Pema Khandu was one of the 35 legislators paraded by rebel leader Kalikho Pul in Guwahati on Thursday to drive home the point that chief minister Nabam Tuki – reinstated by the Supreme Court on July 13 – did not have the numbers to pass the upcoming trial of strength.
Pul underlined the legislator’s name, stating that he was “rumoured to have been leading a move for a change against my leadership”. Barely 48 hours later, rumour turned fact as Tuki stepped down and proposed Pema’s name for the position.
The much-awaited floor test, as a consequence, turned redundant.
At 37 years, Pema will become the third-youngest chief minister of Arunachal Pradesh when he takes charge on Sunday. The youngest was Prem Khandu Thungon, who became the state’s first chief minister when he was just 29 years old.
Pema is the eldest son of former chief minister Dorjee Khandu, who died in a helicopter crash in April 2011 after ruling the frontier state for five years. The Congress fielded Pema as the candidate from Mukto assembly seat, which his father represented, and he won the by-election unopposed that year. Pema won the seat a second time in 2014, becoming the tourism minister in Tuki’s ministry.
However, the legislator joined Pul in rebelling against Tuki, and sought a change of leadership last year. He quit the ministry in October 2015, eventually becoming a part of Pul’s rebel Congress government in March. By then, the rebel Congress faction had been rechristened as the People’s Party of Arunachal.
“The past is past, what matters now is political stability for the future of Arunachal Pradesh,” Pema said, adding that he will focus on equitable development and ensuring that none of the state’s 140 tribes, sub-tribes and non-tribal communities are left behind.
“I will consult our party’s central leadership and senior colleagues to run the government to the best of my capability,” he said.
Pema belongs to the Monpa tribe, which dominates Tawang and parts of West Kameng districts. He was born in Gyangkhar village, about 10 km south of Tawang Monastery – which is at the core of China’s obsession with the state. A history graduate from Delhi’s Hindu College, he has two sons and a daughter.
Khandu is a music lover, and plays football, cricket, badminton and volleyball. However, the legislator is the most passionate about cricket – one of the reasons why he has organised T20 matches in Tawang, probably the world’s highest cricket field at 10,000 feet.
On the flip side, he has often been accused by environmentalists of pushing for mega-hydropower projects at the cost of the fragile ecology of the Eastern Himalayas. The May 1 police firing in Tawang – which resulted in the death of two anti-dam activists (including a Buddhist monk) – was allegedly over an ‘unscientific’ dam constructed by a firm belonging to one of Pema’s relatives.
The Man, the CM
Claim to fame: Will become third-youngest CM of Arunachal
Political lineage: Eldest son of late chief minister Dorjee Khandu
First ministerial post: Tourism minister in Nabam Tuki’s cabinet
Education: Graduated in history from Hindu College, New Delhi
Loves: Everything from music to volleyball, but his softest spot’s for cricket.
Criticised for: Promoting hydro projects at the cost of Himalaya’s fragile ecology.