Arunachal Pradesh has been on the boil since last weekend when angry mobs ransacked and torched police stations, government offices, the private residence of the deputy chief minister, a shopping complex, business establishments, vehicle showrooms and at least 200 vehicles, including SUVs and police vans.
The agitators, who were protesting the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led state government’s move to grant Permanent Resident Certificate (PRC) to six non-indigenous communities in the sensitive border state, also tried to storm and destroy Chief Minister Pema Khandu’s residence.
The grant of PRC to the six communities — Deoris, Sonowal Kacharis, Morans, Adivasis, Mishings and Gorkhas — was supported by all political parties in the state and the powerful All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union (AAPSU). The state government had constituted a Joint High-Power Committee (JHPC) to examine the demand of the six communities, who have been living in the state for over a century, for PRCs.
The JHPC held consultations with all stakeholders, including community-based organisations, before recommending that PRC be granted to the six communities. The government was to have tabled the report of the JHPC in the state assembly on Saturday, but violence broke out on the streets of state capital Itanagar and surrounding areas before that.
The PRC issue has been triggering isolated protests across the state by some community-based organisations ever since Chief Minister Khandu and Deputy Chief Minister Chowna Mein announced in December last year that members of the six communities who or whose parents were residents of the state before 1968 would be granted PRCs. But some indigenous communities of the state have been saying that their interests would be compromised if PRC is given to the six communities.
The PRCs would enable them to avail of reservation in educational institutions. Arunachal, like some other states in the region, has fixed quotas in many government-run medical, engineering, management and other higher education institutions all over the country. Possession of PRC is required for availing such quotas and without this certificate, children of long-time residents of the state, including those who have resided there for generations but are not considered indigenous residents, do not get admission to state-run medical, engineering, management and other educational institutions in the rest of the country. They are thus forced to secure admission in private institutions, which charge a much higher fee.
The other tribal states of the region routinely issue PRCs to its long-time residents, including non-tribals, who are employed by the respective state governments and government undertakings. The six communities live mainly in the Namsai and Changlang districts of southeastern Arunachal Pradesh bordering Upper Assam. Most of them have been living there for generations, even before the formation of Arunachal Pradesh.
However, while these communities are accorded Scheduled Tribe (ST) status in neighbouring Assam and thus get all benefits that the ‘ST’ tag entails, they are considered to be ‘outsiders’ in Arunachal and are not entitled to any benefits. The Gorkhas mainly inhabit the Vijaynagar area of Arunachal bordering Myanmar.
Arunjyoti Moran, the president of the All Moran Students’ Union (AMSU), said that the demand for PRC has been a long-standing one. “Our forefathers have lived here since even before the British came to India. We have every right to be given PRC. We are not asking for ST status in Arunachal and it is unfortunate that our genuine demand is being opposed in such a manner,” he said.
In January this year, the AMSU launched an ‘economic blockade’ in eastern Arunachal that affected movement of goods in and out of that part of the state. The blockade was called in support of the demand for granting PRC to the Morans and five other communities. The Morans are a major tribal community in Assam.
The Outbreak Of Violence
About 18 organisations called for a 48-hour bandh in the middle of last week to oppose the tabling of the report of the JHPC that recommended the grant of PRCs to the six communities. It passed off peacefully on the first day (Thursday), but took an extremely violent turn on Friday with large mobs of young men and even women — many of them were teenagers — taking out protest rallies. The protesters started targeting police stations and government establishments and government vehicles plying on the roads. One police station was torched while many government offices were ransacked.
The protesters also stormed the venue of the state’s maiden film festival which was on at that time. They destroyed the stage, a portable theatre, vehicles parked at the venue and equipments of artistes, including music bands from other states of the region. The losses suffered by the festival organisers and artistes were pegged to be nearly Rs 10 crore. One group of protesters stormed the private residence of Deputy Chief Minister Chowna Mein and vandalised it, while another torched a shopping complex belonging to a minister. The protesters also attempted to storm the Chief Minister’s residence.
The unprecedented and sudden violence caught the police unawares. To quell the violence and prevent any more damage, police opened fire at some places, killing three protesters. The deaths triggered more violence. Senior police officers said that the security forces have acted with a lot of restraint, but was overwhelmed by the scale of protests.
Reinforcements of the central armed paramilitary forces were rushed to the state capital and the army has been patrolling the affected areas. Curfew was clamped and Internet services suspended. As of now, though the violence has subsided, an uneasy calm prevails and mobs of belligerent protesters are continuing to defy prohibitory orders.
Violence Was Planned And Well-Orchestrated
Chief Minister Pema Khandu and government spokespersons had repeatedly clarified since the beginning of last week that the JHPC report on the PRC issue will only be tabled in the state assembly and will not be passed by it. “The government had made it very clear that the report will only be tabled and will not be approved. Approval comes only after a thorough discussion and that will happen only in the next session of the assembly after the elections when a new government is in place in the state,” said a government spokesperson. Assembly elections in the state will be held along with the Lok Sabha elections.
Given these repeated assurances, it is surprising that violence broke out at all. And the level of violence as well as its sudden outbreak without any warning signals has led the state administration to believe that it was pre-planned and well-orchestrated. “There was no intelligence report of any trouble brewing. It (the violence) was sudden and seemed very well-planned. The manner in which large groups of youngsters fanned out to different areas and headed for specific targets like the deputy chief minister’s residence is proof enough of it being pre-planned and well orchestrated,” said an IG-ranked police officer.
The ruling BJP has been quick to blame the opposition Congress. State BJP president Tapir Gao accused the Congress of orchestrating the violence. “This is an attempt by the Congress to paint the BJP government in Arunachal in a poor light before the (assembly) elections. The Congress is playing a dirty game,” he said.
The Congress, of course, denies the charge. But, tellingly, it demands the resignation of Chief Minister Khandu and Deputy Chief Minister Mein. These have also been the demands of the riotous mobs as well. The Congress had also advocated granting PRCs to the six communities in the past and had maintained this stand before the JHPC.
However, central intelligence agencies believe that while the Congress may have had a limited hand at best in provoking the violence. “The Congress, which is a pale shadow of its earlier self, does not have the wherewithal to orchestrate something on such a big scale. This violence was very well-planned and designed to take the state administration by total surprise. It was kept a well-guarded secret. The manner in which such a large number of youngsters were launched simultaneously at different places in the state capital complex and its adjoining areas, and the concerted and coordinated near-simultaneous attacks on specific targets, speaks of meticulous planning and implementation. It was not at all spontaneous,” said a senior Intelligence Bureau official.
The reason a China hand is suspected is because China has always laid claim on Arunachal Pradesh (which it calls southern Tibet) and it eminently suits Beijing to have trouble in the state. And it also suits China to destabilise the state government and create political discord and social disharmony in the frontier state. Beijing would like to provoke the indigenous people of the state to turn against the state government.
A restive Arunachal would translate into tying down Indian troops in this border state and this is what would suit Beijing very well strategically, reasoned the IB officer. If this is correct, it means Beijing has scaled up its offensive on the eastern front and is no longer content with merely issuing stapled visas to residents of Arunachal or protesting visits by Indian leaders to the border state. New Delhi will now have to craft a new and effective strategy to counter and defeat Beijing’s game plan in Arunachal.
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