Walking a tightrope

Monday Musing

[ Tongam Rina ]

Nobody would have thought that Pema Khandu, who led the BJP to a convincing win in the 2019 election as the chief ministerial candidate, destroying his opponents in his own party, would land himself in a hot soup.

As it happens in Arunachal’s power politics, where there is no one to question once one reaches the top, he has walked into a trap. Time will tell whether he willingly made the trap himself or walked into one, pressurized and naïve about the implications. But the fact remains that the demand for a Mon autonomous council came at a time when the state was and is struggling to deal with a pandemic never seen before.

Many who are not part of the government have lost their jobs and livelihood options. The people of the state are generally anxious, facing a pandemic, and along comes the demand for a Mon autonomous council. It appears quite selfish and ridiculous on the part of the Mon Autonomous Region Demand Committee (MARDC) to come up with the demand now.

While one may debate whether there is need for autonomy or not, and the constitutional provisions, the timing of the demand is just so incomprehensible.

The chief minister, who has been at the forefront dealing with Covid-19 management, should have known better. He has done a remarkable job leading the Covid-19 management and has mobilized the health workers to do their best even in trying circumstances.

Arunachal’s is one of the few governments in the country that ensured free testing and treatment of people with the virus. In the last two months, dedicated Covid hospitals have come up and seven hospitals been equipped with ICUs. While the issue of trained human resources remains, this is no mean achievement for a state that had no ICU even in the medical college.

But all these milestones by the government and its employees have been pushed to the background because of one mistake – the demand for autonomy and the chief minister’s inability to stop the committee from forwarding their demand. As a chief minister, he is bound to meet people and organizations and respond to their various demands, but the MARDC unfortunately has his close aides and members from his own family, which makes one question whether the chief minister really had no idea about the committee’s move.

What is even more surprising is that the chief minister is known to speak his mind and take a position, which has landed him in trouble before too.

Since March this year, there has been talk about political instability in the state, which is not unfounded. Covid-19 came and everybody got busy. While the government employees are still busy dealing with it, politicians and organizations have the luxury of indulging in identity and power politics.

For now, Khandu’s position as the chief minister seems safe, but this should come as a learning lesson for him. Timing is important; good advisors and well-wishers are equally important; so is the ability to get rid of ‘yes to all’ bureaucrats. The chief minister seems to have faulted on all four counts.

Arunachal is united, but it’s a fractured state with multiple layers of identity issues, and therefore even the shrewdest of the politicians can’t have the ultimate say.

As the chief minister who won by an overwhelming majority, it is entirely upto Pema Khandu how he negotiates with his MLAs and all those who call Arunachal home. It won’t hurt him or the state to take a step back to learn, unlearn and contemplate what could have been done and what should be done.

As the state administration prepares for the bandh call by the All Nyishi Youth Association (ANYA), may the chief minister and the ANYA find a meeting ground to have a talk. We have always taken pride in our age-old tradition of talking it out. Politicians and organization leaders have come and gone but Arunachal has survived as a state, even though there have been violent confrontations because we believe in sorting it out amongst ourselves.

May we remember our tradition of talking to each other each time we are faced with a problem.

To start with, we may well remember that the pandemic is not yet over.