A combination of the personal goodwill he enjoys and the support of Nabam Tuki saw the soft-spoken, little known Pema Khandu emerge as the saviour of the beleaguered Congress in Arunachal Pradesh on Saturday.
In a surprise development, the party’s squabbling factions came together to elect him as leader of the Congress Legislature Party, making him the sensitive border State’s next Chief Minister.
Pema Khandu, who is just 36, is the son of the legendary Dorjee Khandu, a former Chief Minister, who hailed from Tawang, bordering China.
The elder Mr. Khandu died in a helicopter crash in 2011.
Originally with the Indian Army Intelligence Corps, where he had worked for more than seven years, receiving a gold medal for the services rendered during the Bangladesh War, Dorjee Khandu moved to social work and then politics, rising to become Chief Minister, an effective political manager.
His son’s trajectory has been different: Pema is a graduate of Delhi’s prestigious Hindu College and became a Minister at a relatively young age. He first entered the Arunachal Pradesh Assembly in 2011 to fill the vacancy caused by his father’s death.
He joined the Congress in early 2000 and became Secretary of the Arunachal Pradesh Congress Committee in 2005 and president of Tawang District Congress Committee in 2010.
He was re-elected unopposed from Mukto in the 2014 Assembly elections.
His election as MLA from Mukto (ST) constituency was uncontested and he was soon included in the State government headed by Jarbom Gamlin as Cabinet Minister for Water Resource Development and Tourism.
When Mr. Tuki succeeded Mr. Gamlin, Pema got a ministerial berth again. But when he broke away and joined forces with Khalikho Pul, he was not made a Minister again, one of the reasons why he was happy to return to the main Congress.
Five years after he first became a Minister, he has emerged as the prospective Chief Minister, thanks to the Supreme Court's intervention that has changed the course of politics in the state.
He is said to have assets worth Rs 129 crore according to myneta.info.
Congress sources say that while Mr. Khandu, as the son of Dorjee Khandu enjoys the goodwill his father had across factions in the state party, his relative youth and inexperience also helped him. Mr Tuki, for instance, was happy to back him as he does not see him as a political threat to him. The others, say party sources, “will not centralise money-making”, as many of his predecessors were wont do.
Of course, only time will tell how Pema Khandu develops as a Chief Minister — power has a way of giving people wings.