When all the candidates are busy campaigning in their respective constituencies in Arunachal Pradesh, Chief Minister Gegong Apang has been staying away from Yingkiong, the seat that returned him to the assembly for several consecutive terms irrespective of his party affiliations.
The longest serving chief minister in the country after Jyoti Basu of West Bengal, Apang had polled over 80 per cent votes in the 1990 and 1995 elections on a Congress ticket. He said at a recent press conference here that he had full faith in his constituency and he would devote time to campaign for other Congress candidates in the state.
Following differences with the then prime minister P V Narasimha Rao, Apang quit the Congress in 1996 with most of the MLAs and formed a regional party, Arunachal Congress. He continued at the helm in the state until 1999. Apang, who had an unbroken stint as chief minister since 1980, got a jolt when Mukut Mithi, the present state party chief, led a revolt of AC legislators and formed a new ministry. Mithi and his group later joined the Congress.
In the 1999 assembly elections, Apang contested from his old constituency Yingkiong as an AC candidate. The Congress, under the leadership of Mithi, returned to power winning 53 of the 60 seats. Four NCP MLAs and two Independents later joined the ruling Congress, taking its strength to 59.
A seasoned politician, Apang withstood the setback with patience for four years. He became chief minister once again in August 2003 with the support of Congress MLAs who defected to the BJP under the leadership of Kameng Dolo. Apang later joined the BJP and ruled the state heading a BJP-led UDF ministry.
But with the change at the Centre in April 2004, Apang became apprehensive about the prospects of the BJP in the forthcoming assembly elections and rejoined the Congress. Apang's sudden move to rejoin the Congress last month stunned the BJP.
The BJP was left with very little time to recover from the blow and put up a strong fight against the Congress. The BJP could field candidates in only 39 of the 60 constituencies in the state, as a result of which, three Congress nominees were elected unopposed on Thursday.
The BJP has termed Apang as "selfish" for deserting the party ahead of the assembly polls and said it would think twice if he wished to rejoin the party after the polls.
While the 57-year-old Apang is confident of leading the Congress to victory, the party has not yet projected him as the chief ministerial candidate. Apang's arch-rival and PCC chief, Mukut Mithi, is also a strong contender for the post. However, Apang's proven administrative capabilities and long experience as CM might just shift the balance to his advantage.