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Sonia positive on Arunachal councils

New Delhi, Dec. 22: Congress president Sonia Gandhi is said to be positive and the government cautious on the demand for creation of two autonomous district councils in Arunachal Pradesh.

Chief minister Nabam Tuki had called on central leaders, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, early this week to apprise them about the state’s long-standing demand for Patkai and Mon autonomous district councils, which was passed by the state Assembly in 2004 and 2007 and recommended to the Union government for further consideration.

Sources said Sonia Gandhi was “very positive” about the demand. Sonia, who was briefed by Tuki and PCC president Mukut Mithi about the implications of granting autonomy to the said areas — the development that it would bring and the political benefits it would accrue before elections — assured the delegation that she would take care of the matter by expediting the process of creating the councils.

The government is, however, cautious as the demand has strategic implications as well.

Tirap, Changlang and Longding districts, which would make up Patkai council, border Myanmar while Tawang and West Kameng districts, which would make up Mon council, border China. As such, sources said, the demand for Patkai council may undergo scrutiny in North Block and that for Mon council in South Block.

The proposed Patkai council, bordering Nagaland, is also politically sensitive as it is part of the NSCN (Isak-Muivah)’s demand for Nagalim or contiguous Naga-inhabited areas. The area has the influence of NSCN factions, particularly the Khaplang group. Sources said the government could leverage the issue in the talks with the NSCN (I-M). With that in mind, the government, though cautious, does not appear dead against the formation of the autonomous council.

When Tuki met Sonia and Singh, he significantly submitted signatures from all the panchayats of Tirap, Changlang and Longding districts in support of the formation of Patkai ADC instead of submitted a memorandum.

The submission of signatures strikes a sense of déjà vu. Signatures were similarly submitted from four eastern districts of Nagaland, demanding a Frontier Nagaland state, in 2010. These states were also part of the NSCN (I-M)’s concept of Nagalim.

Besides, security analysts may also see red. A senior army officer warned that “more money could mean more extortion besides development”. Autonomous district councils receive funds earmarked for them by the Centre.