Debating India


Congress(I) sweep

Saturday 23 October 1999, by CHAUDHURI*Kalyan

IN a landslide victory, the ruling Congress(I) won the two Lok Sabha seats and 53 seats in the 60-member Legislative Assembly in Arunachal Pradesh, decimating the Arunachal Congress, led by Gegong Apang, former Chief Minister, and once again proving that the people of this hilly northeastern State are opposed to the growth of regional forces.

The main advantage for the Congress(I) was that the anti-incumbency factor had not come into play as the party came to power only in January this year, replacing the Arunchal Congress government headed by Apang. Four Congress(I) candidates, including Chi ef Minister Mukut Mithi, were elected unopposed.

In the East Arunachal Lok Sabha constituency, two-time winner Wangcha Rajkumar defeated the BJP’s Tapir Gao by 41,403 votes. The constituency comprises Rajkumar’s home district of Tirap and the five other districts of Changlang, Lohit, Dibang Valley and Upper and East Siang. In Arunachal West, Jarbon Gamlin won by 55,000 votes against Union Minister of State Omak Apang of the Arunachal Congress.

Mukut Mithi’s gamble of dissolving the Assembly eight months ahead of the expiry of its term and opting for simultaneous polls paid off. Apang opposed the holding of Assembly elections along with the Lok Sabha elections, saying that the situation was not conducive to free and fair elections. He suggested that the State be put under President’s Rule until the time was ripe for Assembly elections. Apang alleged that the outlawed National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang faction), active in Tirap an d Changlang districts bordering Nagaland, had declared that only the Congress(I) would be allowed to contest. The elections were, however, held in a peaceful atmosphere, and the voter turnout was more than 65 per cent.

Of the 42 candidates fielded for the Assembly by the Arunachal Congress, only Gegong Apang was elected. He contested from his home constituency of Yingkiong in Upper Siang district. He, however, lost from Liromba, a second seat he contested.

The BJP, an ally of the Arunachal Congress, fielded 28 candidates but did not win a single seat. The two parties had reached an understanding on the parliamentary seats but not for the Assembly polls. In 10 constituencies they fielded candidates against each other thereby spliting opposition votes.

The fledgling Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) of Sharad Pawar fielded 18 candidates and won four seats.

The election process in this frontier State, which borders China, Myanmar and Bhutan, was a challenge for both the candidates and the poll officials. Candidates had often to trek for miles across jungles to reach remote villages. Twenty-five major tribes and 120 sub-tribes constitute the State’s population.

Arunachal Pradesh is traditionally a Congress(I) stronghold. In the 1995 Assembly elections, the Congress(I) won an overwhelming majority and formed a government with Gegong Apang as Chief Minister. Apang left the party following differences with Prime M inister P.V. Narasimha Rao and formed the Arunachal Congress in September 1996 with the support of 54 MLAs. In the 1998 Lok Sabha elections, the Arunachal Congress allied itself with the BJP. Omak Apang was elected from Arunachal West and was later induc ted into the A.B. Vajpayee Ministry.

Several leaders of the party, even Apang’s close associates, were not happy with the way Gegong Apang pushed for his son’s entry into the Ministry, depriving senior leader Wangcha Rajkumar, two-time winner from Arunachal East, of a chance to become a Min ister. Rajkumar was angry, and a revolt followed. Five Ministers, including Mukut Mithi, who stood by Rajkumar, were dropped from the State Cabinet. Shortly thereafter the dissidents led by Mukut Mithi, formed the Arunachal Congress (Mithi) with 40 MLAs on their side. Mithi was installed as Chief Minister in January. In April, the Arunachal Congress (Mithi) merged with the Congress(I), which had only four MLAs, and formed the Congress(I) government.

Mukut Mithi, who has now led the Congress(I) to a resounding victory, said that the main task before him was the overall development of the State, which has hardly any industrial infrastructure. The State’s primary problem is communications. "What I want to achieve is a peaceful and prosperous Arunachal with equal opportunities and gainful employment for all," Mithi said.

See online : Frontline


Volume 16 - Issue 22, Oct. 23 - Nov. 5, 1999.

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