December 30, 2015

A season of hope and conviction

[ Tongam Rina ]
There is something very mystical about the year end with festivity in the air. Even though the dusts cloud our eyes, there is a certain amount of positivity as families and friends plan their New Year get together. While some of us may have to deal with personal struggles, it is that time of the year, when people contemplate about the time gone by and make resolutions for a better year.
The atmosphere of positivity as well as contemplation is so contagious that Chief Minister has announced that he enjoys majority while the gregarious Raj Bhavan has gone silent. Only time and Judiciary will tell us what is in store for the state. Unusual though for a state with zero or no conviction, we are looking at the Courts to decide a lot of things. Almost everyone who can afford is running to court, doing away with our favorite pastime of gathering clan members to engage in fist fighting or dao duals.
And there are lots of court cases that confront the state and its future, both politically and otherwise.
Three months period given by the Supreme Court on the grant of citizenship to the Chakma and Hajong refugees have passed already. While there is unanimity on grant of citizenship to these refugees, the issue of their settlement in the state remains highly contentious. It remains to be seen what step the govt of Arunachal and All Arunachal Pradesh Students Union will take next, but the issue seems to have taken a backseat as the state grapples with political uncertainty. All political parties are silent as well as the students on the curative petition that was to be filed. Ambiguity, be it of state interest or personal is not the best approach.
On the otherhand, in some cases, it is inevitable to approach Court, but there are some which make us wonder why one needs to look at it as the last option.
One case that is worth mentioning is Arunachal Pradesh Industrial Development and Financial Corporation Limited’s threat to go to court after the City and Industrial Development Corporation of Mumbai decided to cancel the land allotted to Arunachal Pradesh at Navi Mumbai for construction of a state guest house cum sales emporium at a subsidised rate. The state bungled right from 1994 when the land was allotted. The regimes of Mukut Mithi and Gegong Apang had no idea what to do with the land.
And when it did happen in 2007, it was not devoid of controversy, right from tendering process to execution. The condition was non- refundable upfront money within 15 days, a fashion which was prevailing during the reign of Dorjee Khandu led government. While no one really cares about accountability, at least it was expected that a Guest House will come up for patients, mostly with cancer, who in absence of facilities in the state and region go to Mumbai for treatment. Basic housing facility, which was given at a throw away price in a faraway place, is taken from suffering citizens only because those at the helms of affairs, who can afford to fly out anywhere, anytime for medical treatment, forgot to sign the right paper. Perhaps, this is the reality we have to deal with but this is not a fair deal at all. We can only hope that people who are in a position to make the right decision do make it right. May the New Year usher in hope and conviction in our thoughts and actions.



(23, December, 2015)

Chaos and the keys

[ Tongam Rina ]
When Governor of Arunachal Pradesh J P Rajkhowa had issued orders advancing the session of the Arunachal Pradesh Legislative Assembly from Jan 14-18, 2016 to Dec 16-18, he probably did not realize that he would not only land himself in a soup but provoke a political drama and utter chaos, never witnessed before in the state.
Because of Rajkhowa’s over enthusiastic move, Arunachal had no Speaker for more than 24 hours and for couple of hours, there were two Chief Ministers! The terror of having to handle two chief ministers did not last long due to the intervention of the High Court but we know that the current CM does not have enough support. Then again there is the issue of disqualification of 14 members. It’s never been this chaotic.
During two days of uncertainty, the State Police and administration stood composed even in the face of provocation from BJP and Congress workers. Had one lathi been lifted, there would have been violence because both parties were waiting for the other one to start. On the other hand, Congress leadership and their supporters could have done better than blocking the highway and slaughtering a poor animal near the Raj Bhavan after the CM was ‘voted out’ in a sitting held in a hotel.
The display of political immaturity and hunger for power by Congress and rebel Congress and BJP have surely gone down in political history of this state so has the actions of the overzealous governor who seemed to have exceeded his authority.
Now, we have to wait for Jan 4, 2016 to find out what happens next, but we do know that self- centred elected representatives need to do better to gain our confidence again. Yours truly will reserve her comments on not so neutral governor and those workers who bared themselves. Till the judiciary tells us what has to be done, one wonders where the keys of Legislative Assembly gate and Hall are.
Apparently, Nabam Rebia has the keys to the gate and T N Thongdok has the keys to the assembly hall. As of now, it’s suspended animation. Have a blessed Christmas!



November 25, 2015

Winter sun

[ Tongam Rina ]
The cool winter evening breeze is calming after bout of humid summer which was followed by heavy rains and destruction. New paddy has already arrived and so has oranges adding to the riot of colours in the vegetable markets in the warmer parts of the state. But one can’t stop long to admire the many colours of winter. Like many things in life, soon one realises that even the warmth of soothing winter sun comes at a cost because of our own doing. Gusts of dust afflict you and bring you back to reality, in case of twin Capital towns. Forever a dusty and bad construction site, this winter too, citizens are confronted by dust because of road works. PWD and its contractors only know whether it’s worth it for the citizens to bear the dusts hoping for good roads that will last a season, at least. Even an average technologically challenged person can gauge that quality of work is being compromised, even though it is pet project of govt, beleaguered it may be. But we will bear it hoping for roads worth calling road. That’s typical of us Arunachalees, hoping against hope while we annoy each other with arguments how everything should be.
Winter also is time for picnics. Every village will have a picnic by the river, taking a well deserved break from hard agricultural work. As one move to the towns, the excuse to have a picnic gets bigger, ranging from clan to tribe picnics.
Perhaps some sulk and wonder why we would want to go to a picnic inviting just the clan members when we are worried about inclusive pan Arunachal!
It’s not only time for good occasions as winter also is the time, when maximum motor vehicular as well as fire accidents will happen. The comforting winter sun makes us forget the bad roads, as speeding drivers and bikers compete with each other, feeling invincible. But then our reality is that roads are bad and we don’t have emergency medical facilities to deal with accidents.
Fire that comforts us in winter also is a cause of worry, with our houses built so compact. Most places, including towns do not have access to fire tenders. We are very much left on our archaic practices to douse the fire. Ziro, Pasighat, Aalo and Daporijo are few towns that face major fire accidents every year. Perhaps, time has come for protective mechanism.
In capital region, even though it has access to few fire tenders, in an event of fire accidents, it gets worse as the roads are congested; our own doing and yet again, our feeling of being invincible. We have built houses in every available inch of land. It’s difficult to figure out where the road ends and houses begin. But then the elements like earth, fire and water have minds of their own, way smarter and destructive than us.
May this winter be better for all of us, minus the dusts, bad road and fire accidents as we celebrate the season with picnics and gorge on fresh oranges from the organic orchards, sitting in sun.
As we talk about comfort of winter sun, there is hope that no one sleeps in the biting cold without a warm cover. Arunachal winter does not last long but let our hope last longer.



(21, October, 2015)

Individuals and power centers

[ Tongam Rina ]
During VC Pandey’s Governorship, the state witnessed a typical political drama, in August 2004 when the power shifted to Gegong Apang from Mukut Mithi, in a very classic Arunachalee style. Overnight MLAs changed loyalties. There were rumours of horse-trading and MLAs being kept in captive in a hotel near Itanagar. Unimaginable today, but a group of unhappy and very aggressive MLAs had landed up at the Raj Bhavan, breaking the tight security cordon. The physically weak Governor was cornered violently in full view of media persons. The act was not only disrespectful to an elderly person but the whole Institution of Raj Bhavan itself, which till than was revered by the people of Arunachal, who are naturally drawn to people and Institutions in power and position. The learned MLAs physically forced the Governor to sign a paper, while his officers, who were supposed to protect him, looked on helplessly. In the meantime, a hungry MLA went out looking for food and barged into the kitchen, delivering orders to the cooks and attendants to prepare lunch. Yours truly is not sure whether forced lunch was served, the day decency made a hasty retreat, but even for reporters always looking for news, it was shocking to watch the violent streak, out in open among some of the elected representatives. But then power corrupts and blinds even the most enlightened.
These days, politicians in Arunachal are smarter. While they camp elsewhere, numerous organizations are used as a tool to spread violence and propaganda, unmindful of the fact that it’s common citizens who elect them, in lieu of money but in expectation of development, peace and security.
While the debate will continue who uses whom, times sure have changed. Today, Raj Bhavan is not just an institution that carries out its constitutional duties but tries and engages with normal common citizens as well as asks difficult questions.
In recent times, the trend was set by Gen J J Singh, who knew exactly what he was doing. Not only did he threw open the Raj Bhavan to common people, at some point, he became more popular than the Chief Minister, because he was approachable and accessible with populist ideas, unlike traits of the Indian Army. He was known to ask uncomfortable questions to the Chief Ministers but so was SK Singh who would frequently snub nonsensical ideas by the politicians.
Governor SK Singh would often make his feelings known through his public speeches, stopping short of calling politicians and media persons stupid and short sighted. He had no time for Unions, which he declared were an impediment to the development of the state, annoying half of the people in Capital, who are either presidents or general secretary of these or that organization. There was an uneasy truce.
For many, it’s going back in time as the same atmosphere is felt now but between the Raj Bhavan and Chief Minister’s Office.
A colleague said that body language of JP Rajkhowa and Nabam Tuki, during a recent event was for all to see; not open hostility but uneasiness in each other’s company. Predictably so. The Political bosses do not like questions while the current incumbent at the Raj Bhavan, will only settle for a satisfactory response. Ask the already harassed Chief Minister! Not only did the Raj Bhavan made him wait for days, but his proposals for dropping the ministers were sent back, apparently, the reasons were not convincing enough. Absenteeism of ministers finally was the key word.
We have to acknowledge that a trend has indeed been set in the state where a mere line of recommendation for dropping of ministers or new appointments to any position will not be accepted without asking questions or making the Officers read the law books. Whatever it is, citizens can only hope that there is at least politeness in place, if not camaraderie between Raj Bhavan and CMO, even if ideologies are different.



(14, October, 2015)

Indigenous and refugees: uncertain times ahead

[ Tongam Rina ]
In its September 17 judgment on Chakma Hajong refugees, the Supreme Court, out of nowhere, quotes from the Pauranic Hindu legends to establish the “integral link” of the state of Arunachal Pradesh with the rest of the country “since ancient times”. Yours truly was left wondering why mythical legends had to be drawn in while giving a verdict which is no way related to the current reality. Perhaps, it was prompted by the atrociously painful and incorrigible Hindutva wave or need to reassure us and themselves that indeed Arunachal belonged to this country even before notion of nationhood or the physical boundaries were drawn.
The reality today is the fate of thousands of Chakma-Hajong refugees who call Arunachal their home as well as indigenous communities of Arunachal who don’t want them in their land. Though the current SC verdict is on grant of citizenship to the Chakmas and Hajongs who migrated to India during 1964-69 but the state is host to thousands of them.
These refugees remain in their designated and nearby areas, mostly encroaching into community land because of burgeoning population, at the same time many Chakma-Hajong refugees own land and business establishments.
In Diyun-Bordumsa, Miao, Chongkham area, the refugees are a force to be reckoned with, not just because of their number but because they are hard working and run the local economy. They work everywhere where the indigenous population would not think of even venturing into; be it running the vegetable markets, tending to the paddy fields as hired labourers or as household workers.
Under such a backdrop, it is perhaps time to come up with a set of realistic policy that would serve as a road map for tackling the
peculiar refugee issue.
Though the issue is highly emotive and contentious, the state and the Centre have to find a middle path and evaluate refugee status and rights vis-à-vis indigenous populations against the milieu of international conventions.
The Court has already stated that when the Chakmas and Hajongs were settled in NEFA from 1964 – 69, there were no elected bodies and that the laws applicable in the State of Arunachal Pradesh including Government of India Act-1870, the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation-1873, the Scheduled District Act-1874, the Assam Frontier Tract Regulation-1880, the Assam Frontier Forest Regulation-1891, the Chin Hills Regulations-1896 and the Assam Frontier (Administration of Justice) Regulation-1945 were not taken into account. This gives enough scope to the state government as well as All Arunachal Pradesh Students Union for further discussion as well as appeals in the Court.
So far, people of the state are unanimous that they have no problem with the grant of Indian citizenship to these refugees, provided they do not continue to stay in Arunachal Pradesh. That’s a tough call as no other state would be willing to take them given the number.
Now, what is the way forward?
In 1994, the peak year of anti refugee movement in the state, when the refugees were asked to leave the state, Assam had ordered shoot at sight. The provocative act in Assam and Arunachal did nothing good instead the refugees got the attention and sympathy of the world including the Amnesty International. Perhaps, it is time the government and students make its stand clear, non-violently, for the Court and the world to notice.
The SC has been consistent that rights and privileges are granted to the refugees and recent verdict states that as recognized by judicial decisions, the refugees are not required to obtain any Inner Line permit as they are settled in the state.
Though the next two months are crucial for the fate of the indigenous communities of the state as well as the refugees but it is unlikely that a final verdict will come out soon. The Court will drag on, giving the state as well as the refugees’ uncertain times. Uncertain, it has been since the late 60s for all stakeholders and it will be in future too, no matter what indigenous communities or refugees wish for.