Guwahati/Itanagar, Aug. 21: Barring a last-minute hitch, the BJP is poised to get its first taste of power independently in the Northeast with the United Democratic Front (UDF) government in Arunachal Pradesh deciding to go saffron.
Chief minister Gegong Apang and 37 of the 38 Congress (D) legislators who are part of the ruling coalition have committed to join the BJP.
The UDF was formed on July 27 by a breakaway group of Congress legislators, who deserted ousted chief minister Mukut Mithi to side with Apang. The Congress (D) and the Arunachal Congress, of which Apang is the lone representative in the 60-member Assembly, had announced immediately after forming the new government that they would be joining the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
Sources said the two Independent MLAs and one expelled Congress member who are part of Apang’s government had assured to support the BJP from outside. The lone voice of dissent was that of fisheries minister J.P. Takam, who has refused to bite the BJP bait and resolved to remain in the UDF, even if alone.
If the merger comes about, the BJP will find itself in power despite not having a single MLA at present. Power minister Lijum Ronya was the lone BJP legislator in the state in the Eighties before he switched to the Congress.
BJP leaders were tightlipped about the developments, but a source in the party said a formal announcement was likely “in a day or two”.
The latest political development in Itanagar took shape after hectic backroom parleys between the BJP leader in charge of its Northeast affairs, V. Satish, and leaders of the UDF. Satish, who has been camping in the state since Tuesday, held a series of marathon meetings with Apang and his deputy Kameng Dolo to finalise the modalities for the merger.
Apang had visited New Delhi on August 19 and met senior BJP leaders. He returned to the state capital today.
On the way back to Itanagar, Apang and Dolo offered prayers at a temple at Sualkuchi yesterday, probably to seek divine blessings before assuming their new avatars as the first saffron chief minister and deputy chief minister of the region.
The seeds of the development were, however, sown much earlier, if the Congress is to be believed. Mithi has been accusing the BJP of engineering the split in the Congress to oust him from power. The Congress has accused the NSCN (I-M), too, of helping Apang.
A senior Congress leader said Apang had no choice but to join the BJP. “Otherwise, he will not remain chief minister,” he said.
Another source said Apang, who was once the second longest-serving chief minister in the country after Jyoti Basu of Bengal, was keeping his cards close to his chest and could go in for hard bargaining with the BJP.
Some of the state’s BJP leaders are, however, said to be unhappy over the developments as the sitting MLAs would get precedence over them during distribution of tickets to contest the Assembly poll, due in a year.
Apang first became chief minister of Arunachal Pradesh in 1980 at the age of 33. He ruled the state for 19 years before being toppled by Mithi in 1999.