RANJU DODUM | 17 JULY, 2017
ITANAGAR: A year since the Khandu scion took charge of the reins of Arunachal Pradesh’s chief minister’s post, the road ahead for Pema Khandu looks as rough as it was 365 days back.
The plot twists and betrayals that led to the young Khandu becoming chief minister and the subsequent year reads like a story lifted straight from the pages of Game of Thrones with the setting changed from the extreme climes of Westeros to the harsh political landscape of Arunachal Pradesh, where no one man so important that he is not expendable and no one man so trustworthy that he can remain a friend forever. There are of course, exceptions.
Khandu took oath as chief minister after he and a faction of Congress-turned-People’s Party of Arunachal MLAs did an about-turn after the Supreme Court reinstated Nabam Tuki as the chief minister after he was unseated by the late Kalikho Pul. Less than a month later, Pul’s lifeless body was found hanging from the fan of one of the rooms in the official chief minister’s bungalow, which has since been converted into a state guest house (after due multi-religious ‘cleansing’ rituals were performed, of course).
By September, Khandu and 42 of the Congress MLAs had once again jumped ship and joined the PPA because, as quoted, the state is “fund-crunched” and having an alliance partner in the BJP made political sense. The PPA is a member of the BJP’s North East Democratic Alliance.
One would have expected smooth sailing for Khandu after the move to the regional player since it would allow the party to maintain an equidistance relation with the Centre while trying to project an image of upholder of regional aspirations; that however, was not to be.
As the end of the year approached, MLAs divided over the question of leadership began holding harried meetings in their favourite luxury hotels. On the last day of 2016, 33 out of the 43 PPA MLAs, including Khandu, joined the BJP.
Since joining the saffron party, Khandu has praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s style of governance both publicly and privately. However, during a television interview recently he had made his stance on the contentious beef issue clear by admitting that he does eat beef and that there is nothing wrong with it. That answer earned him much praise from a large section of people who felt it was important for politicians from the Northeast to take a stance on their cultural values.
And while there appears to be bonhomie amongst the BJP MLAs here, sources claim that efforts are still on to try and oust Khandu with the support of the PPA MLAs and even a former MP. Last month, a number of MLAs were seen gathering at a hotel in Itanagar, possibly to strategise their next move. Or perhaps they were simply meeting for dinner.
Incidentally, one of the names that routinely crops up as a possible contender for the chief minister’s post is Khandu’s Home minister, Kumar Waii.
An influential and experienced politician, Waii is said to have the ‘right’ resources to be able to lead a coup d’état should the opportunity arise. Whether there is any truth behind such talk or not, these are definitely troubled times, especially in the state capital which has seen a spate of violent crimes being committed.
Just in the past fortnight at least two incidents were reported where security personnel meant to protect citizens took to attacking them instead. In one case, the victim happened to be senior editor of a major English newspaper. While the police was prompt in responding to the attacks and apprehended the culprits, the fact that security personnel were involved in such crimes raises serious questions over their recruiting process. Waii should especially be concerned since it is under his Home portfolio that cadres are recruited. So far though, he has not issued any official statement on the issue.
Another issue that created quite an uproar recently was the cancellation of the recruitment examination of junior engineers in the Rural Works Department.
Advertisement for the posts had been issued by the RWD, which is also under Waii’s care, and prospective candidates were preparing in earnest to appear for the examination. However, just days before the examination was to be held, Khandu’s office directed the cancellation of all recruitment examinations that were not being conducted by the Arunachal Pradesh Public Service Commission. While many people welcomed the move, some (including candidates) were miffed at the last minute cancellation. It also provided the Congress an opportunity to allege that there was division within the government.
The chief minister later told The Citizen that Waii was out of town when the cabinet took the decision and that the department could not be informed due to “delay in notification”.
He also said that there are “no differences” between the two of them and that their “bond has strengthened” after taking the decision to hand over the examination to the Commission.
Internal conflicts (real or otherwise) aside, Khandu has the Congress constantly needling him on every issue. A bigger needle however, appears to be with the Mere Vichaar Andolan Committee (MVAC) which was formed soon after Pul’s alleged ‘suicide notes’ were made public.
The MVAC is convinced that tourism parliamentary secretary and Khandu’s close confidant, PD Sona, had accepted Rs four crore from Pul as alleged in his notes and is determined to have the money returned to the family. The committee even burned effigies of Khandu, Sona and deputy chief minister, Chowna Mein, recently as a sign of protest.
In fact, it the Committee is even observing today as a Black Day and holding a demonstration in the state capital.
And while the PPA hasn't made any public claims challenging Khandu, in the power corridors of Itanagar it is being said that former cabinet minister and one of the few PPA MLAs who did not join the BJP last year, Takam Pario, too could be projected as a possible challenger to the throne.
With the recent monsoon rains having a catastrophic affect on the lives of the people across the state, Khandu will have his work cut out as he will need to open not just surface communication lines but political ones as well if he is to weather the storm until the 2019 election.