A sports and music enthusiast, Pema Khandu occupies a special place in Arunachal Pradesh politics as one of the major strategists in ensuring that the BJP’s lotus blooms in the northeastern state.
Ever since he assumed the office of the chief minister of the key state bordering China in July 2016, Khandu and his cabinet have changed their party twice — from Congress to the Peoples Party of Arunachal (PPA) and then to the BJP — all within a span of just five months. Son of former chief minister Dorjee Khandu, who died in a helicopter crash in 2011, Pema Khandu was inducted into his successor Nabam Tukis government as the water resource development minister.
Though Khandu joined the Congress in 2000, he was hardly known in political circles until his fathers death despite having served as a secretary of the state Congress in 2005 and as the head of the Tawang unit of the party in 2010. He made his maiden entry into the assembly when he won the by-election from his fathers constituency, Mukto, uncontested in June 2011. Khandu won the seat unopposed for a second time in 2014 and became tourism minister in the Nabam Tuki government.
The scenario for him began changing after the presidents rule was imposed on January 26, 2016, following a constitutional breakdown in the state due to agitations against Tuki. When the central rule was lifted 26 days later, Khandu became a minister in the BJP-supported Kalikho Pul government, which had replaced the Tuki dispensation. The Pul government lasted for only six months as the Supreme Court turned the political clock back and reinstalled Tuki as the chief minister on July 14 that year. But Tuki resigned just two days later, hours before proving majority and was succeeded by the 37-year-old Khandu as the Congress chief minister.
Exactly three months after assuming chief ministership, he led 43 MLAs from the Congress to defect to the PPA, an ally of the BJP. Khandu was, however, suspended from PPA along with six other lawmakers in December that year for “anti-party activities”. In the same month, he joined the BJP along with most of the PPA MLAs and proved the majority in the floor of the house. He now heads the BJP government in the strategically-located state.
A music aficionado, Khandu is known for belting out Kishore Kumar and Mohammad Rafi numbers in official parties. He also patronised talent search among local youths to preserve traditional songs by conducting talent show in Tawang and West Kameng districts. Kahndu is also fond of various sports, including football, cricket, badminton and volleyball. He organised cricket tournaments in his constituency, besides promoting sportspersons of the state in various national and international events.
A history graduate from Delhis Hindu College, Khandu belongs to the Monpa tribe, which dominates Tawang and parts of West Kameng districts. He is a Buddhist by religion. Ahead of the assembly polls, which was held simultaneously with the Lok Sabha elections, he promised a corruption free people-friendly government as his poll plank.