Six days after the helicopter carrying Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Dorjee Khandu crashed, the bodies of the five victims were retrieved Thursday from the snow-capped tortuous mountainous terrain even as a pall of gloom enveloped this frontier state.
About 200-odd local tribal people and security personnel brought the five bodies to Tawang, traversing hostile terrain with snow of up to three-five feet, besides intermittent drizzle.
Finally, a Mi-17 helicopter flew the coffin carrying the body of the 56-year-old chief minister to state capital Itanagar around 1 p.m. as thousands of people patiently lined up on either side of the road leading from the helipad to Khandu’s official residence. The mood was sombre as thousands filed past the coffin at the chief minister’s residence.
“Ever since Arunachal Pradesh became a full fledged state, I have no doubts in my mind Dorjee Khandu is the best chief minister so far. By best I mean a chief minister who would go down in history as one who brought about visible development and ushered political stability to the state,” said Jarbom Gamlin, state power minister.
Khandu’s body bore injury marks on his head and face, although it was not charred. “Probably the injury was due to the impact of the crash, maybe the helicopter body hit his head during the crash. But there were no visible signs of any burn injuries as such,” the chief minister’s adviser Kiren Rijiju told IANS.
The other four bodies were in bad shape - they include the two pilots Captain J.S. Babbar and Captain T.S. Mamik, Khandu’s security officer Yeshi Choddak, and Yeshi Lamu, sister of Tawang legislator Tsewang Dhondup.
“The worst were the bodies of the two pilots - both of them charred beyond recognition and probably it might require some medical tests for identification,” Rijiju said.
The bodies of the two pilots were flown to New Delhi Thursday. Captain Mamik hails from Dehradun.
Witnesses said the chopper probably plunged from a great height and as it plummeted down the rugged mountain slope it burst into flames.
“The wreckage of the helicopter was strewn all over the area with signs of a black coating over the metallic pieces due to the fire that engulfed the chopper soon after it crashed,” a person who identified himself as Pema and is a local yak herder who saw the crash site said.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress party president Sonia Gandhi are arriving in Itanagar Friday to pay their tributes to Khandu.
The body of Khandu would be flown to Tawang Friday for his last rites as per Buddhist rituals. Khandu’s ancestral home is in Tawang district. Khandu’s four wives and six children would accompany the coffin to Tawang Friday.
Dorjee Khandu’s funeral to buck tradition
Khandu’s last rites would be a departure from the tradition his tribe Monpa– adheres to. The Monpa funeral entails chopping a body into 108 pieces – equal to the number of beads in a rosary for Buddhist prayers and throwing them into the rivers for fish and other aquatic creatures to feed on. The belief is that a lifeless human body should be of utility to lesser beings. “Khandu was against the traditional system and rooted for a shift to eco-friendly cremation,” said Yeshe Dorjee Thongchi, former bureaucrat and litterateur.
J. Gamlin sworn in as CM
Jarbom Gamlin was Thursday night sworn in as chief minister of Arunachal Pradesh replacing Dorjee Khandu who was killed in a helicopter crash. Gamlin, 50, who was Power Minister in Khandu cabinet, was administered oath of office and secrecy by Governor J J Singh at the Raj Bhavan.
The CLP meeting earlier in the day authorised Congress president Sonia Gandhi to choose the new leader. Other contenders were APCC chief and PWD Minister Nabam Tuki, finance minister Setong Sena and RWD minister Kalikho Pul.
CLP meeting, at which top Congress leaders, including union ministers B K Handique, V Narayansamy, Mukul Wasnik and Salman Khursheed were present, failed to arrive at a consensus and sent a one-line resolution to the Congress President to choose the CLP leader.