FOR 19 years Gegong Apang was the monarch of all he surveyed in the frontier state of Arunachal Pradesh. As India's second longest serving chief minister after Jyoti Basu, Apang brooked no opposition to his supremacy but when the end came, he was abandoned by the very people who had helped him stay in power for as long as nearly two decades.
Ironically, the day (January 19) Apang lost the vote of confidence in the state assembly was the very date in 1980 when he had first taken over as one of the youngest chief ministers in the country. A rising star in the state's political firmament then, Apang, by the time he was forced to leave the gaddi, had become extremely unpopular with his colleagues for his autocratic ways. As Tadar Taniang, a close colleague-turned-foe, says: "The long tenure in power had made Apang very dictatorial in all his dealings. He would insist on keeping everything to himself and his family. That attitude ultimately led to his downfall."
In fact, most of the mlas who rebelled against Apang were once very loyal to him. They gradually started drifting away from him over the past three years. As N. Wanglat, a former minister and spokesman of the breakaway group, told Outlook: "Ever since Apang formed the regional party in October 1996, he became increasingly intolerant of criticism even from his own colleagues. It was therefore only a matter of time before he was brought down."
Indeed, the wily politician that he is, Apang had timed the formation of the Arunachal Congress to perfection. Despite being one of the pillars of Congress in the Northeast for over 15 years, Apang quit the party over a trivial issue and backed the United Front government at the Centre. Only four of the 45 mlas that the Congress had in the 60-member assembly had stayed back in the party, the rest going along with Apang to form the Arunachal Congress. In less than 18 months, Apang abandoned the UF and supported the Bharatiya Janata Party (bjp)-led coalition at the Centre, getting his son Omak a berth in the Union ministry. Omak's inclusion in the Union cabinet and the almost simultaneous sacking of eight senior ministers, including Mukut Mithi in May 1998, was perhaps the last straw.
Although the mass resignation of seven ministers belonging to the Nishyi tribe could be taken as the starting point of the rebellion, the resentment over Apang's increasingly dynastic tendencies was building up for quite some time. A major factor was the appointment of S.K. Agnihotri, a senior ias official from the Assam-Meghalaya cadre, as the state's chief secretary. Agnihotri and some key bureaucrats were given unbridled powers which led to a lot of heartburn among the ministers. As Mithi said: "Over-centralisation of powers in the hands of a select few created a situation where it became impossible even for ministers to take any decisions independently."
In the end, Apang even tried to bring in the militant National Socialist Council of Nagaland (nscn) into the picture alleging that the mlas who rebelled against him had done so after they were threatened by the militant outfit. As a last resort, he even moved the courts. But this time the dice was heavily loaded against him.
On January 18, the curtain finally came down on the long political innings of Gegong Apang, who, despite his many faults, could rightly be regarded as the man who shaped the destiny of Arunachal Pradesh, earlier known as North East Frontier Agency (nefa) and directly administered by the Union external affairs ministry till 1972. He concentrated on taking the administration to far-flung areas, built roads into the remotest parts of the state and more importantly, kept the diverse ethnic tribes together. Finally, however, his complacency and tendency to put the family before the party cost Apang dear.
New chief minister Mukut Mithi, an agricultural graduate who did his early schooling in the Ramakrishna Mission school at Narendrapur in West Bengal, will not have an easy time though. In the 60-member assembly, Mithi has the support of 36 mlas. He has already made 30 of them ministers in the first ministry formation. To keep all supporters happy Mithi will have to dole out the crumbs of power frequently. And keep looking over his shoulder for any counter-move Apang is sure to make in the near future. For, the wily contractor-turned-politician may be down at the moment, but he's definitely not out.