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DOWN BUT NOT OUT
On a head hunt

If Arunachal Pradesh is the potter’s wheel, the National Socialist Council of Nagalim is the stick rotating it. And the pivot around which the wheel is going round is the Mukut Mithi-Gegong Apang fiasco.

This observation may appear subjective but the metaphor sums up the peculiar politics being played in the state by the National Democratic Alliance, with the Bharatiya Janata Party as the prime mover, the ineffectual Congress, the manoeuvrings of both the factions of NSCN and the Arunachal Pradesh government.

In this vast but scantily populated state, development should have been the single point objective of the governments, both at the Centre and the state. But both have neglected the objective, each in its own way. The Centre has been giving money to the state on the basis of its population, without taking into account the inaccessibility of the development spots spread over the 83,743 square kilometres of the state.

The state government in its turn, with no proper perspective of its task, and without much commitment either, has been unable to use the money allocated to it. The broader perspective of development narrowed down to the personal gratification of the men who mattered. People called it “development of corruption” and the leaders did not mind being identified with it.

Against this background, Mukut Mithi, known for his refinement and cultivated manners, was said to have been persuaded by his colleagues to hold the reins of the state. Together, they pushed Gegong Apang, the monarch who surveyed Arunachal for 19 years, off the saddle on January 18, 1999. Apang threw a tantrum in the legislature, alleging that his legislators, holed up in the now famous Bomdila Hotel, were made to rebel at gun point by the NSCN (Khaplang). That was apparently the beginning of a NSCN intervention in determining the form and content of the state government.

After the October 1999 elections, which sent Mithi to the assembly with a massive majority, expectations soared but achievements failed to keep up with the hope. One important reason for this was that the vision and dynamism of Mithi found virtually no takers within his own political family. Second, he evidently failed to regulate the growing desire for material gain among his men. His inability to rule with an iron hand was attributed to his being too much of a gentleman. It is widely believed that his close associates took full advantage of his apparently casual style of functioning. Arunachal, by virtue of its geography, history, socio-economic trends, is more inclined to a personality centred politics than the politics powered by modern dynamics.

Apang perfectly fits into the former mould, while Mithi into the latter. This basic difference in their functioning has somewhat disoriented governance in the state and fuelled corruption which has spared none. In his final speech in the assembly in 1999, Apang had termed corruption as an unavoidable global phenomenon.

Caught between Apang and Mithi, the state got nowhere. After Apang, some old programmes were completed and some new taken up by the Mithi government. But between the two governments, there was no great difference except for the fact that while Apang had 19 years, Mithi had only four to prove his worth. To many, including some moderates in the anti-Mithi camp, this was indeed a valid consideration in favour of Mithi.

All through the course of the last four years, however, the NSCN thorn was palpably by the side of the state government. The gross absence of development in Tirap and Changlang districts, neighbouring Nagaland and claimed to be home to many people of Naga origin, provided a convenient excuse to the NSCN factions to meddle in the government. Government servants, businessmen and sundry other people, afraid of falling prey to the gun, became soft targets of the NSCN cadre.

The state government on its part did little to improve the situation, save mouth protests before the NDA. Having no control over what was happening, the government preferred to maintain a status quo of sorts in the name of the “peace process”. Yet the Mithi government found the situation unbearable because the insurgents went on tightening the noose around its neck by way of the Tirap-Changlang area. Meanwhile, as the Congress recently alleged, the BJP continued to play with the security of the entire Northeast on the pretext of carrying on the peace process.

The first thing the Mithi government did was author the Arunachal Pradesh Control of Organized Crime Act to prevent sections in the state from hobnobbing with NSCN(Isak-Muivah). Then came the arrest of an NSCN(I-M) activist at Itanagar, and the recovery of a diary in his possession with names of some state leaders. This led to the subsequent arrest of T.L. Rajkumar and Tingpong Wangham, both ministers, and a legislator, Lowangcha Wanglat.

Meanwhile, Mithi had sacked three of his ministerial colleagues — Kameng Dolo, now the president of the newly formed United Democratic Front, Lechi Legi, a member of the legislative assembly, and Lijum Ronya, the lone BJP MLA in the state in the early Eighties and a minister in Apang government. Mithi’s critics believe that the purging had been done without much rhyme or reason in accordance with the wishes of Mithi’s “advisors”.

Meanwhile, Apang had been active. He kept alive his tirade against Mithi and made best use of all opportunities that came his way. The recent arrest of ministers, virtually unprecedented in the history of Indian governments, gave Apang sharper weapons to slash the Mithi government with.

As the Congress alleged recently, the NSCN(I-M)’s role as midwife in this toppling game, denied by the UDF, was made evident when the UDF declared the first agenda of the new government — the repeal of APCOCA. The other important agenda was to bring Tirap and Changlang under an autonomous district council. T.C. Teli, the urban development minister and a Nyisi heavyweight now in the Mithi camp, was quick to demand similar status for the five “most backward” districts of Upper and Lower Subansiri, East Kameng, Kurung Kumey and Papum Pare. Observers feel that if the ADC status is really given to Tirap-Changlang, other districts would demand similar status and make things more difficult for the government. Teli has already given a taste of what is coming. However, the ADC promise seems to be a placebo only.

Another interesting thing. While the Congress was alleging at the top of its voice that the BJP had a visible hand in toppling the Mithi government, the state BJP had, strangely, remained silent. It was a party spokesman in New Delhi who had issued a press release demanding “immediate resignation” of the minority Mithi government. The point could not be missed. Preceding the high drama, Swami Chinmayananda, a BJP minister from the Centre, had toured the Tirap-Changlang area and strongly advised against the Operation Hurricane which had been initiated against the state government to flush out insurgents from the area.

Operation Hurricane, while threatening the smooth operations of the anti-Mithi elements in the state, also gave them other reasons to disapprove of it. Quite understandably, the NDA government at New Delhi thought the operation was inconveniencing its allies.

Even though Mithi’s show is over for now, there is clear indication that the opposition in Arunachal today is better equipped, qualitatively superior and quantitatively heavier than any previous opposition in the state assembly. That Mithi’s team would leave no stone unturned to put the new Apang government in considerable discomfiture is evident from Mithi’s marathon speech during the no-confidence motion. He gave startling revelations on how Apang had gone about to bring down his government.

The much hyped Chakma-Hajong issue has naturally surfaced again. It was the same issue on the basis of which Apang had come out of the Congress and fathered the Arunachal Congress. The All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union has once again taken up the issue and Mithi is the chairman of the core committee leading the movement. It is to be seen how Apang retains his earlier commitment to the issue vis-à-vis the NDA which his government has pledged to support.

Besides, there are other questions involving the favouring of any one community or communities which will prove to be difficult bouncers for the Apang government. Moreover, the question of “security and territorial integrity” involving the NSCN is likely to be pursued more vigorously pursued by Mithi as the opposition leader. These apart, Mithi is expected to use other trump cards up in his sleeves to create problems for Apang.

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