TAMIL NADU

CONGRESS COMEBACK IN ARUNACHAL

A CONGRESS VICTORY in the Arunachal Pradesh Assembly election was a foregone conclusion after Gegong Apang, the former Chief Minister, rejoined the party last month. Arunachal Pradesh is a traditional Congress stronghold. The Bharatiya Janata Party-allied United Democratic Front (UDF) that ruled for a year until July 2004 owed its existence to Mr. Apang. His decision to make the UDF a part of the National Democratic Alliance reflected longstanding pique with the Congress leadership in Delhi and a desire to get even with his old rival, Mukut Mithi, rather than political oneness with the BJP. The Congress comeback was evident in the dramatic events that followed the trim Mr. Apang gave his Ministry in July this year, to bring it in line with the 97th Amendment of the Constitution. (This limits the size of a Ministry to 12 per cent of the total strength of a legislative Assembly in small States.) The rebellion this exercise set off saw all 29 loadshedded Ministers cross over to the Congress camp. The Governor dissolved the House and asked Mr. Apang to be the caretaker Chief Minister. With Mr. Mithi, a Congress loyalist, campaigning for President's Rule instead, it was only a matter of time before the Chief Minister decided it was in his best interest to return to the party of his political roots, and work for it in the Assembly elections.

Although the Congress has won a comfortable majority, securing 34 of the 60 seats in the Assembly, the outcome leaves unresolved the Apang-Mithi rivalry. Since 1999, when Mr. Mithi first led a revolt against Mr. Apang, forcing him to resign as Chief Minister, an office he had held for a record 19 years, the two have been engaged in undoing each other. Their increasingly embittered personal tussle has dictated the political twists and turns in the State over the last few years. Although Mr. Mithi was none too happy to see his rival back in the party, the two had no choice but to shelve their differences during the election campaign. But who will be made Chief Minister? Both have strong suits. Mr. Apang commands substantial loyalty within the State-level organisation of the party; this is clear from the large numbers that have followed him in his political flip-flops. On the other hand, Mr. Mithi can press his claim on the strength of his continued loyalty to the Congress. Faced with the prospect of a fierce struggle for the top job in the State, the party leadership can at best hope for a truce, whichever way the choice goes. Without a patch-up between the two powerful rivals, there can be no stability for the State Government.

The BJP has made some inroads in a State where, in 1999, it won no seat at all. It has bagged eight of the 39 seats it contested this time, including the prestigious Itanagar constituency where its candidate managed to unseat a three-time winner. Considering that the party did not have enough candidates to contest all seats after Mr. Apang and his supporters left at the last minute to rejoin the Congress, it will be reasonably pleased with this performance. The new Chief Minister — whether it is Mr. Apang or Mr. Mithi — will have his hands full keeping his Government together and preventing the BJP from exploiting the factionalism within the State Congress, as it managed to do the last time.

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