Lekang – only constituency in Arunachal where non-tribals hold key

[ Utpal Boruah ]

MAHADEVPUR, 12 Apr: Diganta Moran does not have the right to purchase land in Arunachal Pradesh,where he was born and brought up, but he has the right to vote.

Moran is a non-tribal voter from the Lekang assembly seat in eastern Arunachal. It is the only assembly seat in the state where non-tribals hold the key.

“Permanent residence certificate (PRC) is quite a contentious issue here, but non-tribal voters here are respected by all candidates who contest from the constituency, and that’s the positive side,” he said.

Of the 20,831 voters in this assembly constituency, an overwhelming majority of around 18,000 are not tribals.

Among the non-tribal living here are Morans, Ahoms, Deoris, Adivasis, Kacharis and members of other groups of Assamese origin. In local parlance, the tea tribes are known as Adivasi.

In Assam, on the other side of the interstate border, these are among the dominant communities, but here in the hamlets of Namsai district, the groups have been fighting for PRC and they hinge their hopes on someone who understands them.

A total of five candidates are in the fray – Sujana Namchoom (BJP), Likha Soni (NCP), Tana Tamar Tara (Congress), Haren Tali (Arunachal Democratic Party) and independent candidate Moneswar Danggen.

While Namchoom is banking on development works of the state government and the Centre, NCP’s Soni is raking up the contentious PRC issue to woo the non-tribal voters.

“I am a ‘bhoomiputra’ (son of the soil), so I understand people’s problems, whether in towns like Mahadevpur or in the rural heartland,” claimed Namchoom.

Among the issues of the non-tribal communities in the constituency are travelling to state capital Itanagar and getting loans in the absence of legal papers from the state government.

Moran pointed out that members of such Assam-origin groups who live in Arunachal need to get inner line permits for visiting Itanagar and other parts of the state and do not qualify for loans either.

In 2019, the BJP’s announcement that it would discuss in the assembly the contents of a high-powered committee report that recommended issuing PRCs to these communities led to a cycle of violence.

The anti-PRC protests started in Itanagar, leading to the deaths of three persons belonging to tribal communities allegedly in police firing as mobs took to arson, targeting even the residences of ministers.

A worried Chief Minister Pema Khandu had announced that the PRC would never be discussed again.

But it is election time and there are hushed voices in the flat green landscape in this part of the otherwise hilly state. The constituency was a stronghold of Deputy CM Chowna Mein over three decades. But so controversial is the PRC issue that he faced a significant challenge amid public outcry in 2019 and handed over the Lekang seat to Jummum Ete Deori, who got elected in 2019, but her party, the BJP, is not repeating her candidature this time.

“We prefer a local leader who will understand and address the needs of the constituency,” said Kuntala Doley of Darak Miri village.

She said that only a local representative would understand the sentiments of the non-tribal voters who have struggled for decades for their identity.

Echoing her, Tukiram Mili of Silatoo Miri village said that the government should understand the gravity of the issue. “Generations have passed and still we are struggling for what we deserve,” Mili added.

Dumsi Gram Panchayat Chairperson Beerom Tanti said, “We would like to see a local from the area representing us in the assembly.”

In the 60-member assembly, only Bordumsa-Diyun is an unreserved constituency. However, no non-tribal candidate has won even from that seat.

The assembly elections will be held along with the Lok Sabha polls on 19 April. (PTI)