Tougher than it looks

Arunachal 2019 Elections

[ Nani Bath ]

What she calls as an ‘orientation’, Jarjum Ete, a social activist and a probable Congress MP candidate (Arunachal-West), is out to find out the pulse of the people. She gives out an explicit indication that her intention to contest is “not about herself” but is about “people exercising choices”.
She was highly confident that her representation in the parliament, besides giving an opportunity to the Congress, would be marked by some good works for the state and its people. She has a good reason to be confident. A supporter says, “When she could fight for political empowerment of women, overcoming traditional resistance, even when she was not in any official position, she would definitely do better from the position of authority”.
James Wanglat Lowangcha, a veteran politician, resigned from the BJP “…..since the party insist on introduction of CAB if they come back to power”. “This is a very sinister agenda”, he reiterates, adding that “They want to remove Articles 371 (A), 370, 1945 Regulation and ILP”.
The catchword in our communication was “If INC nominates me for Arunachal East, I will”.
A young and spirited leader, Mongol Yomso, representing Republican Party of India, seems to be having a unique and revolutionary idea for the development of Arunachal Pradesh-divide the state into two parts (East and West). Such division would ensure more economic packages and bring administration to the doorstep of the people. Mongol hopes to represent Arunachal East in the parliament.
Sotai Kri, one of the advisers to the chief minister, was a BJP nominee twice (1996 and 1998) in Arunachal East. He said that he has already applied for party (BJP) ticket for the coming elections. I got an indication that he might be contesting even if he did not get BJP nomination.
It’s a matter of time that the names of Kiren Rijiju and Tapir Gao are formally announced as BJP nominees for Arunachal West and Arunachal East parliamentary constituency respectively.
The nomination of Jarjum Ete, as the Congress candidate from Arunachal West, should be through, but for ‘politics’. Two more names are coming up- Nabam Tuki, former chief minister and Khyoda Apik, president, Arunachal Christian Forum. Some sources say that Nabam Tuki’s name has the approval of Sanjoy-Pario duo. Takam Sanjoy is the president of Arunachal Pradesh Congress Committee and his younger brother, Takam Pario, the leader of Congress Legislature party.
It makes huge political sense for elder-younger duo to vouch for the candidature of Nabam Tuki. Tuki still remains a potential challenge to their leadership within the State Congress Committee. He may stand on the way of either of the brothers taking up leadership at the government level, if Congress comes to the power, post 2019.
Jarjum Ete has created a ‘constituency’ for herself in the minds of youths, particularly among girls and ladies. She is seen as a symbol of women empowerment in the midst of traditional ethos and practices marked by patriarchal mindset. She seems to be making her political choices independent of family or social considerations, ‘breaking traditional barrier’.

One of the most respected historians of India, Ramachandra Guha, writing about Jarjum Ete says, she is “intelligent and articulate, rooted in her state yet well informed about the wider world”. Guha adds, “She could make a splendid minister in the Union cabinet”.
As she enters into the political domain, there are criticisms as well. Her contemporaries would say that “she is dominating” and “over-exposed”. Because of her over-exposure “she remains not rooted to the ground”.
On many occasions she is found to be tweeting against the policies of the prime minister Narendra Modi and RSS. But she was unable to pick up a particular issue on a serious note because of which she could not generate a kind of wave like ‘Modi wave’ or ‘Kiren wave’.
Her political opponents (within the party) proudly claim that “Jarjum was never a Congress lady”, as she has “never voted for Congress candidates, either in Assembly or Lok Sabha elections”. Such claims hold ground because Jarjum herself was a claimant for Congress nomination in the last two or three elections.
She also faces a ‘challenge inside’. Most of her close relatives are in BJP and are aspiring to be the party candidates in the upcoming elections. Her elder brother, Jarkar Gamlin, is a cabinet minister; Jarpum Gamlin, her younger brother, a BJP state General Secretary, is seeking BJP nomination (27-Liromoba AC); her mother’s brother’s daughter, Kenyir Ringu, State BJP Vice-president, is a potential candidate (36-Nari-Koyu AC); Topin Ete, her mother’s brother’s grandson (son of Kento Ete, former minister), is seeking BJP ticket (30-Along AC); Topin is married to a sister of Komjum Riba (additional private secretary to MoS Home, Kiren Rijiju), who has declared his candidature from 29-Basar AC. Wife of Jarpum Gamlin, is a close cousin of Topin Ete.
My own research has identified kinship as a major factor in shaping voting behaviour of any tribal voters. In an advanced society it may be possible to create divergent political spaces within a family, but such possibilities are very unlikely in a tribal society where reciprocity remain its foundation.
Kiren Rijiju, MoS Home, though has become a face of India’s North East, is facing tremendous anti-incumbency sentiment. “Anti-incumbency is all-pervasive”, an angry voter says. Another voter joins, “He comes in a helicopter and goes away”. “We voted for him by seeing his handsome photograph, and this time around we are not going to vote by seeing handsome photo and false promises”.
His promise to construct roads to all villages before 2019 remains hollow. Tak-Soi, a pride issue of the Galos is yet to be ‘conquered’. The road from Jirdo to Darii could not be completed, as promised.
Arunachal Indigenous Tribes Forum (AITF) accused Kiren of his complicity in Trans Arunachal Highway imbroglio. AITF is a platform for all community based organisations in the state. Incidentally, its chairman, Bengia Tolum, is the president of Nyishi Elite Society.
Many argue that Tapir Gao, does not have any ‘political constituency’ of its own, except that he is the president of the party in power. He goes out campaigning along with the chief minister and other ministers in programmes like Sarkar Aaap ka Dwar.
Mongol Yomso belongs to the community to which Tapir Gao belongs. Whether Mongol wins the election or not but he will definitely upset Tapir’s calculation by cutting the share of his votes.
It is known from a source that Tapir had the ‘blessings’ of Gegong Apang, who has resigned from BJP and joined JD(S). Gegong’s departure from the BJP has thrown a big challenge for him since Gegong has sizeable supporters in Tuting-Yingkiong and Pasighat West ACs.
It makes sound political sense to assume that the induction of Alo Libang (MLA Tuting-Yingkiong) in the cabinet of Pema Khandu was a part of a ‘game’ to put a break on political ascendancy of Gegong Apang. Alo Libang was inducted at the cost of senior BJP leaders like Tage Taki, Kaling Moyong and Kento Rina.
As widely known in the political circle, there are multiple camps within the state BJP unit- Tapir camp, Kiren camp, Pema camp and Chowna camp. Either they run their camps independently or in ‘collaboration’- ‘Tapir-Chowna’ and ‘Pema-Kiren’. Kumar Waii may also be having his own group. There is another group- ‘Super-11’, those MLAs who were elected on BJP tickets in 2014 elections.
Tapir Gao and Kiren Rijiju remain challenge, even threat, to each other. Both of them are vying to be included in the ‘Team Modi’. Himanta Biswa Sarma’s intention to enter parliament has further minimized the space within Modi’s Council of Ministers.
Since Tapir and Kiren may have to checkmate each other for their space in Lutyens’ Delhi, none would hesitate to use resources in their command against the other. Supporting ‘enemy’ candidates is one of the possibilities.
After joining BJP, Tapir Gao did not leave the party. But he has his roots in the Congress, having had stint in NSUI, Youth Congress and APCC. “So”, a Congress leader says, “Congress ideology still runs deep in Tapir’s blood”. His being in the BJP is only “half-hearted, and for power”, he adds.
This statement has some credentials. The state BJP president had commissioned a book on the history of the party in Arunachal Pradesh, Kamal in the Himalayas. However, no signal was given for its publication once the Congress won the elections in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh.
Kiren Rijiju joined Congress in 2009 after he was defeated by Takam Sanjoy. Kiren was quoted as saying, after his departure from BJP, “I would say the BJP’s Hindutva campaign had a very negative impact in the northeast, a region with a dominant minority population”. Rijiju told IANS, “I realised that the Congress party was the best option to work for the development of the northeast”.
The BJP and RSS appear to have closed the chapter on Kiren’s past mistakes, although the then BJP’s general secretary (in charge of Northeast), had used some harsh words, “He betrayed the very party that gave him a solid platform to launch his political career”.
My interactions with dozens of students of Rajiv Gandhi University have given me to comprehend that Kiren still has a place in their ‘political calculation’. A PG student remarks, “I don’t know about Tapir Gao but the defeat of Kiren would be a colossal loss for the state and the region”. This may be because Kiren is most likely to be inducted into the Union Cabinet, should the BJP gets majority.
Since MLA candidates would not encourage cross voting, the youths in the age group of 18-29, close to 40 per cent of the total electorates, may have decisive say in the electoral outcome in the coming parliamentary elections. Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016 (CAB) and Permanent Residential Certificate (PRC) issues will have some influence on their electoral choices.
A big question in everyone’s mind is, “How much will the BJP score out of sixty?” A political observer believes that “it all depends on Pema Khandu”, the chief minister. In order to keep enough space for himself and for his future political manoeuvres, he may limit the score to just 31. BJP may like to have its ‘own’ chief minister if the party comes to the power with absolute majority. Pema knows it well.
Many of the senior BJP leaders look not to be happy with Pema Khandu for his move to provide tacit support to his ‘Gang of 15’, consisting mostly of young leaders. The state BJP president is believed to have promised party ticket to more than 120 aspirants. I only wish that the recent spate of violence and destruction is not the manifestation of accumulated anger directed against the establishments. Let’s hope that the incident is not an indication of violent nature of May 2019 elections.
Wanglat Lowangcha’s statement, “If some candidates live with the notion that elections are easy, I wish him luck”, brilliantly summarises my article. (The author is Professor of Political Science, Rajiv Gandhi University, Rono Hills. He can be contacted at