The Congress replaced chief minister Nabam Tuki with a party rebel in Arunachal Pradesh on Saturday, a dramatic step that helped diffuse months of political crisis which threatened to end the party’s hold on the northeastern state.
Pema Khandu, 37, will be sworn-in on Sunday replacing Tuki, who resigned shortly before he was to prove his majority on the floor of the assembly. Khandu was among two dozen party MLAs who had rebelled against Tuki, setting off a chain of crises that led to President’s Rule in the state.
The turn of events caught by surprise the opposition BJP, whose 11 MLAs had backed the rebels who toppled the Congress government in January before it was reinstated by the Supreme Court on Wednesday.
Khandu, the eldest son of former chief minister Dorjee Khandu, is a passionate cricket lover who graduated from Delhi’s Hindu College.
The Congress said it now has the support of 47 MLAs in an assembly with an effective strength of 58.
“The credit goes to Sonia and Rahul Gandhi for reuniting the Congress in Arunachal,” Khandu said after he was elected as the legislature party leader. Khandu was elected to the assembly from Mukto, the constituency his father represented before he died in a helicopter crash in 2011.
Tuki met acting governor Tathagata Roy in the afternoon and submitted his resignation as the chief minister, which the governor accepted. Khandu then staked claim to form the government.
The dramatic turn of events made the floor test redundant. It also surprised the BJP that was backing the People’s Party of Arunachal (PPA) government led by Kalikho Pul. The BJP had formally asked PPA to merge with it last month.
Tuki did not spell out what made the PPA legislators return to Congress but party leaders said they could have faced disqualification by speaker Nabam Rebia if they went against the party whip and voted against Tuki during the floor test.
“We are reunited and our house is in order. This is a big victory for the Congress because the BJP had tried every trick to destroy us. We had differences in opinion but was never any dissidence that the BJP tried to exploit,” Tuki told Hindustan Times.
Tuki said he bore no ill-will towards Pul. “Nor do I have anything against governor JP Rajkhowa (on leave and recovering from surgery) who should decide what he has to do now.”
Pul ruled as chief minister for 146 days before the Supreme Court restored the Congress government, quashing the governor’s decision to advance the legislative assembly session by a month last year. The move precipitated the fall of Tuki and led to Pul’s government with support from the BJP.
In Delhi, Union minister Kiren Rijiju — who is also from the state — said the BJP and the central government had nothing to do with the developments in Arunachal Pradesh.
“The political instability has been happening in last seven months due to the division within the Congress….We have nothing to do with the internal matter of (the) Congress ,” Rijiju said.