Switching parties is a habit for many Indian politicians. But Pema Khandu has taken it to a different level by serving as the Arunachal Pradesh chief minister under the emblem of three parties in about five months.
The 37-year-old leader was sworn in as CM on July 17 when he was part of the Congress. The party at the time had 47 MLAs in the 60-member state assembly.
Two months later, 43 MLAs, including Khandu, switched over to the regional People’s Party of Arunachal (PPA). With former CM Kalikho Pul having committed suicide, the Congress was left with only three MLAs in the House.
On Saturday, Khandu and 33 of his loyal legislators jumped the ship again, this time joining the BJP, which ironically heads the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) comprising of the PPA and other northeastern regional parties.
Khandu and his loyalists’ switchover to the BJP handed the right-wing party its second non-elected government in the state in 12 years.
“Arunachal and other northeastern states are financially dependent on New Delhi and often have to toe the line of the party or coalition in power at the Centre. This (Khandu’s changeover from PPA to BJP) was on the cards,” Itanagar-based political commentator A Sangno said.
PPA chairman Kahfa Bengia indicated that the Khandu government would have become a part of the saffron fold sooner rather than later. “But it is sad that Khandu and his supporters, who originally belonged to the Congress, used PPA as a parking place,” he said.
Khandu admitted the switchover was always on the cards. “Chaos in the PPA hastened our decision,” he said.
The BJP’s first government in the northeast was formed in Arunachal Pradesh in 2003 under similar circumstances.
Then CM Gegong Apang headed the UDF government at that time with defectors from Congress. In eight months as chief minister, Apang switched loyalties to the BJP and then Congress before Dorjee Khandu, Pema Khandu’s father, took over.