Kimin to Bilgarh: The storm before the thunderstorm?

[ Nani Bath ]

Kimin is one of the oldest administrative headquarters in Arunachal Pradesh. It came into prominence when Subansiri area was carved out of the Balipara frontier tract in 1946. It remained the base camp and administrative headquarters of the undivided Subansiri frontier division (Subansiri district) till the headquarters was shifted to Ziro in 1952.

17 June, 2021 was a day when union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh dedicated a dozen BRO roads to the nation. On the day, the Border Roads Organization (BRO) not only renamed Kimin as ‘Bilgarh’ but also the place was shown as a part of Assam.

History tells that the political map of Arunachal Pradesh has been drawn and redrawn multiple times.

On the recommendation of the Bordoloi Committee (a sub-committee of the constituent assembly) that “the Lakhimpur frontier tract should be attached to the regular administration of the district,” it was excluded from the North East Frontier Tracts (now Arunachal Pradesh) when the constitution came into force in 1950. A total loss of territory of Arunachal Pradesh was 634 sq kms.

The Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1950 had indicated a turning point in the history of Arunachal Pradesh. The government of India became apprehensive of the intension of Mao’s China, and for ‘strategic reasons’ the plain portions of the territory of the North East Frontier Tracts were transferred to the administrative jurisdiction of the government of Assam (1951). The territorial loss, as per my records, was around 2,124 sq kms.

The first Naga Peoples Convention was held in 1957, and was attended by representatives of Naga clans/sub-tribes. Experts say that the convention had tacit support from New Delhi to counter the ‘antinational’ activities of the Naga National Council. One of the resolutions passed in the convention was for integration of Naga inhabited areas.

The government of India under Jawaharlal Nehru was more than willing to accept the demands of the Naga Peoples Convention. In the same year, the Tuengsang frontier division (before Naga tribal area) was transferred from the NEFA to the newly constituted administrative unit, then called Naga Hills-Tuengsang Area (now Nagaland). A huge chunk of territory (3,306 sq kms) had been ‘gifted’ to the state of Nagaland.

History tells us again that the political and social leaders of Assam always wanted speedy integration of the NEFA with Assam. Public opinion in Assam was clearly in favour of such integration. The then chief minister, BP Chelia and Hem Baruah, an MP from Assam, were on the forefront, clamouring for integration.

The union defence minister did not recognize a place (Kimin) in Arunachal Pradesh. His official Twitter handle tweets that “the programme was held in Assam.” Was it strategic considerations or political compulsions? Or perhaps he was simply tricked by the BRO to behave in a manner to fit into its agenda.

The Assam unit of the BJP celebrated the road inauguration by tweeting that it was done in Assam by the union defence minister and the chief minister of Assam. There is no mention of the chief minister of Arunachal Pradesh and the union MoS (Sports). There is no reaction from the BJP in Arunachal Pradesh.

Three days after renaming Kimin as Bilgarh, next in the itinerary of the chief minister of Assam was Likabali, a historical place in Arunachal Pradesh. He writes that the Malinithan temple is located in Likabali in ‘#Assam-#Arunachal border’. He adds that “this archaeological site belongs to early medieval period & was built by Chutiya kings…”.

The naïve statement of the chief minister is apparently a political stunt to show off his new-found status. It is a deliberate attempt to confuse the local boundary commission and the Supreme Court of India. Since the matter is under judicial consideration, his act amounts to contempt of court.

The chief minister of Assam and his advisers need to know that, as per the records available with the Archaeological Survey of India, Malinithan is well within the territory of Arunachal Pradesh. The site was visited by the officials of the frontier tracts (Abor Hills) in the early twenties, and the first excavation was done in 1971-72 under the guidance of LN Chakravarthy, the then deputy director of research, government of Arunachal Pradesh.

Various attempts have been made to connect the ruins of Malinithan to the ruling families of the region, such as the Palas, the Chutiyas, the Ahoms and the Bhuyans, but no concrete evidence has emerged so far. On what basis did the chief minister of Assam conclude that it belonged to the Chutiya kingdom? Even the second excavation was conducted by the officials of the directorate of research, government of Arunachal Pradesh, during 1999-2000 and 2001-2002. No officials from Assam were involved in any capacity.

The people of Arunachal Pradesh take pride in associating themselves with the great Indian civilization. Many of us know that it is a ‘bad history’, but we do it for the sake of the national interests. A statement of Hemanta Biswa Sarma has disassociated our people from the civilizational values that we share with ancient India. Experts say that Malinithan dates back to the age of the Mahabharata.

Unofficially, the BRO confides that the venue of the event (inauguration) was camouflaged as if it was happening in Assam because of strategic calculations. A source has indicated to me that there was a clear order from the South Block to conduct the programme in Assam. Since the programme was held in Kimin, Arunachal Pradesh, the BRO had to erase all signs that had any reference to Kimin or Arunachal Pradesh.

If conducting a programme inside Arunachal Pradesh was to be considered a ‘provocative action’, what about the speech of the defence minister? He says that “we will give befitting reply to any external aggression.” The prime minister’s posture against China, “Hum na ankh jhukainge na ankh churainge, hum ankhe se ankhe milainge” does not seem applicable when it comes to Arunachal Pradesh.

There are no effective countermeasures by the government of India on the issue of ‘stapled visa’ or ‘no visa’ to the Indian citizens from Arunachal Pradesh, Chinese objection of grant of funds from the Asian Development Bank for infrastructure development in the state, and China’s giving official names to strategic places (Tawang, Bumla, Mechuka, etc). Instead, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had operationalized the e-visa facility for the Chinese tourists in 2015, and invited them to “experience the beauty of ‘Incredible India’.”

India forcefully protested against the Chinese policy of issuing ‘stapled visas’ to the residents of Jammu and Kashmir. Kiren Rijiju, when the BJP was in the opposition, had suggested strong retaliatory action against China by issuing stapled visas to people belonging to the Tibet autonomous region, Xinxiang, Gansu and Qinghay provinces. The nation was with him.

I did not believe a story (of my source) about the internal squabbles within the state BJP till the contrasting statements of Chief Minister Pema Khandu and MoS (Sports & Youth Affairs) Kiren Rijiju on the Kimin issue surfaced. Rumours have it that at least seven senior BJP leaders have been show-caused for their anti-party activities. It is also learnt that the chief minister supersedes his deputy in final allocation of funds, through his cousin Jambey Tashi (adviser, planning).

Rijiju is said to be having a grouse against Khandu for calculated delay in issuing utilization certificates of the projects under his ministry.

A section of my respondents believe that the Kimin controversy was orchestrated by Rijiju, using his high connections, in order to discredit Pema Khandu.

The state’s protocol department has committed a serious breach of protocol. In a WT message, signed by the protocol joint secretary, to the Kimin ADC, the 10th Bn ITBP helipad in Kimin is indicated as located in the state of Assam. The existing rules require that the programme of this nature has to be approved at the level of the chief secretary, who happens to be the chief protocol officer of the state. It may be unintentional but the lapse needs to be viewed seriously.

BRO Additional Director General (East) PK Singh through a written press statement has admitted that he was the one who had issued necessary instruction to ‘white paste’ the signboards. Why did he do it? His explanation is simply superficial and his ‘apology’ plain unapologetic. It looks like he was either working under tremendous pressure or he thinks that every Arunachalee is stupid.

The inauguration programme was initially proposed at Huri (India-China border). Hence, we could rule out the China factor (strategic reasons) conveniently. What come next are his personal or professional opportunities.

In the eyes of the BJP, and maybe the RSS, Hemanta Biswa Sarma is the sun among the stars in Northeast India. A clever BRO official would know that all ‘roads’ from the NE region to the PMO, or to Nagpur, have to pass through the incumbent chief minister of Assam. Hope the BRO ADG (East) is not one of these BRO officials.

Kimin has been ‘officially’ renamed as Bilgarh by Project Arunank EE (Civil) Pramod Kumar when he writes a letter to the deputy commissioner (Papum Pare) on 12 June, 2021.

Both persons are liable to be punished as per laws of the land. They have indulged themselves in constitutional impropriety (changing name of a town); created enmity among communities (border communities of two states); committed contempt of court (matter is sub judice); and have breached legislative privileges. The local MLA was not extended privileges as required under the established protocol.

An FIR has already been filed against Pramod Kumar. I would not be surprised if any individual or organization files an FIR against the BRO ADG (East). It’s also a fit case where privilege motion could be initiated against the officials by those representatives of Arunachal Pradesh who were present at the inauguration programme. If our representatives are serious enough, responsible officials will have to appear before the respective privilege committees (Lok Sabha and the state’s legislative assembly).

No one is saying it openly but the discussions everywhere (offices, WhatsApp groups, dining tables, vegetable markets, etc) are unanimous that Assam is emulating China in managing its border areas. Besides Arunachal Pradesh, it has border issues with Nagaland, Meghalaya and Mizoram.

The people of Arunachal Pradesh are either too innocent or too ignorant. The fact that they are devoutly deshbhakt has been demonstrated when they protested against the illegal act of the BRO only after the visit of the union defence minister. It’s a huge relief for the government of India. I remember an incident in June 2001. The official residences of the speaker of the Manipur legislative assembly and others were burnt down by protestors in Manipur. It happened on declaration by the Vajpayee government that its ceasefire with the NSCN (IM) would no longer be confined to Nagaland.

Citizens of Arunachal Pradesh have started looking towards New Delhi askance. Many believe that there is a possibility of ‘Kashmir-type’ operation in the state – changing the political boundary again. The incumbent prime minister and his party (BJP) have the political will and strategic reason(s) to indulge in such adventure. China calls Arunachal Pradesh ‘Afunaqiaerbang’, the region of south Tibet, and repeatedly claims it as an extension of mainland China.

On 17 March, 2021, the security adviser to the government of Arunachal Pradesh had visited Rajiv Gandhi University. He held a closed-door meeting with select faculty members of the university. His visit did not surprise anyone within the campus or elsewhere. A surprising element was the presence of four professors, all non-natives (from outside the state) in the meeting. The native professors (indigenous of AP) were simply ignored or ‘sidelined’. What was more surprising was the presence of an assistant professor, a known RSS sympathizer (again non-native).

What could be the reason(s) of his visit and having an exclusive meeting? It throws more questions than answers. A professor colleague tells that the government of India “does not trust our people.” It may be a mere coincidence but the fact is that the Kimin episode happened exactly three months after the meeting.

Chief Minister Pema Khandu owes an explanation to the people of Arunachal Pradesh as to why he has appointed a person with military background as his security adviser. Is it an imposition from above? It gives out an impression that there is a trust deficient on the calibre of the officials of the state home department, including police officers.

It would be illogical to assume that the BRO, an organization that has been working in the state for so many years, was unaware of Kimin’s history. So, it could be safely assumed that whitewashing of all signs that had any reference to Kimin or Arunachal Pradesh looks to be deliberate, and with a ‘bigger agenda’. Does it signal a ‘thunderstorm’ in the coming days?

Let’s learn from the past. Let’s remind ourselves that any community or region which has been taken for granted for too long has manifested itself in some other forms. (The author is Professor of Political Science, Rajiv Gandhi University, Rono Hills. He can be contacted at