Arunachal Day – A father remembered…

[ Dani Sulu ]
Today is Arunachal Day, and a father is remembered. Oblivious to the rest of the state, a son thinks of the day when Arunachal Pradesh was born on a sunny wintry day at Ziro on 20 January, 1972.
The day of the birth of Arunachal started on a bone-chilling and teeth-chattering note as the whole of Ziro valley lay covered in a white sheet: frozen paddy fields and streams, with the trees and grass of the hills decked in snow and sleet.
As the sun rose and tenderly spread it’s rays across the valley, warming up the frozen valley and waking up the sleeping denizens of Ziro and the people of Arunachal who had come to witness the occasion, the future of Arunachal was taking shape to meet it’s destiny on that fateful day.
Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India, was scheduled to come to Ziro and announce the birth of the Union Territory and rename NEFA as Arunachal Pradesh.
Come she did, and cut the birthday cake of the birth of a new entity, a new state and a new society by the name of Arunachal Pradesh. People from all over Arunachal had dared the arduous and difficult journey over hills and mountains, over the backs of mules and broken-down old trucks to witness the historic event.
The day was ear-biting cold, but the spirit of the people of Arunachal was higher, to see their Prime Minister and be part of the historic moment of the birth of Arunachal Pradesh.
The dance troops and pageant groups of different tribes of the then NEFA were present on the occasion to present and showcase the rich and beautiful hues and colours of different cultures and customs that cohabited with each other within Arunachal over the centuries.
Amidst this mammoth gathering, and beside the towering figure of Indira Gandhi, stood a diminutive and sprightly figure who delivered the welcome address of the new Arunachal and outlined the future of Arunachal in his own eloquent voice. That little guy with a gigantic mind was my father, late Dani Kunia, the member of the first Agency Council. He represented Ziro and the then undivided Subansiri district in the Agency Council.
This august occasion was also blessed by the presence and speeches of legendary leaders of different districts and tribes, like late Kabang Borang, Agency Councilor from Siang, late Ita Pulu, Agency Councilor from Lohit district, late Todak Basar, Agency Councilor from Siang, and many others who lit the lamp of the representative form of government in Arunachal Pradesh and under whose light we have walked miles and miles towards a better and progressive Arunachal as a society and as a state.
The NEFA Council was the apex body of the first representative form of self-governance through the Panchayati Raj system in Arunachal Pradesh which was known as NEFA at the time. The Panchayat system started with Gram Panchayats at the village level, who elected Anchal Members amongst themselves, and the Anchal Members elected Zilla Parishads, and the Zilla Parishads elected the Agency Council members.
The Agency Council was entrusted with functions which were almost corresponding to those of the Legislative Assembly of the states. The members of the first Agency Council were:
BK Nehru: The Governor of Assam (Chairman)
Daying Ering: NEFA Member of Parliament
PN Luthra: Advisor to the Governor of Assam
Wangmai Rajkumar: Vice President, Tirap Zilla Parishad
Khengman Longsam: Elected member, Tirap Zilla Parishad
Mowang Wangham: Elected Member, Tirap Zilla Parishad
Hengwang Lowang: Elected Member, Tirap Zilla Parishad
Ita Pulu: Vice President, Lohit Zilla Parishad
Chewpak Gohain: Elected member, Lohit Zilla Parishad
Senge Kri: Elected Member, Lohit Zilla Parishad
Gora Pertin: Elected Member, Lohit Zilla Parishad
Todak Basar: Vice President, Siang Zilla Parishad
Kabang Borang: Elected Member, Siang Zilla Parishad
Sutem Tasung: Elected Member, Siang Zilla Parishad
Tamar Karlo: Elected Member, Siang Zilla Parishad
Tapang Gyama: Vice President, Subansiri Zilla Parishad
Doni Kunya: Elected Member, Subansiri Zilla Parishad
Nabam Rungkhi: Elected Member, Subansiri Zilla Parishad
Gengte Taki: Elected Member, Subansiri Zilla Parishad
Rinchin Namze: Vice President, Kameng Zilla Parishad
Tsewang Norbu: Elected Member, Kameng Zilla Parishad
Prem Dorjee: Elected Member, Kameng Zilla Parishad
Naibili Dusisu: Elected Member, Kameng Zilla Parishad
With the inauguration of the first Agency Council session by BK Nehru, the then Governor of Assam on 3 December, 1969, democracy took root in NEFA permanently.
BK Nehru in his inaugural speech said: “It is my happy privilege to welcome today the members of the Agency Council of the NEFA administration. The third December 1969 will go down in the history of the administration as a red letter day for it marks the beginning of the exercise of statutory power by the people of the Agency Council to manage their internal affairs. It also provides a land mark in the constitutional growth of this territory. The members of the Agency Council who have met here today are, therefore, pioneers of a new phase of political advancement of their people.”
One of the important subjects discussed by the Council was selection of a site for locating the headquarters of NEFA administration. A search committee to suggest the capital of NEFA from amongst the Agency Councillors was formed who visited the probable sites of Basar, Banderdewa, Lule Sijak and Yachuli. The matter of financial arrangement for the bodies created under Panchayat Raj and proposal for house tax were also discussed.
The Agency Council had its second session at Shillong on 10 and 11 August, 1970, under the chairmanship of BK Nehru, Governor of Assam, Nagaland and Meghalaya. The Council made certain important recommendations.
(a) In regard to giving a proper name to the territory, the council had three alternatives for consideration. They were Arunachal, Udayachal, and Bramha Mandal. Finally, the council unanimously resolved that NEFA should be named as Arunachal Pradesh – meaning a land of rising sun.
(b) The council unanimously resolved that English should be made as the medium of instruction in education institutes of NEFA. This was forwarded for the approval of Government of India.
(c) The council unanimously decided that the Member of Parliament from NEFA should be indirectly elected for the purpose of the 1972 elections. The matter of actual method to be adopted in this regard was left to the Government of India to decide. Under the existing arrangement the Member of Parliament from NEFA was nominated by the Governor of Assam.
(d) Opening of public schools and consolidation and expansion of education in NEFA were also urged by the council.
The third session of the Agency Council was held at Raj Bhawan, Shillong on 6 and 7 February, 1971, under the Chairmanship of BK Nehru. The Council made the following decisions:
(a) To form a consultative committee, consisting of the sitting members of the Zilla Parishads and four additional members to be nominated by the Governor – two each from Seppa and Namsai areas of Kameng and Lohit district, respectively. The final nomination of the MP, would be made after obtaining the view of this committee.
(b) The site selection of the headquarters of NEFA might be decided by a high-powered committee consisting of BK Nehru, Governor of Assam, PNLuthra, Advisor to the Governor, KAA Raja, Security Commissioner, and that the recommendations would be placed before the council.
The fourth session of the NEFA Agency Council was held at Shillong on 12 and 13 August, 1971, under the chairmanship of the Governor of Assam. The Member of Parliament of the NEFA, including 17 members of the Council attended the meeting. The agenda included –
a) Administrative reorganization of NEFA
b) Selection of NEFA capital
c) Introduction of house tax
d) Preservation of local culture and tradition of the people.
During the fourth session, the members were informed that the new political setup for the NEFA in the shape of a Union Territory was in the offing and the Government of India was actively considering it. It was decided that the matter should to be discussed with the Panchayat institutions at different levels, educated youths of NEFA and tribal officers, and that the decision should be communicated in due course to the Government of India.
On 20 January, 1972, when the then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi came to Ziro to inaugurate the Union Territory of Arunachal Pradesh, all the Agency Council members were there to welcome the Prime Minister and to usher the birth of Arunachal Pradesh.
The last meeting of the Agency Council was held on 28 February, 1972, at Shillong. Indira Gandhi arrived in Shillong on 28 February, 1972, and declared Itanagar as the capital of Arunachal Pradesh in the penultimate session of the Agency Council.
Later in the evening, BK Nehru, the then Governor of Assam, held a farewell banquet for the outgoing Agency Council members. Thus, with the birth of Arunachal Pradesh as Union Territory on 20 January, 1972 and declaration of Itanagar as its capital on 28 February, the first pioneering leaders of Arunachal gave way to the new form of governance and passed on the baton of leadership to the younger batch of leadership.
Most of the first batch of leaders who were elected democratically are long gone. But their deeds and visions still shines to guide the Arunachal society towards a better tomorrow.
Arunachal Day, which was celebrated on 20 January every year since 1972 till 1987, is long forgotten by the people of Arunachal Pradesh. But a son here and a daughter there of the Agency Council members who steered the present Arunachal society from archaic and autocratic forms of different tribal authority to modern form of government, remembers the day in a corner of their hearts and mind where their parents live forever.
Today is the birthday of my state which my father helped to shape up. In his memory and in memory of all the leaders who made the Arunachal of today see it’s day, I shall celebrate it in my own way with a cup of tea and a cake in the morning, and with a toss of glass of wine in the name my father late Dani Kunia and his long gone colleagues in the evening. And those old timers who miss their good old days may also like to clink their glasses in memory of long forgotten ‘Arunachal Day’ in their own ways. (Dani Sulu, currently Secretary, Sports & Youth Affairs, Govt of Arunachal Pradesh, is the son of late Dani Kunia, Member of the First Agency Council)