Itanagar, Feb. 1: Bad weather forced Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to cancel his trip to a strategic Arunachal Pradesh army base close to the border with China, but he did lift the morale of soldiers in another district with grants for better infrastructure and a pep talk before winding up his two-day tour.
Official sources said the Prime Minister and his entourage could not fly to Kibithu in Anjaw district today because of a heavy cloud cover and gusty winds there. Singh was scheduled to meet troops of the 18 Kumaon Regiment at Kibithu, almost on the border with China.
The Prime Minister made up for it with a fairly long interaction with soldiers and officers of the 82 Mountain Division at their Lohitpur base in Lohit district. The new governor, Gen. (retd) J.J. Singh, chief minister Dorjee Khandu, Union ministers Mani Shankar Aiyar, Prithwiraj Chavan and Narayanbhai Rathwa, national security adviser M.K. Narayanan and Arunachal Pradesh police chief Ajay Chaddha accompanied him.
Singh and the rest of the team reached the army base on two MI-172 helicopters of the army.
The visit to the army base was officially described as a familiarisation trip, but sources said the Prime Minister also had discussions of a strategic military nature vis-à-vis China.
Singh announced a grant of Rs 30 lakh to the army for the improvement of telephone connectivity in the border posts and another Rs 60 lakh for transit camps.
In a joint address to troops of the army and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, the Prime Minister appreciated their commitment and courage in the dual role of guarding the borders and fighting militants in the Northeast. He had lunch with the soldiers before leaving for Chabua in Assam en route to New Delhi on a special flight from the IAF base there.
Singh spent around two hours at the airbase.
In Itanagar, contingency plans were ready in the event of the Prime Minister having to return to the state capital because of a weather-induced cancellation of his flight. A Special Protection Group team stayed back in Itanagar, where the weather remained fair throughout the day.
Jambey Tshering, public relations officer in the chief ministers office, revealed later that Buddhist monks had offered prayers all night long (on Wednesday) for the weather to clear. He said this was done at Khandus request. Prayers were offered at the Tawang monastery and other gompas across the state.
The Monpa tribe calls the sun nima. The chief minister belongs to this tribe and hails from Mukto in Tawang district. The prayers of the Lamas are known to be very powerful. We can say that the gods heard our prayers, Tshering said.
Although Singh could not travel to Anjaw district because of bad weather, nobody was complaining. From the time he arrived to his departure from here, the weather was good in Itanagar. It rained last night in the state capital, but the sun was out in its full glory this morning.
The symbolism was not lost on the people of Arunachal Pradesh. A Prime Minister came calling after a decade, brought with him several large projects and assured the state of Delhi's commitment to help Arunachal Pradesh move ahead.
I feel as if Donyi-Polo (literally sun-moon) has given us a signal. This could be the turning point for the state. The Prime Ministers visit and the weather clearing have come as a wonderful coincidence, said housewife Tana Jiri.
Kalpavriksh, an environment action group, struck the only discordant note. It objected to the Prime Minister laying the foundation stone for the 3000-MW Dibang multipurpose project without it going through the mandatory clearance procedures of the ministry of environment and forests.
In a letter to Singh, the NGO said the Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley and Hydroelectric Projects and the Forest Advisory Committee were yet to scrutinise the project proposal.