July 27, 2016

Game of wait and watch

[ Tongam Rina ]
The swearing-in ceremony of council of ministers, scheduled for Wednesday has reportedly been postponed hours after invitation cards were dispatched and duty passes issued to media people. Though there is no official communication, the programme has reportedly been postponed following cancellation of trip to Itanagar by Governor Tathagata Roy. But there is always a helicopter on a stand by incase BJP changes its mind and choose to become more friendly to pave way for smooth formation of ministry. Chief Minister Pema Khandu, former Chief Minister Nabam Tuki and state Congress Chief Padi Richo had met the AICC chief Sonia Gandhi and Vice President Rahul Gandhi in separate meetings in Delhi on Monday for finalisation of council of ministry but it appears that ministry formation has to wait till Roy, who is the governor in-charge makes up his mind regarding the trip to Itanagar.
The probable list of ministers are reported to include Honchun Ngandam, Wangki Lowang, Kamlung Mossang, Rajesh Tacho, Kumar Waii, Tanga Byaling, Takam Pario, Jomde Kena and Nabam Rebia. Gum Tayeng is also in the race but insiders say that Padi Richo is adamant on having Tapang Taloh instead. Taloh has been in news in recent times for blotching up the education department by effecting transfers mid sessions. A school in his constituency scored zero percentage in CBSC exams. Congress could already be in trouble if he is inducted as Gum Tayeng, Alo Libang, Lombo Tayeng are a team. Gum Tayeng could emerge as consensus candidate, said an insider as even the chief minister is apparently not too keen on inclusion of Taloh in the ministry following his not so friendly reputation.
Meanwhile, Congress team has already seen unpleasant scene regarding the appointment of Speaker as the AICC felt that it was kept in dark regarding the appointment of T N Thongdok to the chair. According to an insider, there were ugly scene between the AICC observers and Congress MLAs, belonging to Pema camp as they indulged in verbal dual at the home of former chief minister Nabam tuki. While the Congress high command seems to have not learnt any lesson from what happened in the past, BJP NE in-charge Ram Madhav has already said that BJP is not done yet in Arunachal.
If Congress has to survive, there has to be major overhaul in current state team as it’s the same team which had written to the AICC not to entertain the rebel team led by Kalikho Pul and Co while it was at the peak of dissident movement against Tuki resulting in major political crisis in the state. At the end it was the BJP and governor J P Rajkhowa who made use of the opportunity, though short lived by bringing in a PPA govt.
AICC, it appears is yet to learn any lesson. It took more than five days for the Gandhis to respond to the request of the chief minister for an appointment while the Prime Minister Narendra Modi had the time to meet Chief Minister merely 12 hours after the request was sent. Is the Congress government angry with the AICC? That’s an understatement.



July 20, 2016

Slippery seasonal politics

[ Tongam Rina ]
Objectivity and honesty is not the hallmark of Arunachal politics. Who would know it better than former Chief Minister Kalikho Pul. Such was the deceit that he had no clue that the plot had changed in a span of seven hours road journey from Guwahati to Itanagar. Of the 30 odd MLAs that he paraded before the media in Guwahati after the Supreme Court verdict reinstating Nabam Tuki led Congress govt, only ten MLAs turned up at the hotel that his office had booked.
But they too vanished one after another, forcing Pul to check out from the hotel as well; the last one to leave in a private car.
Power is so alluring that MLAs did not even had the decency to tell Pul on his face that his tenure was over.
To his credit, Pul will be remembered for many reasons.
In recent years, people have not seen a politician who connects instantly with the common citizens. While critics termed it antics to garner publicity but he managed to touch the heart of thousands of ordinary citizens. The hugely popular but ill managed public darbars were testimonies of his popularity as well as a message to the current Chief Minister and those aspiring to be one that it matters to reach out to the people, to reassure that Chief Minister’s office is within the reach of common people.
But it was a hard lesson for Pul that it’s the MLAs that makes a Chief Minister, not the poor and the sick. Perhaps, it was his own weakness that he got carried away by his own popularity without taking the MLAs into his confidence. If at all he makes a comeback, which is not unlikely given the slippery political situation, perhaps he will be more careful.
While Pul has been given the time to introspect on what went wrong with his leadership, overnight change of loyalty is not new in the state. With exception of Late Dorjee Khandu, all the Chief Ministers have been at the receiving end of switch of loyalty overnight.
This time, it was more scandalous because Pul was chosen to lead the government by the same people who deserted him after more than a year of power struggle within the Congress, fuelled by clueless AICC.
Once the SC verdict came, AICC woke up and decided on Pema Khandu, a 37 year old political novice to replace Nabam Tuki as CM, keeping in tune with its policies of dynasty politics.
It remains to be seen how Pema navigates the complicated political scene in the state. To start with, he has never faced the electorates directly as he has been elected unopposed twice in his five years of active political journey.
Already tattered by huge unemployment among the young people of the state, rain induced land slides, blockades and floods and deserted by politicians as they pursue their own selfish agenda, citizens are not hoping for any miracle from its pampered and ambitious politicians. But little bit of stability would not hurt. For that to happen, the Congress high command needs to learn how to keep the slippery team together. The wounded BJP, even without the number, is unlikely to retire so soon from Arunachal.
As of now, we have to wait and watch how the state progresses under the leadership of the young Chief Minister. Perhaps, the first lesson for Pema Khandu came from his own colleague who asked for clarification after he said “hum log state ko bachane aya”.



July 6, 2016

The poor and the PDS

[ Tongam Rina ]
More than 12 years after Domin Loya and Bamang Tago filed a PIL in the Guwahati High Court against state govt and Union of India for corruption in the delivery of food items under Public Distribution System in Arunachal Pradesh, this year in June, former Director of Food and Civil Supplies, Dr N N Osik was convicted by the Court of district & Sessions Judge, Lakhimpur, that is currently looking into the case.
An offshoot of the PDS case, the Vigilance dept had filed a case against Dr. Osik in 2010 for disproportionate asset. The officer in question deposited 28 cheques amounting to Rs 2.89 crore in his personal bank account between 2002-2003.
The court documents reveal that Osik had issued cheques to PDS contractors at around the same time he was depositing cheques in his personal account. The court was told that the money was borrowed to purchase a hotel in Itanagar by his wife but claims could not be substantiated. Interestingly, the loaners were PDS contractors including two current PPA MLAs.
It is not difficult to conclude that there is a deep rooted connection among the political establishment, PDS contractors, Fair Price shop owners and the govt employees of all levels and Food Corporation of India in siphoning off the food meant for the poor tribal people of the state.
Even though the judiciary has been rather very slow in delivering a verdict but perhaps a start has been made with the Lakhimpur Court verdict.
While the people who do not have to struggle for food and in a position to speak up laugh at such misdeeds, there is hope that Court will catch up with those who deprived food to the poor people of the state sooner or later.
On the other hand, the scandal is not limited to deprivation of food to the poor, the multi crore scam has created a super rich club, who now dictates the politics of the state. The number games are very much decided by the PDS contractors and the contractors turned MLAs.
One remembers the case of Likha Maj, one of the top PDS contractors who declared the Chief Minister the messiah of the state, just few months into his job. Agreed that Chief Minister has turned messiah for many patients and their families who are struggling to pay their hospital bills, but the declaration of the contractor while he is set to get crores of rupees from state government under PDS, following Supreme Court order made the media personnel at the Arunachal Press Club where the press conference took place, cringe in extreme embarrassment.
While the court will decide who will be the next one to go behind bars, yours truly is reminded of a case related to food shortage in Kurung Kumey in 2009. For months together, the food did not reach Damin and Parsi Parlo area forcing the Deputy Commissioner to write to the state govt.
The letters by the DC, even though it pertained to the food for the poor people were obviously not even read. Angered at the turn of events, two young people, now a lawyer and an engineer sent out a press release warning that if food is not delivered, they will be forced to seek the help of China in delivering food.
The IB, not the Inspection Bungalow but the Intelligence Bureau in Itanagar picked up the story and dutifully sent it to home ministry. The then Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu was left red faced as the centre wanted details. More than 18 food sorties were arranged on a single day by the state but at the meantime, the two youngsters were arrested by the state police.
After a week, they were released. One of the condition set for release, not by the police but by the politicians were that the young men run from Banderdewa to Itanagar with the Indian flag to show their faithfulness to the country!
One wishes that flag and allegiance could fill the hungry stomach of the poor, who have been robbed systemically.



June 29, 2016

Political parties and tribal hospitality

[ Tongam Rina ]
Barely four months after he came to power, it appears that Chief Minister Kalikho Pul has to take the toughest political decision of his life. With central as well as state BJP mounting pressure on him to shift to the party from People’s Party of Arunachal (PPA), there seems little option left for him other than joining the party sooner or later.
Though the state has a history of shifting loyalty based on who rules at the centre, the questionable tactics being applied by BJP is not lost on those who are keenly watching the political development in the state as well as the performance of the Chief Minister. Earlier, the Congress used the bullying tactics at every given opportunity and now, the BJP has imbibed it very well with its Congress Mukt agenda.
While the debate on Congress
versus BJP will continue, one is left wondering at the fate of People’s Party of Arunachal, the party regarded as advocate of tribal and regional aspirations but used as a launch pad during elections by politicians who otherwise do not get tickets from major political parties.
To a very large extent PPA leadership has to share the blame for allowing the party to be used as launch pad. If indeed, the Chief Minister fails to convince the adamant central BJP leadership, the PPA certainly needs to look within for its inability to stop being a partner to politics of aaya ram, geya ram, if at all it is serious about carrying forward the regional identity and the tribal aspirations. With the current political situation, the party seriously needs to introspect if it has any ideology left or if it is at all serious about its credibility.
While the political outcome will be known soon as well as the fate of the PPA, Arunachal is placed in a precarious position because of its full dependence on the centre for financial assistance.
In absence of resources, state has to go according to the whims and fancies of the centre, which is in stark contradiction to the tribal ideology of deciding for themselves.
No one would know it better than Kalikho Pul, who has been able to get work done so far but in return, he must listen to the dictate of the centre, in the form of allegiance to BJP.
As they say, history will repeat itself and Pul, who has so far been able to keep away from political entanglements, will have to take an ultimate call. If he choose to remain with PPA, he will script a new chapter in the history of the state.
But if he toes the line and succumb to the urgency of the BJP, for Arunachal, some things will remain the same. The dictation from the centre will continue. Earlier, it was the politics of Gandhis and their ill informed advisors, now BJP in Delhi will have a partner in Nagpur to chart the destiny of the state. The culture of high command continues and we will, as always, remain mute instruments at the hands of the centre. It must be the tribal hospitality that triggers such loyalty.



June 22, 2016

The land we call our home

[ Tongam Rina ]
The Capital administration led by Sandeep Kumar Singh had attempted to demolish few structures constructed on encroached government land in recent times. Predictably, the attempts have not yielded any positive results because the land mafias led mostly by government employees, supported by politicians are stronger than the zeal of a young IAS officer on a mission to straighten the system that is deeply organized in corruption.
Every inch of available land in capital has been encroached upon, mostly by people who come from outside the capital. Earlier, it was done by officers and now, it has been taken over by the organized gangs who have migrated to the capital region from elsewhere with bag and baggage in search of better livelihood, little realizing that after sometime, they will be pooled in a club called urban poor, even though they might have few meters of encroached land.
The situation has come to an alarming point where the poorer section within the indigenous community of Papum Pare and Capital region has been pushed out to the peripheries. Encroachment of Govt land which started in the early 80’s reached the peak in the 90’s and since then there has been no looking back. Now, situation has come to a point where government quarters are being demolished to build private residences, all under the watchful eyes of the Departments of Land, Urban Development, Housing and Chief Estate Office. It is impossible for water tankers and fire fighting trucks to enter because the colony roads have been encroached. Forget the road or the Govt quarters, even the designated dust bin areas have not been spared. Respective governments have been silent spectators to the dubious practice of encroachment further encouraging the people to indulge in more and more, right from local officers belonging to Indian Administrative Services to a peon in the state Govt. There are many in between making it practically impossible to do anything.
To make matter worse, these lands have been regularized. If someone chooses to go to the Court, in all probability, they will win the case, because there is Govt stamp of approval on encroached land.
An attempt was made in 2013 when the administration decided that one has to get no (encroachment) objection certificate to get pension and other dues. The same applied for the constitutional appointments. But this pertinent decision has failed to stop encroachment even though some employees deservingly are still languishing from getting their dues. The 2013 decision has been opposed by the powerful Confederation of Service Association of Arunachal Pradesh (CoSAAP), amply implying that major chunk of defaulters are Govt employees.
Now, there seems to be no solution in sight. But a start has to be made to stop whatever remains of the community land that became a wildlife sanctuary that we happily decided to own and destroy inch by inch. If one has to start, either they start from Hollongi till Banderdewa without being dictated by political and administrative pressure or start with the homes of MLAs and officers, built on encroached land. If there is political will, officers like Sandeep Kumar Singh need not be stopped by human chains from demolishing houses that is built illegally on donated community land, mercilessly encroached by greed, muscle and money power.
It is rather ironical that even though all we need is six feet of land, lesser actually for most of us, it has not stopped us from grabbing more and more and concretizing the land we call our collective home that no one cares about.



May 11, 2016

Lessons from Tawang

[ Tongam Rina ]
Following the May 2 Tawang Police shooting that claimed two lives, Amnesty International has said that State govt must conduct a prompt, impartial and independent criminal investigation.
The same demand has been placed by All Arunachal Pradesh Students Union as well as several other organizations from the state and elsewhere. The state govt, which has instituted a one man committee to probe the firing, has chosen to maintain stoic silence on these demands.
It remains to be seen how prompt, impartial or independent the state sponsored investigations will be.
While we wait for the reports, there are lessons to be learnt from Tawang firing episode.
In 2011, eight students were injured by police firing in Roing during Durga Puja celebrations when students stopped them from entering the premises. The police retaliated by indiscriminate firing as it had suspected Maoists infiltration into the festival ground. The paranoid police did not find any Maoists but scarred the students for a life time.
This was around the time when people of Dibang Valley and Lower Dibang Valley were heavily opposed to the development of thousands of Megawatt of hydro power in the districts. It was not a mere coincidence that firing happened around the time when govt said that Maoists had entered into Arunachal to protest against the hydel.
In the backdrop of such unsettling and unproven claims by the government, the anti hydro power uprising in both the districts were effectively crushed by the Congress govt in the state and the centre.
With the recent turn of events, it appears that Tawang will be turned into another Roing. Politicians from the district, state or the centre might try to find Maoists from among the tourists that flock the district or come up with stranger theories like foreign funding to crush those voices opposing the construction of hydro power in the district.
The state and centre has to accept that violence was an offshoot of hydro power debate and not an isolated incidence of differences between two groups of a religion which led to the violence. It must find ways to engage with the local communities before violence becomes the norm to express resentment against forceful construction of hydro power projects, which is spread across the state. Govt statistics say that during the last one decade, MoUs and MoAs were signed with 159 companies, including central PSUs and private companies, to execute power projects in the state with installed capacity of 46,938.02 megawatt. The money received and to be made is enticing. Between 2005 and 2015, Arunachal Pradesh received Rs 1,495.62 crore as upfront money and processing fees from various power developers. A whopping amount of Rs 1276.98 crores was received between 2007-2011, when Late Dorjee Khandu was the Chief Minister. It is a strange coincidence that one of the loudest voices of protest against hydro power has come from his own district.
The state has already been sold out to hydro power companies but there has to be renewed debate on what to do next, if at all these projects has to take off.



May 4, 2016

Tawang: Silenced by violence

[ Tongam Rina ]
People of the state have reacted with shock and disbelief at the May 2 killings in Tawang. It was a despicable propaganda, which was sponsored by the politicians; desperate to have hydro power projects, which the police and the administration lapped up, leading to loss of two precious lives.
Along with the Home Department, state administration as well Police, MLAs Pema Khandu, Tashi Tsering, Jambey Tashi, the district administration led by Duly Kamduk and Police led by Anto Alponse have to take responsibility of what happened in Tawang. They saw it coming because the tension was building up in Tawang since April 26.
Instead of defusing the tension following the arrest of Lama Lobsang Gyatso, an anti hydro power crusader in Tawang who has gone to the National Green Tribunal, leading to suspension of the Environmental Clearance (EC) of 780 MW Nyamjang Chhu Project in Zemithang, the administration allowed the Zila Parishad to call a meeting on April 28. Meeting was to discuss development issues but instead it ended up playing an audio clip where Lama Lobsang, who has massive followers, is heard asking the Abbot of the Tawang Monastery not to get involved in the issues of hydro power projects since he is not from Tawang.
What happens next? The ZPM chairperson managed to incite the people present at the meeting, which led to filing an FIR against Lama Lobsang for hurting the religious sentiment, subsequently leading to his arrest.
While it is totally understandable that religious sentiments were hurt because of the comments made by Lama Lobsang, it is beyond comprehension that civil and police administration, instead of taking appropriate decision to calm the situation, played along, much to the happiness of their political masters by arresting the strongest voice against questionable hydro power development in Mon region.
Lama Lobsang was first arrested on April 26 for disruption of peace for leading a villagers, opposing the questionable construction of a small project, based on an FIR by the personal security officer of MLA Pema Khandu. He was let off, only to be arrested two days later for defaming Abbot of Tawang Monastery.
In their eager effort to kill the opposition voice, in the form of Lama Lobsang and his supporters, political establishment and administration have dragged in the iconic Tawang Monastery and its Abbot, Guru Tulku Rinpoche, the widely respected religious leader of Mon region. Agreed that govt has sponsored a corpus fund for the Monastery but it would be advisable to keep the monastery and the Abbot out of power politics, respecting the sentiments of people of Mon region, who are not only deeply religious but look up to the Abbot, appointed by the Dalai Lama to guide them spiritually.
What next?
The government is yet to say a word on police atrocity. Chief Minister Kalikho Pul and Governor J P Rajkhowa are yet to ask questions at the atrocities committed by the Police. The police headquarters have said shots were fired at self defense. Since when was police authorized to kill people? They could have called those leading the protest rally for negotiations. Why did the IO asked for 14 days Police custody of the arrested Monk when there was massive gathering of people asking for his release? The IO could not have acted alone without the tacit understanding of the administration, police and political bosses.
After the Court declined to extend the police remand to 14 days, (the Court has reserved its judgment till May 4th)Lama Lobsang was not taken back to the police station from the same route as he was taken out, angering the gathered people, which subsequently led to violence, resulting in Police firing.
There are lots of unanswered questions. One thing govt can do right is by forming a committee for an independent inquiry.
It is rather ironical that Chief Minster, two of his colleagues, Chief Secretary are in Delhi attending a conference on Hydro power organized by ASSOCHAM while police unleashed violence on people, who came out in support of an anti dam crusader. Clearly the priorities are misplaced.