The BJP came to power in Arunachal Pradesh on Saturday without having to win an election as chief minister Pema Khandu switched loyalties twice in three months to give the saffron party its second government in the Northeast, after Assam.
The country’s easternmost state plunged into a political crisis two days ago when the 37-year-old Khandu and six legislators were suspended by the ruling Peoples’ Party of Arunachal (PPA), a regional outfit that he had joined from the Congress in September.
The chief minister refused to resign and, after a day of fast-moving events, broke ranks with the PPA to shift to the BJP with 33 loyal legislators.
The BJP has all along supported Khandu after the PPA temporarily suspended him, his deputy Chowna Mein, and five MLAs for alleged anti-party activities. The BJP, which had 12 MLAs in the 60-member assembly, was a coalition partner of the PPA that had 43 legislators till Saturday’s desertion.
The PPA had sought to replace Khandu with his public health and engineering minister Takam Pario, the hill state’s richest lawmaker.
But the chief minister staved off the threat, and helped the BJP get its 10th full-fledged state government in the country.
“The coming year will be a blessing for Arunachal Pradesh. It will be a new year, new party and together with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, we will develop the state,” Khandu told reporters in Itanagar.
Khandu was with the Congress when he formed the government in July.
Prior to his elevation, political uncertainty dominated the state after senior minister Kalikho Pul broke away from the Congress government of Nabam Tuki with 24 MLAs to form a PPA government in February.
Pul’s government was removed after a Supreme Court verdict reinstated Tuki. But with most Congress MLAs backing Khandu, Tuki had to make way in July. A dejected Pul committed suicide in Itanagar in August. A month later, Khandu deserted the Congress with 42 MLAs to join the PPA.
The chief minister blamed the PPA leadership for suspending him and his friends. But said the move was a “blessing in disguise” as they were already planning to join BJP.
“Khandu will continue to be the chief minister. We were in touch with the party high command in New Delhi and they gave the green light to welcome him and other PPA legislators into our party,” BJP state unit chief Tapir Gao said.
Khandu enjoys the support of 47 lawmakers — 33 legislators who switched over from the PPA, plus 12 BJP and two Independent members. The number is good enough for him to sail through during a floor test in the assembly to prove his strength.
There is no word, however, on whether PPA will continue to remain an alliance partner of the BJP government or be part of the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), a regional anti-Congress group.
“We have 10 legislators at present. They and the party office-bearers will meet and decide on whether we will continue to be part of the state government or remain in NEDA,” PPA president Kahfa Bengia said.
The strategically located state, close to China, will vote for a new assembly in 2019. Until then, it has already recorded five governments under three chief ministers.