The charming and pristine state of Arunachal Pradesh has many takers. At least Rahul Gandhi has been allured enough by the delicacy and faultless beauty of its greenery and rivers to consider the town of Hapoli as his retirement home.
The state, which was voted as the fourth most desirable destination of the world in 2012 by Lonely Planet, is currently playing host to some select netas, who have parachuted there to woo voters.
The people of Arunachal will vote to elect its 60-member Assembly on April 09, along with General Elections, which will be held to pick two MPs to represent the state in the Lok Sabha.
Though the state was not slated to go to Assembly polls till later this year, Governor Lt Gen Nirbhay Sharma dissolved the Arunachal Assembly on the recommendation of the state cabinet, which wanted simultaneous elections to save poll expenditure that roughly amounts to Rs 70 crore.
Rahul’s retirement home claim may have been a part of sweet talk to endear the mostly tribal people of the state (59 of the 60 seats are reserved for Scheduled Tribes), he did not miss touching on the political aspects of electioneering.
An issue that is figuring prominently this year during campaigning is the death of Arunachal student Nido Taniam in Delhi due to racial discrimination. Calling for an equal India which belongs to all, Rahul took the opportunity to slam BJP’s divisive agenda which he said perpetuates incidents of racial and religious hate.
The young scion’s pat on the back to the Centre for providing a Rs 10,000-crore road package to Arunachal in 2008, which has led to the state getting an infra fillip, as well as future promise of an airport and rail connectivity were met with thunderous applause from a crowd of 5000, which is considered fairly substantial for a state that has a total of 7.5 lakh voters.
Why Rahul’s campaign was important was for the fact that it represented Congress and the Nehru-Gandhi family’s continued association and credence in the North East. It was courtesy Indira Gandhi that Arunachal was given its Union Territory status in 1972, and it got statehood in 1987 thanks mainly to Rajiv Gandhi.
Congress or its splinter groups have been in power in Arunachal since 1980, (even when it was still a UT). The only brief period BJP came to power was in 2003 when veteran Congress leader Gegong Apang had crossed over to the BJP camp, but the débutante BJP government lasted only 42 days. And that has been its total tenure since the time the state was carved out.
BJP, which has been trying to strengthen its base in the North East, had sent in Narendra Modi – its prime ministerial candidate to East Siang district to address a rally. The party also welcomed back into its fold once more Gegong Apang, who has served as Arunachal’s CM for 22 years (mostly under Congress), making him the second longest serving CM of the country.
BJP has adopted door-to-door campaigning to reach out to villagers and launched its “Sarhad Ko Pranam Yatra” as a part of the strategy to connect with the people of North East and those living in other border area regions.
And though China is always an issue when it comes to Arunachal, it is not the pre-dominant one in this election.
Besides strengthening its party base, the BJP has launched a severe attack on the Congress for delaying infra and hydel projects like Halaipani and is charging the current government of corruption in construction of Manchal motorable suspension bridge over River Lohit.
But BJP’s hopes seem to be doomed once again, as its nominees have withdrawn from 11 of the total 60 seats, leading to Congress candidates, including incumbent chief minister Nabam Tuki, winning unopposed even before a single ballot has been cast.
Interestingly, one of the persons to have withdrawn his candidature is former Health and Family Welfare Minister Atun Welly, who had recently defected to the BJP.
The Congress control seems to have only fortified this time, as it has now won many more seats unopposed compared to the 3 seats that it had won without a contest in 2009.
No wonder then that the Arunachal Pradesh Congress Committee president Mukut Mithi is already celebrating and hoping for a landslide victory.
The other parties in the fray are People`s Party of Arunachal (PPA), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Naga People’s Front (NPF), which is contesting assembly polls but will not field candidates for Lok Sabha elections. Aam Admi Party is also debuting with one candidate in this election. Besides, 32 Independents have thrown their hat in the ring.
Another interesting development is that Trinamool Congress would not be contesting Assembly Elections this time despite having won 5 seats in 2009, though it is participating in parliamentary polls.
Overall, other than Congress most of these players are either small or of the also ran variety.
And though Congress is confident of victory, it is not being complacent. The party organised a 5-day workshop of Youth Congress in the state, is promising better roads including better maintenance of Garu-Gensi road, construction of mini-stadium at Gensi, a new Circuit House at the Likabali and some new government offices and buildings.
In 2004 elections, Congress had bagged 34 of the 60 seats. It improved its tally in 2009 to 42. Considering its track record and with 11 seats already in its kitty, the party is hoping for another two-thirds majority.
So, it’s really not so much of what the outcome will be as much as how the final tally will sit.
No real surprises likely in this one.