhi…. But I don’t have to comment on that…” Gau said, obliquely referring to the general perception that there is a disconnect between the Congress high command and the party’s state unit.
BJP MLA Himanta Biswa Sarma, however, has taken on the Congress leadership more blatantly. “Independent thinking persons will never accept the leadership of Rahul,” Sarma, the convener of NEDA, has told the media. Although the Congress is pinning all blame on the BJP, party leaders are admitting in private that Rahul Gandhi failed to keep the state cadre together. “This is the main reason. The regional unit was disgruntled because they did not have access to the central leadership. He (Khandu) was disappointed the very way he was elected CM. When he sought appointment with Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, there was no response from them. They appointed Khandu because Tuki lost popular support but in their hearts they never really accepted him… The present PCC chief of Arunachal and the CM there had a rift between them because while the PCC chief was very close to the high command, the CM was being ignored,” said a source in the Congress, requesting anonymity.
CM Khandu has also expressed similar disappointment, stating to a national English daily that “Two days after I was sworn in as Chief Minister of the Congress government, I rushed to Delhi to call on the party high command and meet Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. But while they asked me to wait for three days, the same evening I got an appointment with Prime Minister Narendra Modi within 15 minutes for next morning. Why should we stay in such a party that does not have time for its own Chief Minister?”
The Congress source further said: “The Congress high command does not show much interest in uniting the cadre or addressing groupism in the regional units of the party. Also, feedbacks are collected from national leaders who are in charge of a state. No communication is initiated with PCC functionaries, who have very little access to Sonia or Rahul Gandhi. This is the main reason…”