Sunday, October 30, 2011

What is cooking in Arunachal aka the resignation drama of Jarbom Gamlin

To understand what is going on in Arunachal Pradesh, a contextualization is essential.

a) A Historical Background: Arunachal Pradesh is the largest among all the North-East states considering its area of 83,743 sq. kms. The state has a long international border with Bhutan in the west covering 160 kms, Tibet in the north and northeast covering 1030 kms and Myanmar in the east covering 440 kms. The states of Assam in the south and Nagaland in the east and southeast form the other border states. Arunachal Pradesh falls in the outer Himalayas and Patkoi ranges. It is endowed with wide topographical variations, vegetation and wild life. The state is vivisected by innumerable rivers and streams which originate in the higher Himalayas and Arakan ranges. They flow down to form tributaries of Brahmaputra. The major rivers are Kameng, Subansiri, Siang, Dibang, Lohit, Diyum and Dihing.

Arunachal Pradesh acquired an identify of its own for the first time in 1914 when some tribal areas were separated from the then Darrang and Lakhimpur district of Assam to form North-East frontier Tract (NEFT). The NEFT was further sub-divided into Balipara Frontier Tract, the Sadiya Frontier tract and Tirap Frontier Tract between 1914-43. At the time of India’s independence in 1947, the present territory of Arunachal Pradesh was under part-B of the Sixth schedule of the Constitution as the tribal areas of Assam. Part-B included NEFT including Balipara Frontier Tract, the Tirap Frontier Tract, the Abor Hills district, the Mishmi Hills district and the Naga tribal areas. All these districts together were renamed as North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA) in 1951.

The NEFA was reconstituted under North-East Frontier Areas (Administration) Regulation of 1954 into Kameng Frontier Division, Subansiri Frontier Division, Siang Frontier Division, Lohit Frontier Division, Tirap Frontier Division, and Tuensang Frontier Division. The Tuensang Frontier Division was later separated from the NEFA in 1957 and merged with the newly constituted Naga Hills which became the new state of Nagaland. The NEFA was scheduled as part of Assam during the 1950-65 period and its administration was carried out by the Governor of Assam as an agent of the President of India under the Ministry of External Affairs. In the aftermath of the war with China in 1962, the responsibility of the NEFA administration was transferred to the Ministry of Home Affairs in 1965 as per the recommendations of the Dying Ering Commission (1965). Consequently, five divisions of the territory (Kameng, Subansiri, Siang, Lohit, and Tirap) became five districts. With the passage of time, these five districts have been further sub-divided into 16 districts.

Incorporating the recommendations of the Dying Ering Commission (1965), the North-East Frontier Agency Panchayat Raj Regulation Act was passed by the Parliament and implemented by the Government of India in 1967. As per the provisions of this Act, local self-government was introduced at different levels. For this, the Agency Council was formed at apex level followed by Zilla Parishads at District level, Anchal Samitis at Block level and Gram Panchayat at the village level. The traditional village councils which were already recognized under the North-East Frontier Administration of Justice Regulation, 1945, were accorded the status of Gram Panchayats. The NEFA was upgraded as Union Territory of Arunachal Pradesh on January 21, 1972 in accordance with the North-East Frontier Areas (Reorganization) Act of 1971. Finally, the Union Territory was replaced by a Pradesh Council which in turn was converted to a Legislative Assembly in 1975. The first elections to a 30 member Assembly was held in 1978. Finally, the Union Territory was replaced by a full fledged state on February 20, 1978. The present strength of members of the state's Legislative Assembly is 60, which according to the Constitutional stipulations implies that the strength of the Cabinet (including the Chief Minister) cannot exceed 12.

b) The People: The population of Arunachal Pradesh can be roughly divided into Scheduled Tribes and non-Scheduled Tribes. From the 2001 census data, 64.2% are Scheduled Tribes whereas the rest are non-Scheduled Tribes.

Scheduled Tribes: According to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Lists (Modification) Order, 1956 and as inserted by Act 69 of 1986 states, the STs in the state are “All tribes of the State including: Abor, Aka, Apatani, Dafla, Galong, Khampti, Khowa, Mishmi, Monpa, Momba, Any Naga tribes, Sherdukpen, Singpho”. The notification gives only an illustration of a few STs. In the 2001 Census, a total of 100 STs have been enumerated. Of these, 25 tribes have a population of 5000 or more. Relative to the total ST population of the state, these tribes and their relative percentages are: Nissi (Nyishi) 12.4%, Adi Gallong 6.8%, Wancho 6.77%, Dafla (reclassified as Nyishi as Dafla was deemed derogatory) 6.4%, Monpa 5.95%, Tagin 5.54%, Adi Minyong 4.82%, Nocte 4.78%, Adi 4.6%, Apatani 3.9%, Galong 3.86%, Mishmi 3.57%, Nishang 3.11%, Tangsa 2.97%, Abor 2.8%, Mishing/Miri 1.93%, Khampti 1.83%, Adi Padam 1.65%, ... .

Most of the tribes in Arunachal Pradesh are ethnically similar, having derived from an original common stock. But due to geographical isolation certain distinctive characteristics in each tribe in language, dress and customs can be noticed. The ST population form a set of semi-distinct cultural spheres, on the basis of tribal identity, language, religion, and material culture. They occupy distinct regions, specifically,
i) the Tibetic area bordering Bhutan in the west,
ii) the Tani area in the centre of the state,
iii) the Mishmi area to the east of the Tani area,
iv) the Tai/Singpho/Tangsa area bordering Burma, and
v) the "Naga" area to the south, which also borders Burma.
In between there are transition zones, such as the Aka/Hruso/Miji/Sherdukpen area, which provides a "buffer" of sorts between the Tibetic Buddhist tribes and the animist Tani hill tribes. In addition, there are isolated peoples scattered throughout the state, such as the Sulung.

Within each of these cultural spheres, one finds populations of related tribes speaking related languages and sharing similar traditions.
i) In the Tibetic area, one finds large numbers of Monpa tribes-people, with several subtribes speaking closely related but mutually incomprehensible languages, and also large numbers of Tibetan refugees.
ii) Within the Tani area, major tribes include Nissi (Nyishi), which has recently come to be used by many people to encompass Bangni, Tagin and even Hills Miri. Apatani also live among the Nyishi, but are distinct. In the centre, one finds predominantly Galo people, with the major sub-groups of Lare and Pugo among others, extending to the Ramo and Pailibo areas (which are close in many ways to Galo). In the east, one finds the Adi, with many subtribes including Padam, Pasi, Minyong, and Bokar, among others. Milang, while also falling within the general "Adi" sphere, are in many ways quite distinct.
iii) Moving east, the Idu, Miju and Digaru make up the "Mishmi" cultural-linguistic area, which may or may not form a coherent historical grouping.
iv) Moving southeast, the Tai Khamti are linguistically distinct from their neighbours and culturally distinct from the majority of other Arunachali tribes; they are religiously similar to the Chakmas who have migrated from the region that became Bangladesh. They follow the same Theraveda sect of Buddhism. The Chakmas consist of the majority of the tribal population. Districts of Lohit, Changlang, Dibang and Papum Pare have a considerable number of Chakmas. They speak a linguistic variant derived from Assamese and Bengali. Assam also has a large population of Chakmas who reside in the district of Karbi Anglong, Nagaon and Cachar. They also exhibit considerable convergence with the Singpho and Tangsa tribes of the same area, all of which are also found in Burma.
v) Finally, the Nocte and Wancho exhibit cultural and possibly also linguistic affinities to the tribes of Nagaland, which they border.

The 16 districts of Arunachal Pradesh are: i) Tirap, ii) Changlang, iii) Lohit -- Mishmis, Khamties and Singphoes, iv) Anjaw, v) Lower Dibang Valley -- Idu Mishmis, Adis and Mishing, vi) Upper Dibang Valley, vii) East Siang, viii) West Siang, ix) Upper Siang -- center of Adi society, x) Lower Subansiri -- Apatani, Nyishi and Hill Miri, xi) Upper Subansiri, xii) Kurung Kumey, xiii) Papum Pare, xiv) East Kameng, xv) West Kameng -- Monpas, Miji, Sherdukpen, and xvi) Tawang. Of these, the Lower Subansiri, Upper Subansiri, East Kameng, Tirap, and West Siang are predominantly ST districts with the proportion of ST population 80 per cent and above. These districts together share half of the total ST population of the state. Specifically, we have the following % of STs in each district:
i) Lower Subansiri 90.1%,
ii) Upper Subansiri 89.5%
iii) East Kameng 86.7%
iv) Tirap 83.7%
v) West Siang 81.7%
vi) Upper Siang 78.2%
vii) Tawang 75.0%
viii) East Siang 69.1%
ix) Papum Pare 56.6%
x) West Kameng 49.5%
xi) Dibang Valley 46.5%
xii) Lohit 38.2%
xiii) Changlang 36.2%.

From the above data, it can be seen that the combined tribes of the Adis and the Galongs (Abors) is the dominant tribal grouping followed by the Nissi (Nyishi)-Dafla. The Adi peoples are dominant in East Siang, Upper Siang, West Siang and Dibang Valley whereas the Nyishi community is dominant in Papam Pare, East Kameng, Lower Subansiri, Kurung Kumey, parts of Upper Subansiri, as well as the Darrang District and North Lakhimpur district of Assam. So far, no one from the dominant Nyishi community has become the Chief Minister of the state.

Non-Scheduled Tribes: The non-Scheduled Tribes consist of a large numbers of migrants from diverse areas of India and Bangladesh, who, while legally not entitled to settle permanently, in practice stay indefinitely, progressively altering the traditional demographic makeup of the state. Finally, populations of "Nepalis" (in fact, usually Tibeto-Burman tribespeople whose tribes predominate in areas of Nepal, but who do not have tribal status in India) and Chakmas are distributed in different areas of the state (although reliable figures are hard to come by).

c) Religion: In Arunachal Pradesh, unlike Nagaland, Mizoram, and Manipur, considerable ST population still adhere to their original tribal faith. This faith commemorates ancestors, emphasizes a belief in many spirits and folklores, and includes rituals which coincide with lunar phases or agricultural cycles. Sun and moon are worshipped as God and this God is referred to as Donyi-Polo. A law has been enacted to protect the indigenous religions (e.g., Donyi-Polo, Buddhism) in Arunachal Pradesh against the spread of other religions, though no comparable law exists to protect the other religions.

According to the 2001 Indian Census, the religions of Arunachal Pradesh break down as follows: Hindu 34.6%, Others (mostly, Donyi-Polo) 30.7%, Christian 18.7%, Buddhist 13.0%, Muslim 1.9%. Of the total ST population, we have the following breakdown: Others 47.2% (leading to 30.08% of the total state population), Christians 26.5% (leading to 16.96% of the state population), Hindus 13.1% (leading to 8.38%), Buddhists 11.7% (leading to 7.5%). The non-Scheduled Tribes can be broken into 26.3% of the state's share of Hindus, 5.5% of the share of Buddhists, and 1.7% of the share of Christians.

Individual ST wise, Khampti, Monpa, Momba, Sherdukpen, and Singpho are mostly the followers of Buddhism. Adi, Aka, Nishing, Apatani, Mishmi, Tangsa worship Donyi-Polo, whereas the Nocte practice an elementary form of Vaishnavism. Quite sizeable populations among Adi, Nishi (up to 80%), Nocte, and Wancho have been converted to Christianity. The Wancho and Nocte are Naga tribals and some have been influenced by Nagas (predominantly Christians) in Nagaland.

d) Arunachal's Problems:
1) The first problem is to speed up building infrastructure in the state, especially roads criss-crossing deep gorges and swift rivers. While the Border Roads Organisation mostly builds roads in the state, there are areas where connectivity is the state’s responsibility. Besides, the Chinese have, of late, been rapidly building infrastructure along the border that has made the Indian side nervous. While Beijing has geography on its side — the Tibetan plateau lends a distinct advantage — the Indian side neither has geography on its side nor, till recently, had the will to change the difficult terrain to its advantage by building roads.
2) The state also faces challenges in the extreme east as well in the Tirap and Changlang districts. Not only is there pressure from people to open the routes to Myanmar for trade and build roads but also to stem militancy. Both factions of the NSCN, Isak-Muivah and Khaplang, co-exist and exercise considerable influence in Tirap and Changlang. For the new incumbent, there would be pressure from Chidambaram to neutralise the militants with the state’s own police forces who would be allowed to recruit more people. There have been many fruitless efforts in the past to cap the claims of Nagalim: one such stillbirth move was to rechristen the Naga tribes of Arunachal Pradesh (34 tribes and sub-tribes in Changlang and 3 in Tirap) as Tangshangs. These groupings included Muklom, Longchang, Tutsa, Tikhak, Hawoi, Longri, Mungrey, Mushang in Changlang district and Nocte, Wangcho and Tutsa in Tirap district. Another such move was the introduction of the Arunachal Pradesh Control of Organised Crime Act (APCOCA) Bill under the Mukut Mithi government, which was then repealed under Gegong Apang.
3) The third problem is with Assam in terms of contested borders and downstream impact of big dams.
i) The most important position in Arunachal Pradesh after the Chief Minister is the Ministry of Power given the enormous hydel power resources and potential that Arunachal sits on. The state has the potential to generate around 50,000 MW and most of the projects have been commissioned on the Subansiri, the Siang, the Lohit and the Kameng. However, the issue of big dams in Arunachal has generated quite a bit of heat in neighbouring Assam, as there are fears of largescale inundation downstream. Specifically, the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) and its leader Akhil Gogoi have been preventing vessels carrying machinery for the Lower Subansiri power project to be carried through. In response to this opposition, the Union ministry of environment and forests has been conducting a study on the feasibility and environmental impact of big dams from 2009.
ii) The Nyishis in East Kameng have repeated clashes with Bodos in the Darrang and Sonitpur districts of neighboring Assam due to overlap of territory issues. Similar problems exist elsewhere on the Arunachal-Assam border also.

e) Political State:
Background information on the players:
Gegong Apang is an Adi tribal.
Dorjee Khandu is a Monpa tribal with Buddhist affiliation from Tawang.
Jarbom Gamlin is a Donyi-Polo from the West Siang district.
Mukut Mithi is an Adi tribal (?) from the Lower Dibang Valley.

After a coalition regime (between BJP and Arunachal Congress) under veteran politician Gegong Apang, the eve of the 2004 elections saw Apang shift his allegiance to the Congress yet again. With this weight, Congress stormed back to power in Arunachal Pradesh winning 34 seats in the 60-member assembly with Apang emerging as the frontrunner for the Chief Ministership. Under the Gegong Apang ministry, Dorjee Khandu who was re-elected unopposed in 2004 from Mukto constituency became the minister for Power, NCER, and relief and rehabilitation. Jarbon Gamlin who was elected from Liromoba became the Home Minister. Gamlin was dropped from the Apang ministry in March 2006. While no specific reasons were given for the ouster, the most likely consideration might have been to ensure that all sections of society get proper representation in the ministry given the upper cap of 12 on the ministry (the newly inducted ministers were said to be close to Apang and former CM Mukut Mithi).

Unhappy over the "dictatorial policies and distribution of portfolios in the council of ministers" of the Apang regime, dissidence by a majority of ruling Congress MLAs saw Dorjee Khandu take over as the Chief Minister on April 9, 2007. He continued through 2009 and won a re-election bid in 2009. Of the total 60 seats in the Arunachal State Assembly, 42 was won by the Congress, five by the NCP, five by Trinamul Congress, four by PPA, three by BJP and one is an Independent/rebel candidate from one of the mainstream parties. Meanwhile, Gegong Apang was arrested in August 2010 for alleged corruption relating to a Rs. 1000 crore public distribution system scam. Apang denied the charges and claimed they are politically motivated, though the government stated that the investigation was conducted independently and without political interference. The scam allegedly involved fradulent hill transport subsidy bills that were passed while Apang was Chief Minister without the required financial oversight.

The incumbent Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh, Dorjee Khandu, died in an unfortunate helicopter crash at Sela Pass on April 30, 2011. Khandu's government from 2007 to his untimely demise had signed scores of MOUs with private players to set up over 100 hydel power projects, the revenue from which would make Arunachal the richest state in the country. In the wake of his demise, four to five (depending on the source) contenders emerged for the Chief Ministership. They were: i) Arunachal Pradesh Congress Committee (APCC) president and PWD minister Nabam Tuki, ii) former chief minister Mukut Mithi, iii) Rural Welfare and Development minister Kalikho Pul, iv) Finance minister Setong Sena and v) Power minister and government spokesman Jarbom Gamlin. While Tuki was the frontrunner as a veteran party hand, the scales eventually tipped in Gamlin’s favour as he was backed by the deceased’s family.

The high command (AICC) too gave in to the family’s wish and Jarbom Gamlin was sworn in as the new chief minister of Arunachal Pradesh on May 5, 2011. As payback, Gamlin fielded Dorjee Khandu's son Pema Khandu, 32, in his cabinet with the hope that Pema could contest the Mukto byelection. The rest of the ministers in his cabinet were erstwhile ministers in the Dorjee Khandu-government. They include Kalikho Pul, Setong Sena, Nabam Tuki, Tako Dabi, Chowna Mein, Tanga Byaling, Atum Welly, Takar Marde, Honchun Ngandam and Bosiram Siram. In terms of tribal divisions, the Nyishi community has 14 MLAs in the 60-member state assembly. Two of them are ministers and four others parliamentary secretaries in the Congress government headed by Gamlin.

f) From Crisis to Crisis:
The contentious replacement process for Dorjee Khandu has meant that the Jarbom Gamlin government has been working on a crisis mode from inception. Signs of crisis could be felt during the three-day Assembly session that concluded in late September when non-Congress MLAs demanded a CBI inquiry into the crash that claimed the life of Dorjee Khandu during the obituary references and a Congress legislator raised the issue of the deteriorating law and order situation. In the meanwhile, an explosive news report from Pradeep Thakur of the Times of India which attributed the loss of Nabam Tuki in the Chief Ministerial race to the tense relation Nyishis have with other tribal groupings brought the influential Nyishi Elite Society and the All Nyishi Students’ Union into the picture. They called for an Itanagar chalo campaign (Mega Nyishi Dignity Rally) on October 7 accusing the Gamlin government of divisive politics and collusion by being the news source in the Times of India report.

Other organizations chipped in this effort too. The All Nyishi Youth Organisation has extended support to the Nyishi Elite Society’s demand for Gamlin’s resignation. Also unhappy with the situation are the All Arunachal Youngstar United Federation, the All Arunachal Registered Contractor Association, the Arunachal Citizens’ Right, the NEFA Indigenous Human Rights Organisation and the Women Power Connect (Arunachal chapter). The Arunachal Pradesh Indigenous Tribes Union's charges also included breakdown in law and order situation, unprovoked police firing on protesters and demanded immediate termination of those involved in the police firing, among others. It flayed the state home minister Takar Marde for the breaking down of law and order while Youngstar United has sought the Centre’s intervention for restoration of normalcy.

The governance crisis reached a flashpoint with senior cabinet minister Chowna Mein alleging that he was kidnapped soon after the three-day Assembly session on September 26 and taken to the chief minister’s official residence at Niti Vihar* where other MLAs and ministers were also present and that he had to flee that very evening fearing for his life. Jarbom Gamlin not only dismissed the charges but also said he was the one to drop the minister home. The government spokesperson Setong Sena has refuted accusation of government forces being involved in the kidnapping, dubbing it as an attempt to gain cheap publicity. Mein’s accusation came at a time when several legislators, ministers and party leaders had been camping in Delhi, demanding Gamlin’s ouster. Specifically, Gamlin and Tuki have been camping in Delhi since September 27 hoping for a resolution to their contrasting demands. Gamlin wants Tuki’s wings clipped while Tuki wants Gamlin to be replaced, citing “breakdown” of governance in the state.

Some governmental sources said involvement of NSCN (I-M) rebels in the entire drama, which has derailed governance in the state, was also suspected, as some MLAs were allegedly being threatened to support some faction of the outfit or the other. Their involvement is also suspected in light of their demand for inclusion of Tirap and Changlang districts in the integrated Naga homeland, Nagalim. The Naga rebels, however, have strongly refuted the charge about their involvement in Arunachal Pradesh politics. But the voice of a terrorist group only adds so much credibility to the whole situation.

While the AICC seems to be concerned that there exists a threat by some legislators to form a regional party if there were no change of guard (as has been seen many times in the past), in the words of the BJP organisation secretary (Northeast), P. Chandra Sekhar, administration has come to a total standstill for over a month as two Congress groups lobby for leadership. BJP general secretary Tapir Gao said though the standoff was an internal matter of the Congress, it had caused a crisis for which the party leadership was responsible. As of October 29, 2011, Sonia Gandhi finally decided to remove Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Jarbom Gamlin after the central observers told her of his grave mistakes and the deep sense of disquiet among a majority of the legislators. The process of choosing Gamlin’s successor has begun and the decision will be announced in the next couple of days.

* Gamlin, however, does not stay in his official residence.

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