Originally Published 2015-12-21 10:17:30 Published on Dec 21, 2015
Governor-made crisis in Arunachal Pradesh and its implications for the country

It is sad that the rest of the nation has ignored or over-looked the constitutional crisis being precipitated by Governor J P Rajkhowa in the state of Arunachal Pradesh. It has got consequences not only for the politics in the tiny north-eastern State or for the working of the nation's Constitution, but possibly for the nation's security and sovereignty, considering that China continues to lay claims on Arunachal Pradesh and in the past been known to have aided anti-national militancy across the North-East.

But for the Guwahati High Court's intervention and ordering status quo until 1 February, the nation has been insensitive to what is happening to Chief Minister Nabam Tuki, or the 60-member State Assembly, over the past couple of days. While Parliament, now in session, is caught up with everything other than a 'constitutional fraud' being committed by the Governor, the Congress Party, to which Tuki belongs, is satisfied with party chief Sonia Gandhi submitting a memorandum to President Pranab Mukherjee at 'distant' Delhi.

The Congress and a few other Opposition parties did flag the issue more than once in Parliament, particularly in the Rajya Sabha, where the Government lacks the majority. However, it was nowhere near how the then Opposition had taken it up to, in and with Luteyns' Delhi and all across the country, when Bihar's Nitish Kumar, Andhra Pradesh's N T Rama Rao and Karnataka's Ramakrishna Hegde were faced/forced with similar situations.

Going by media reports, which again are few and sparse, Governor Rajkohowa, a nominee of the Government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, summoned a three-day winter session of the State Assembly without the State Cabinet recommending the same. As many as 47 MLAs were elected on the Congress ticket, but 33 legislators have since elected former Minister Kalikho Pul as 'chief minister' in Tuki's place.

The High Court stay flowed from a petition filed by CM Tuki and Assembly Speaker Nabam Rebia. There are no reports that Governor Rajkhowa has since 'sworn in' Pul as 'chief minister'. But he did add more than his share to the controversy by granting permission for the conduct of the second day's 'proceedings' of the Assembly, with Deputy Speaker Tenzing Norbu Thongdok, also elected on a Congress ticket, in the 'chair'.

'Session' in hotel

To put it mildly, the conduct of the Governor under the circumstances is a travesty of the Constitution and established procedures. The undue haste with which he summoned the Assembly, his allowing the Deputy Speaker to 'chair' the 'session' and allowing the 'session' to be convened outside the premises of the State Legislature are all issues that could help the Judiciary to decide the matter one way or the other.

The prime question is if the Governor's decision is a palpable travesty of the spirit and content of the Supreme Court verdict in the 'S R Bommai case' (1994). Otherwise, the Governor too may have to explain to the court the unavoidable compulsion for him (reportedly) to have authorised the conduct of 'Assembly session' in a hotel. It is not unlikely that no 'official' clearance was obtained from the Governor. If not, it could amount a 'colourable exercise' of gubernatorial power, one more time.

Media reports, citing Congress leaders in the State, also indicate that the party had already served notice for a no-confidence motion against the Deputy Speaker, who ended up 'chairing' what at best could be called an 'illegal, parallel' session of the State Assembly. All these 'facts' too would come up for judicial review, and the petitioners would have to prove the chronology of events. How much of it had the Governor's blessings, and/or the Centre's knowledge and the approval of the ruling BJP leadership at the Centre, remain to be known.

Media 'neglect'

It is unlikely that the pending legal proceedings would stop with the High Court. It is not unlikely to go to the Supreme Court. Or else, the Supreme Court should consider taking over the case suo moto, if only to try and draw national attention to the case - and what flows from it, for the rest of India to know and follow. This is not at all to undermine the constitutional authority of the High Court in the first place, but only to restore the nation's wholesale confidence in the Judiciary and the constitutional scheme.

This is also because the so-called national media has once again failed to highlight the events and developments in the 'neglected' North-East and more when it involves a constitutional crisis of a kind. Coming as it does after the 'national' television news channels had ignored the recent 'Chennai floods' until their 'alerts' had become too late and/or lost all relevance, their ignorance and/or dis-interest in regions outside of the Delhi-Mumbai corridor may have medium and long-term consequences for all stake-holders, if only over the time.

It is inconceivable that Governor Rajkhowa had acted independent of the political leadership at the Centre, even if he may not have taken 'orders' from the ruling BJP as some 'Congress era' predecessors were believed to do, particularly in the years before the 'Bommai case' verdict. Considering that the BJP ally had protested loudly when in 2005 then Bihar Governor Buta Singh meddled with the majority of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's Government, until the Supreme Court ab initio nullified Assembly dissolution, the party's current position too needs to be probed.

The BJP leadership cannot plead ignorance on the Arunachal affair. The Governor's action flowed from a no-confidence motion moved by the 11-member BJP legislature party against the Tuki Government. They all later backed Pul when 'named' and 'elected' (?) 'chief minister'. All of it brings back memories of the forgotten and forgettable 'aya Ram, gaya Ram' era of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's making. In the contemporary context, it may lent added meaning to arguments about the 'desperation' of the Modi-centric BJP, post-Bihar polls.

'Kashmir parallel'

The memories of 'Congress era' interference of the unconstitutional and politically immoral variety should not stop there. The Indira Gandhi era Congress' decision to interfere with the Assembly elections in Jammu & Kashmir was/is believed to have helped revive separatism in the sensitive border State, when the post-Independence strains were beginning to fade away.

Worse still, the Congress' 'mis-adventurism' without reference to larger issues of national security, helped Pakistan's ISI to infiltrate in a big way, when it was looking for chinks in the Indian armour. It thus became easier for the ISI to sow seeds of dis-affection in the new-generation Kashmiri youth, which was unconnected to religion or even post-Partition tendencies from an earlier era.

At a time when the ISI had begun failing on the Punjab/'Khalistani' front, it got a breather in Jammu & Kashmir, from where there has been no looking back. If anything, the 'terror' monster targeting the sensitive border-State now comes in more shades and sizes. Neither Pakistan, nor ISI, has control over many of the present-day jihadi groups, as different from the earlier-generation 'anti-India' groups. Jammu & Kashmir continues to be India's Achilles' heel on the security front, more so when linked to 'international terrorism'.

Arunachal Pradesh may escape jihadi terrorism, but the way the ruling party at the Centre is seen as manipulating politics in the State could alienate the population, particularly the youth, as the officially-blessed and stage-managed electoral malpractices pushed confused Kashmiri youth into the waiting hands of the ISI. This is not to certify the Tuki Government in Arunachal Pradesh in any way.

Pre-occupied they be, the Union of India on the one hand and the self-styled 'nationalist' BJP Government and leadership on the other, cannot afford to create another 'Kashmir' out of Arunachal Pradesh. To the extent the Centre and the BJP have left it to the party's Union Minister of State Kiren Rijju to handle the controversy, and stopping with his seeking to distance himself and the leadership(s) from it all, it sounds even more hollow and unconvincing. Once again, the PM has left it to those down the line to state the Government's position on controversies of one kind or the other.

After all, China is known to be looking for chinks of the kind - to exploit at will, whenever and however. This Government and leadership cannot leave a troubled and dis-affected Arunachal Pradesh, behind as its legacy for future generations to deal with, as much internally as externally, as Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab, Manipur and a few other border States had become in their time.

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N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy is a policy analyst and commentator based in Chennai.

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