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Moving swiftly after the Supreme Court order in his favour, Nabam Tuki again took charge as Chief Minister at Arunachal Bhavan in New Delhi. Earlier in the day, he had met Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
But away from the celebrations in the Congress camp, party leaders were putting in place a Plan B — this one aimed at ensuring that the judgment does not remain only a symbolic victory but also translates into a stable Congress-led government in the state.
For, as a senior Congress leader admitted, the party does not have the numbers “so far” to ensure that Tuki passes the floor test whenever it happens.
“Majority of the Congress MLAs, especially those who left, had issues with the leadership of Tuki and not with the party. We will have to find a way to make Tuki voluntarily make way for another face,” said a senior Congress leader involved in the exercise.
Sources in the Congress claimed Tuki is “open to the idea” of making way for anybody other than “2-3 names” who opposed him bitterly and were responsible for fomenting the Constitutional crisis in the state.
The party is also in touch with some of the 18 dissident Congress MLAs who had defected with Chief Minister Kalikho Pul but are “not averse to the idea of returning” to the party fold.
The strength of the breakaway faction swelled to 29 a month after the Pul government came to power in February. As many as 29 MLAs had merged with the People’s Party of Arunachal, the lone regional party in the state, in March.
Minutes after the Supreme Court verdict, senior leader Kapil Sibal said the Congress party’s message to the rebels MLAs is that “you are part of the family.”
“The backchannels have been on with those who left the party as well as some who were disqualified. Most of them are still not ready to accept Tuki’s leadership. But they have indicated to us that they will have no problem backing a new face,” a leader said.
The backchannel, incidentally, was one reason why the Congress did not mount a legal challenge to the decision of some MLAs to form a new group after breaking away, sources said.
However, the party is clear that the leader of the dissidents, Kalikho Pul, who took the support of 11 BJP MLAs to form the government, won’t be
given a “clear passage” back.
It was not just the Congress which reached out to the MLAs. Tuki told The Indian Express that he was in touch with many of the rebels and would even contact Pul. “I am talking to them… they are my friends.”
Tuki said the “natural way” to prove his majority is the floor test although sources in the party said the new government will delay convening of the Assembly session till it manages to secure numbers. “The Supreme Court has not fixed any date for the trial of strength,” a senior leader said.
Tuki said he would speak to Pul and ask him to work with the party. Sources said a meeting of the Congress Legislature Party could be convened once the dust settles. “In that meeting, we can even ask the members to elect a leader of their choice,” a senior leader said.