Defective statehood & vexed PRC
With the two predominant issues, simultaneous polls in Arunachal Pradesh might brew some surprises in the state’s polity
Arunachal Pradesh, the land of the rising sun in India, goes to polls for both the 60 assembly seats and the 2 Lok Sabha seats on April 11, the first day of the long-drawn ensuing general elections in India.
And beyond right concerns about the fast deteriorating road and bridge infrastructure, poor public health, education and supplies, etc., the dominant issues impacting public opinion in this round seems to be the protest against what many say as "defective statehood which needs amendment, and permanent residence certificate (PRC) to outsiders which need to be quashed."
The People's Party of Arunachal (PPA), which has been demanding for a constitutional amendment of the Arunachal Statehood Act of 1986, has appealed to the people of the state to consider the task of correcting and amending the 'defective' Act as their prime agenda. They want the Act amended, which will give Arunachal a status at par with Nagaland and Mizoram.
And this is catching up with others joining the fray, including Janata Dal Secular led by Jarjum Ette, a parliamentary candidate from West Arunachal, and other leaders of National People's Party, etc.
It may be recalled that the former parliamentarians from the state, PK Thungon and Wangpa Lowang had tried their best to amend the defects in the Arunachal Statehood Bill when the bill was being tabled in Parliament in 1986. "The governor has been equipped with more powers to deal with law and order in whatever manner he thinks fit. The people have been denied the constitutional right of defence in respect of land, culture and social and religious practices…Therefore, it is much more appropriate that the people should be protected more than to equip the governor with more powers," PK Thungon was quoted as pleading in the Parliament.
Emphasising the need to bring an end to the dependency syndrome, secretary general of PPA, Kaling Jerang noted recently that the necessary constitutional amendment of the Act can give Arunachalis back their "lost pride and self-respect".
Many political and intellectual voices, including that of woman activist Jarjum Ette (JDS) believes that Arunachal, in spite being one of the most resourceful states in the country, has been reduced to the status of dependency, and to such an extent that often, with the change of the government in the Centre, the entire state cabinet changes political colours, as was seen recently in the case of Congress ministers and MLAs (except the then CM Nabam Tuki) becoming a BJP cabinet overnight. This dependency syndrome has to be done away with by amending the 'defective' Statehood Act, which will give the people back their ownership rights in every sense-culture, customary and traditional tribal rights over their land, forests, rivers and untapped mineral resources.
Even Gegong Apang, the longest-serving chief minister of the state who joined BJP in 2014 ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, had submitted a letter to Modi on this matter. He said all central leaders during their visit to the state had been approached but the Centre did not budge. Even the state Assembly passed a resolution in this regard twice in 1994 and in 2013. Apang, who was the first chief minister of the state, claimed he and other state leaders were not consulted on the Arunachal Pradesh Statehood Act of 1986. The then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had assured Arunachal leaders that the Constitution would be amended for rectification of the act but nothing has been done so far.
The Act under Schedule VI of the Constitution of India has made Arunachalees merely land protectors as the central government owns the minerals below the surface of state soil. Hence, activists today believe that its amendment to bring the state under Schedule six of the Constitution of India alone would protect the traditional rights and liberty of indigenous patriotic people of this sensitive North-eastern border state of India.
Arunachal gets limited royalty from the central government for any minerals extracted because of Delhi's apathy, unlike Nagaland, Meghalaya and Mizoram which own their mineral resources being under Schedule V. If the records of former Oil India CMD Chudamani Ratnam are any indication that carbon deposits are trapped in coal cells (over 25,000 million tons of carbon deposits, including 1400 million tons in of which Arunachal) in Arunachal and part of Assam, then if tapped could meet country's requirements for next 100 years, which was admitted by the then Union Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar here in 2005. The state coffer would enrich if these deposits are exploited to make Arunachal one of the richest states of India.
At the core of the concerns on statehood, there are two aspects. One is revenue for the state from its resources and limiting gubernatorial powers. Second, there is also the concern of identity. Experts feel an urgent need to strengthen and codify tribal customs and traditions for the future generations not to face identity crisis under the impact of modernisation. Tribal communities in various other parts of India, as in Chattisgarh or Odisha, are facing various cultural onslaughts in their lives apart from battling for their rights of jal, jangal and jameen (water, forest produce and land).
It must be noted here that the Arunachal state assembly had unanimously passed a resolution directing the state government to move the Centre for a constitutional amendment with provision for special protection for the state. The assembly had also resolved to urge the Centre to expeditiously amend Article 371H of the Constitution to bring Arunachal Pradesh at par with the provisions of Article 371A(1) with a view to provide special constitutional protection to the people of the state in respect of religious and social practices, customary laws and rights of ownership and transfer of land and its resources. However, recently, the Arunachal Pradesh Land Management Minister Nabam Rebia of BJP told the assembly that the Arunachal Pradesh Statehood Act, 1986, being a central act, its amendment is not under the purview of the state government.
To conclude, whether Congress or BJP, both central governments have done a lip service without ever actually bringing this bill on the floor of Parliament in the last 30 years for any amendment. The other vexed issue is that of the PRC.
Protests broke out in Arunachal capital Itanagar on February 21-23, after a State government-appointed committee recommended PRC for six non-Arunachal Pradesh Scheduled Tribe residents of Namsai and Changlang districts. Three people were killed in the clashes. Giving in to public pressure, Arunachal Pradesh government froze its decision on the controversial permanent residence certificate (PRC) that triggered widespread violence for three days, leading to the torching of the Deputy Chief Minister's house.
Confirming that three people died in the violence, which saw widespread arson and the torching of the residence of Deputy Chief Minister Chowna Mein, central MOS Home, Kiren Rijiju, also sitting MP of Western Arunachal, had faulted his party's state government for not being able to communicate the situation to the citizens.
Though BJP state president Tapir Gao, himself a Parliamentary candidate from East Arunachal, believes that the issue will not have any impact on the poll prospects of the party but on ground there is widespread resentment and social media noise on this aborted attempt for PRC and the shelved Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) which calls for citizenship to immigrants by religion and was withdrawn in Rajya Sabha recently after massive protests in the North East. Such optimism is, however, not shared by former BJP state general secretary Jarpum Gamlin, who is an assembly candidate this time.
With these two major talking-points, Arunachal Pradesh assembly and Lok Sabha polls this year may throw some surprises and the state may actually veer towards a multi-party state polity rather than be confined within the binary of Congress-BJP so far.
(The author is a media academic and has a spent a considerable number of years in Arunachal Pradesh. Views are personal)