|‘The rural voters of the northeastern states are far removed from national politics and are hardly aware of the diminishing fortunes of the Congress across the country. Rural voters don't vote on issues. They vote personalities and vote for cash’
Choices are limited
Only in Arunachal Pradesh you will have a situation where there are not enough players on the political chessboard. The Assembly elections scheduled for April 9 is also the day when people will elect their two Lok Sabha representatives. Of the 60 seats to the Legislative Assembly 11 have already been won by the Congress candidates since they are uncontested. It is obvious that even out of the rest of the 49 seats the Congress will get the majority.
In an unprecedented political game, chief minister Nabam Tuki dissolved the Assembly seven months before its tenure.
It is a rare serendipity for a chief minister to be so sure of his re-election. And indeed, he has already been elected uncontested and will, I am sure, return to power. It was also a good political calculation to have both the state and Lok Sabha elections together.
Having it after seven months, by which time a new government would have taken over in Delhi, would have meant that the Congress would have lost ground in Arunachal Pradesh. We are familiar with floor crossing in this state.
Compared to other states of the Northeast where sometimes as many as 12 candidates vie for one Assembly seat, Arunachal Pradesh seems like a political paradise.
Besides, the rural voters of the northeastern states are far removed from national politics and are hardly aware of the diminishing fortunes of the Congress across the country. Rural voters don’t vote on issues. They vote personalities and vote for cash. Educated voters hardly make a dent in politics and the urban voters hardly care to make it to the polling booth. They spend more time in talking shop and those talks do not resonate beyond 10 sq km of the urban agglomerate. This is why we can hardly talk of a vote for change in the Northeast.
Arunachal Pradesh is, however, not immune from ethnic politics. The Nyishi tribe to which Nabam Tuki belongs dominates its politics. After the sudden death of Dorjee Khandu, a Monpa, the reins of leadership fell on Jarbom Gamlin from the Galo tribe. His term as chief minister was short-lived as ethnic politics swept like wildfire and Nabam Tuki was installed as the next chief minister. In this state, law and order continues to be the biggest challenge.
On the Lok Sabha front, Kiren Rijiju, the dynamic former BJP MP who used to represent Arunachal West parliamentary constituency of Arunachal Pradesh, is contesting this time too on the BJP ticket. In 2009, Rijiju lost to Takam Sanjoy of the Congress. Rijiju later lent support to the Congress-led state government under Dorjee Khandu. It was assumed that Rijiju had sold his soul to the Congress. But shifting loyalties is an old political gimmick. It could be an opportune moment for Rijiju to win this election because if he does and the BJP-led NDA comes to power in Delhi, he might get a ministerial berth, considering he is a fairly senior in the BJP hierarchy. But that aside, Rijiju used to be the lone face from the Northeast who would be waxing eloquent in Parliament. The other MP who made a mark in Parliament is Assam’s Sarbananda Sonowal.
Arunachal Pradesh has been a contested territory of this country as much as Ladakh is in the north. The Chinese consider Arunachal the southern part of Tibet and refuse to accept the McMohan Line drawn to delineate the boundaries between India and China. The people of Arunachal Pradesh wishing to visit China for official purposes or for sporting events have been given a stapled visa because China does not want to concede India’s claims to this region.
Surprisingly, while India asserts and reasserts its claims over Arunachal, it has not matched up those claims with development projects as the Chinese have done on the other side of the border. Thirty kilometres away from the border outpost the Chinese have invested in roads, power supply and other infrastructure. On the Indian side of the border, things are in a state of atrophy since no substantial investments have been made in this border state since Independence.
Those representing the government of Arunachal Pradesh have also remained stoic about this complete absence of communication within Arunachal Pradesh and between the state and the rest of the country.
The state has no airport though parts of Arunachal Pradesh are feasible for constructing a full-fledged airport. In that respect, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh share a similar angst. Both states are hugely dependent on road communication and to Assam’s Borjhar airport and railway stations for outward travel. If there is a bandh in Assam (and there is a bandh every second day in that state) the people of Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh are locked in and have to cancel their air or rail trips. The civil aviation ministry, too, has turned a blind eye to both states.
Ironically, Rahul Gandhi, who toured this region (the only region where the Congress is assured of substantial support) has romanticised the beauty of Arunachal Pradesh as if he has only just discovered this paradise. The media has widely reported Rahul Gandhi’s ecstatic comments that he would like to settle in Arunachal after he retires from politics. He was referring to Hapoli in the Lower Subansiri district where he addressed an election rally.
One would venture to ask the Gandhi scion what his road map is for this state which is truly a patch of beauty and grace. Why is it still so isolated and so badly connected? And it is a buffer state between China and India! By that logic, it should have received preferential treatment instead of being seen from security-centric lenses. In fact, this is the problem with the northeastern states.
Connectivity within the region is pathetic and people are so disconnected that they have rare chances of interaction with each other.
The Indian defence establishment has fed Delhi with all hyperbole of the possibility of a virulent China attacking the northeastern frontiers yet again as they did in 1962. But we are well past that stage and diplomacy should inform us that such is not the case although the contentious nature of Arunachal Pradesh being South Tibet persists.
No state can be left undeveloped because of the fear that the enemy would find it easier to enter its territories. India continues to pursue this abhorrent policy even with Ladakh.
Arunachal Pradesh has been a politically unpredictable frontier. At one time, there was just one lone Opposition member with the rest 59 MLAs in the ruling party. Politicians are adept at aligning with whoever rules in Delhi. Gegong Apang, a former Congress stalwart, has now joined the BJP.
Although Apang is a spent force, it just shows how easy it is to hold two ideologically diametric views. Obviously people like Apang hardly bother about ideology. They want power and cannot be bothered which political party can get them that power. It remains to be seen how the legislators of Arunachal Pradesh, who are at the moment upbeat about a Congress comeback in the state, behave once the party is out of power in Delhi.
(The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)