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The ‘other’ ap Arunachal, not Andhra
Published on 8 May. 2011 10:47 PM IST
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It was exactly eight days ago that Arunachal Pradesh plunged into a psychological crisis. The Times of India stated that the state with the poetic name -land of the dawn-lit mountains -lost its chief minister. Literally so because the helicopter carrying Dorjee Khandu and four other people went missing. It would take till Wednesday, May 4, to find the ill-fated craft and its unlucky passengers. Arunachal grieved for its chief minister and at least some of its agony is admixed with angst for itself — did New Delhi and the rest of India care at all about events underway in the forgotten Himalayan state?
The single-engine Pawan Hans chopper took off from Tawang early on April 30. An hour later, it lost contact with Guwahati Air Traffic Control as it flew in the Sella Pass region at 13,700 feet. It must have crashed but it took more than a hundred hours to find the wreckage and bodies and another 24 hours to retrieve them.
Arunachalis say they are hurt by the lack of urgency — even interest — from New Delhi. This contrasts sharply with the response two years ago when Andhra Pradesh chief minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy’s helicopter went missing. Jarjum Ete, women rights activist and vice-chairperson of the Arunachal Indigenous Tribes’ Forum, says “many here have questioned Delhi’s attitude over the past few days and even wonder if the government is merely interested in the land than its people”.
It is a bitter – but possibly shrewd – reference to India’s constant struggle to keep Chinese claims to the territory in check. Most of the state, which shares borders with China, Myanmar, and Bhutan, is claimed by China as part of southern Tibet.
Takam Tatung, president of the All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union, says recent events make “us feel like second-class citizens”. Tatung may speak for many when he points out that Arunchal Pradesh has given little reason for India to ignore it. “Time and again, we have refuted China’s claims over Arunachal in the spirit of nationalism,” he says.
The young man may have a point. Delhi’s nonchalance about the disappearance of Khandu’s helicopter had two-fold importance. For a craft to be untraced for days is a serious security lapse. Second, the Centre was lethargic in taking action. In a veiled threat, he says “We will raise the issue of whether to remain inside India or not in the meeting of students’ organization once the mourning is over”.
In an indication of a general air of doubt of Indian claims, an old man in Tawang asks why the Indian Army, which is thickly spread through Tawang and West Kameng districts, was unable to see or hear the chopper. He remembers the 1962 Chinese aggression and presumably the Sino-Indian drama played out in Arunachal has a personal resonance. Ironically, the late chief minister, a native of Tawang, has always been the north-east region’s most vocal Indian leader against China. In November 2009, he even hosted a visit by the Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama to the Tawang monastery, despite sharp protests by China. So why does a state that’s almost as big as West Bengal feel so belittled?
Congress MP Takam Sanjay, who was actively involved in the search and rescue operations, expresses resentment at the slow Army mobilization to help look for the chopper. As the search entered its fourth day, some Arunachalis demanded that if India were unable to help, they should turn to the Chinese. On day five, it was villagers around Tawang who trekked through the snow-clad mountains to locate the debris and charred bodies. In his years in frontline politics, Khandu was sometimes called ‘India’s reply to China’. But when the man India needed most on its eastern border went missing, much of the country paid little attention. Now that Khandu is gone, it may no longer be possible to ignore Arunachal Pradesh the way Delhi ignored Khandu.

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