The Supreme Court judgement restoring the dismissed Congress government of Nabam Tuki in Arunachal Pradesh could not have come at a worse time for the BJP. This was the day party president Amit Shah was launching the BJP-led North East Democratic Alliance in Guwahati with the avowed aim of ushering in a "Congress mukt North East".
Well, the Congress is back in Arunachal Pradesh and it looks like Shah will have to postpone his ambitious plans to paint the North East in saffron colours.
Because he and his boss, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, will have to do some rapid fire fighting first to save their handpicked governor in Arunachal, Jyoti Prasad Rajkhowa, after the apex court's stinging rebuke of his many controversial decisions leading up to the imposition of President's Rule.
The Congress has already started the chorus for his dismissal. With the monsoon session of Parliament due to start next Monday, the issue is bound to dominate proceedings. And unless the government comes up with a credible response to the crisis staring it in the face, it may lose the momentum to push through important bills.
A window had finally opened for the passage of the long awaited GST bill with the Congress softening its opposition. A question mark hangs over it now. But the Governor's fate and its resonance in Parliament are not the only headaches for the Modi government. The possibility of prolonged political turmoil in Arunachal Pradesh looms large and this could prove to be a bigger problem.
Arunachal is a sensitive border state over which India has been locked in a long standing dispute with China. Another border state, Jammu and Kashmir, is already in flames with security forces battling Kashmiri youth protesting the killing of "poster boy" militant Burhan Wani. The Modi government can ill afford to let Arunachal plunge into political crisis at this time.
The BJP, and to some extent the Congress, will have to show a degree of political maturity neither has displayed so far. Consider the imbroglio that is brewing there. The SC verdict is historic because for the first time, the apex court has put back the clock to restore a government that was dismissed six months ago.
This means that as of today, Tuki is back as chief minister and the incumbent CM, Kaliko Pul will have to quit. Pul is a Congress dissident who was sworn in as CM in February this year with the support of other Congress rebels and BJP MLAs.
While the judgement is clearly a victory for democracy and upholds federalism as a guiding principle of centre-state relations, it has a potential downside.
While the judgement is clearly a victory for democracy and upholds federalism as a guiding principle of centre-state relations, it has a potential downside. Pul has announced that he will not go quietly. He intends to challenge the judgement and has already gone into a huddle with his supporters to plan his next move.
Much depends on what the BJP does now. It could rise above petty politics, honour the SC judgement and let the Congress put together a government after working out a compromise with Pul and the other rebels. Or it could succumb to the driving need to put down the Congress at every opportunity and muddy the waters further by tacitly encouraging Pul to be defiant.
The BJP and the Modi government have been rapped twice in quick succession by the Supreme Court for misusing the controversial provision to dismiss state governments. Just two months ago, the court reinstated the Congress government of Harish Rawat in Uttarakhand.
It's time for the Modi government to do some damage control and restore some credibility. It is beginning to look distressingly undemocratic and overbearing.
And now, it has done the same in Arunachal. It's time for the Modi government to do some damage control and restore some credibility. It is beginning to look distressingly undemocratic and overbearing. Ironically, it was Modi who had announced that the spirit of cooperative federalism would guide his dealings with the states. That was in the first flush of victory in 2014. The promise looks horribly tattered.
As for the Congress, it is fortunate that it has been given another stab at power in a state it had lost. The problems that led to the fall of the Tuki government were of its own making. The rebels had been knocking on the door of the high command for weeks but nobody in Delhi paid any attention. Has the Congress learnt its lesson? Will the high command listen now?
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