Terrorism Update
Show/Hide Search
    Click to Enlarge

Arunachal Pradesh
The Myth of Tranquillity
Mamang Dai*

In the sea of rising ethnic violence and political ferment that is India's Northeast, Arunachal Pradesh is generally thought of as an island of undisturbed peace. This, however, is no more than a myopic view from a distance, and one that allows cumulative failures of governance, and of the State's developmental and welfare programmes, to be brushed under the carpet, even as the increasing political ferment, an emerging insurgency and the rising potential for ethnic and communal violence are ignored. To take just two indices of the State's conflict potential, 33 confirmed insurgency-related killings have been registered within the State over the period 1993-99, [1] and according to some estimates, Bangladeshi migrants "pour in at an apparent rate of 2,000 a day." [2] The State, moreover, "is turning into a battlefield of religion, what with RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) activists, Muslim immigrants and Christian missionaries creating havoc," [3] challenging the religious identities of the tribal population and their traditional faith. [4]

Table 1: Insurgency Related Killings in Arunachal Pradesh [5]












































UGs: "Under grounds" or militants                                 SFs:  Security Forces

The changeover from a remote ‘hidden frontier’ to full-fledged Statehood in 1987 for India’s north-eastern State of Arunachal Pradesh has been tremendous. Within a span of just fourteen years the land, the people and their attitudes and expectations have been confronted with responsibilities and choices that did not exist before. The British policy of ‘non-intervention’ and the drawing-up of the Inner Line Regulation Act, 1853, kept Arunachal isolated from the rest of the country, and entirely excluded from proper administrative jurisdiction. This left the State outside the sphere of change and, in some measure, worked to protect its tribal customs. Arunachal is still one of the last frontiers of the world where the indigenous faith and practices still survive in a form close to the original beliefs handed down since generations. It is, nevertheless, equally true that, as a result of the remoteness and historical isolation of this 'forgotten land', not much is seen nor heard about what goes on there. This general lack of information and unfamiliarity with the region has afforded those who are charged with governance, development and welfare of the State a great of deal immunity and absence of accountability regarding their actions and the real state of affairs.

The repeated incantation of the formula that Arunachal Pradesh is an ‘island of peace’, over the years, gave rise to increasing speculation and a local superstition that this constant eulogising would provoke adversity.

Sure enough, in the winter of 1998 unprecedented political developments rocked the State. It began in the Tirap and Changlang districts of eastern Arunachal. All the members of the then ruling regional Arunachal Congress party of former Chief Minister Gegong Apang resigned from their respective posts. The reasons given for the mass resignations were economic deprivation and gross discrimination against the two districts by the Apang government. A demand to grant Union Territory status to the Tirap and Changlang districts followed, and, under this unifying banner, all the Legislators/ Ministers of the two districts resigned. This was a green signal to the Legislators of other districts, who joined the cause, and on January 18, 1999, after 19 years of uninterrupted rule, the Apang Government was toppled. [6] On January 19, 1999, Mukut Mithi was sworn in as the State’s fourth Chief Minister, with an initial 30-member Council of Ministers (in a 60 member House).

The initiative of the Tirap-Changlang Legislators in the move to topple Apang is significant. These are two of the most backward districts in the State, and are dominated by the Naga militant group, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang faction) (NSCN-K). Apang has alleged that Mithi's political coup was achieved on the strength of a nexus between the Tirap-Changlang political leaders and the NSCN (Khaplang), and that some of the Legislators had only resigned at gunpoint. Apang claimed that, on the eve of the vote of confidence that toppled him, he himself had received threatening calls from a self-styled 'commander' of the NSCN-K, calling from Mokokchung, Nagaland. [7] He also said that the only reason behind the political polarisation was the motive to grab power, and that an ‘arrangement’ had been arrived at between Chief Minister Mithi and the NSCN-K. Sources indicate that some such agreement, according to which the NSCN-K guaranteed that no candidate would contest any election against Mithi’s Arunachal Congress for six years in the Changlang and Tirap districts, did precede the political 'coup'; in return the Legislators and Ministers thus elected unopposed would 'co-operate' with the NSCN-K and follow their directions during this period. It was also 'clarified' by the NSCN-K that the movement initiated for the demand of Union Territory status for the Changlang, Tirap, Lohit and Dibang Valley districts was ‘only for eye wash to the public’ (sic). [8]

The 'trouble' in the districts of Tirap and Changlang only entered the periphery of national media attention in the wake of the manoeuvres that toppled the Apang government, but they are far from new. Almost a decade ago, the Khonsa area, headquarters of the then undivided Tirap district, had been declared a ‘disturbed area’. The army had been called in, but after a brief stint they left, apparently convinced that the required response could be handled by the Police.

A number of incidents had occurred at that time: the headman (Gaonbura, GB) of Lothung village and two villagers of Noklo and Sanlam had been shot dead. When the Assam Rifles were called in their follow-up team was ambushed and two soldiers killed. Since then, occasional and vague reports continued to crop up regarding extremist groups operating in these areas of Arunachal Pradesh, and in 1996, an executive engineer posted there was killed. Reports of abduction, extortion and large payments made to extremist groups by traders and government officials continue to grow, but nothing is officially reported, or disclosed. Indeed, the official response has largely been one of denial. [9]


It is, however, no secret that Tirap and Changlang have always had deep and sometimes disturbing links with the neighbouring State of Nagaland and, across national borders, with Myanmar. Their borders meet and the people, the Tangsas of Changlang and the Noctes and Wanchos of Tirap, share regional affinities, and have always engaged in cross-border travel and trade. The porous border merges into a wide, poorly patrolled no-man's-land and also offers a safe-corridor for underground (UG) outfits of Assam and Nagaland seeking access into the jungle camps of northern Myanmar. No one in the region could have remained unaware that a slow infiltration of the area by the NSCN (K) had started almost 10 years ago. At first, its cadres arrived in disguise and were unfamiliar with the place. They lived in jhum huts and the main points of entry and exit were via Lajju and Wakka villages, and Pangchau in the Longding circle of Tirap, and Miao in Changlang district. Over the years, their number and the frequency of their visits increased. A few arrests were made, but no extraordinary reports were filed. The NSCN-K made gradual inroads into local communities and became friendly with the villagers. There are allegations that these cadre men took shelter with Christian missionaries operating in villages in the interior. At least some of the impoverished villagers began to believe that these cadres were genuinely committed and would help bring about a change for the better in their hard, meagre lives. Here, especially among the Wancho tribe, the average villager is extremely poor and isolated. A Raja system of social hierarchy, unknown among the other communities of Arunachal, is still observed and has kept the Nocte and Wancho villager from opportunities to better his lot. Social and political power has always been the traditional privilege of the ruling class. Whatever the case may be, the cadres slowly began to establish themselves throughout the Tirap-Changlang area.

Speaking recently on the law and order situation, amidst reports of increasing terrorist activity in the two districts, Chief Minister Mithi stated that unless trans-border movement was controlled through the deployment of more forces, the State government was handicapped in bringing the situation under control. A single battalion of the Assam Rifles, he said, was inadequate to man so wide and so porous a border. The cases of extortion, the capturing of villages by the UGs and the prevailing sense of fear, he insisted, was instigated by 'outside elements', and it was, consequently, imperative that the borders be guarded more effectively. Regarding the nature of the ‘peace talks’ initiated with the extremists, the Chief Minister said they were being held to bring about a consensus for peace in the area, and to bring the UGs to the discussion table. The exercise, he said, also involved the army and confirmed that some elected representatives of the area had met the Union Home and Defence Ministers to apprise them of the situation, and that an appeal had also been made to the Centre to hold talks with the NSCN (K), as it had done with the NSCN (Isak-Muivah) (NSCN-IM), since ‘otherwise the negotiations would only be partial’. [10]

Political leaders from the Tirap and Changlang districts insist that their demand for UT status is 'a democratic demand', and that it was not made under any pressure from the terrorist groups. If there is economic improvement under direct Central assistance, they argue, the tension will automatically be diffused. The government and media should, they argue, consequently view this demand positively. They maintain that there is no 'fear psychosis' in these districts, and that people are living their normal, traditional lives.

Other reliable sources, however, assert that the region is no longer the same. The political leadership and the administration talk about peace and ‘peace talks’, and about how the area is going to be developed with careful negotiation and diplomatic management of any latent insurgent trends. But the reality of the situation is that living in the Tirap-Changlang areas has become a nightmare with the constant threat of sudden death or disappearance. Many cases of disappearance, extortion and violence remain unreported for fear of reprisal from gun-toting bands of militants who apparently roam the area freely and enter villages to camp there for days at leangth, taking food and shelter, communicating in ‘Nagamese’ and talking about saadin (liberation). The Kaimai village incident is one of the confirmed incidents that illustrate the pattern of intimidation, extortion and terror that prevails in these districts.

Kaimai, about 9 kilometres from Khonsa town, is a progressive village with a population of approximately 1,000 people. In January 1999, villagers were surprised by the arrival of about 40 'visitors' bearing sophisticated weapons and demanding shelter for a few days. The youth included Naga, Myanmarese and Wancho tribals. Hospitality and services were provided to them. They stayed for four days during which time a buffalo and a pig were killed, and five quintals of rice taken. In April, some 20 of them returned. This time they stayed for 24 days. They carried LMGs, AK-47s, sten guns, SLRs, and communicated in Nagamese. One local source said that the 'boys' kept talking about saadin and most of the time seemed to be just mouthing rhetoric. However, one of the issues they brought up was that of the village, and one of its residents – Nalong Tongluk – criticising one of their officers. For this 'offence', they said, action would be taken against the village. At that time Nalong was apparently in Darjeeling.

Subsequently, on May 8, a letter was received addressed to four persons of the village: Khamwang Lowang, the village chief; Lankham Wangsu, an active village worker; Pule Lowang, the GB; and Janglang Panka, another village worker. The letter directed these persons to proceed to Lothong village (about 5 kilometres from Khonsa, towards Longding), failing which serious consequences would follow. The chief was away at the time, but the other three departed for Lothong village on the morning of May 9. They failed to return. During the night of May 9, however, another letter arrived, addressed to three persons: Wangjo Hosai, a much-respected village elder; Jiwang Wangsu and Khunchan Pankam, both active village workers. The letter directed them to report to certain villages, and the three left early next morning. They also failed to return.

On the evening of May 10, a village meeting was convened at the village morung. [11] The situation was tense. The villagers were afraid to report anything to the police for fear of jeopardising the lives of the missing persons, and of reprisals against the village. At the meeting it was decided that someone should represent the village and see if negotiations were possible. Nalong Tongluk was selected, being well educated and well known, and he agreed. Another villager, Tehang Tangjang, accompanied him, and they left the village on May 11.

The next morning Tehang returned. His report was that on reaching Lothong village they had stopped at the entry to the village. They spoke to a person who appeared and asked him where the hostages were. The person told them to wait and entered the village. Four gunmen then appeared and Nalong and Tehang were taken into the village at gunpoint. At one point Nalong said, ‘Oh, we have made a great mistake coming here.’

The two were taken to a house and were separated almost immediately. That was the last Tehang saw of Nalong. He himself had his hands tied behind his back, and was left alone. Late in the evening, one 'Major' Somche came in and asked his soldiers to open Tehang's bonds. He was told that the people of Kaimai should not worry, and that the other villagers would all be released, even though this might take some time. Somche also told Tehang that the Kaimai people should co-operate and assist his group financially. In the middle of the night, Somche woke him up, shook hands, and left. Tehang was free, and seeing that the motor cycle he and Nalong had come on was not visible in the village, he assumed that Nalong had already left for Kaimai. He hurried home to find that this was not the case.

Kaimai then went through a terrible period of waiting. They were afraid to report anything. Secretly they tried to negotiate, but communication became increasingly difficult, and they were repeatedly rebuffed.

At this time one Moa Baba, popularly called ‘baba’ arrived in the village. Aged about 60, apparently of Myanmarese origin but brought up by a Lotha family in Nagaland and a baptised Christian, Moa offered his services as negotiator. The villagers were asked to pay large sums of money as ‘commission’, including INR 500,000 for the release of the hostages. This sum was paid. When the hostages failed to return, Moa Baba informed them that the money was 'credited' against the village, not the missing persons. Since Kaimai had been targeted because of Nalong, all his guns would have to be surrendered. This was also done and a revolver, rifle and the .22 issued against his wife’s licence were surrendered. In the meantime, Moa continued to fuel false hopes. He was married to a young Wancho girl who had fallen ill and on whom he had attended as a 'spiritual healer', and who he said would die if she did not marry. He was known to have been operating in the Changlang area, but had then moved to Rungluwa (Khanubari area, near Assam).


In time, one hostage, Jiwang Wangsu, managed to escape. Subsequently, four hostages were released. On May 13, the dead body of Hosai was found by the police on the side of a steel bridge located on the way to Nokphen village. Police reports were tepid and evasive. The news did not reach the village for some time, even though the Deputy Commissioner (DC) had issued a circular. On May 15, the police proceeded to bury the decomposed body at Deomali. The Kaimai villagers, on learning about the body, rushed to Deomali and identified Hosai by his spectacles and wristwatch, and a tattoo mark. At this point, Moa Baba disappeared from the area.

Repeated requests in writing and personal meetings with NSCN-K cadres on at least three occasions, to secure the release of Nalong Tongluk or confirm his death received no response. Early in November 1999, a delegation of Kaimai villagers finally walked for nine days to the NSCN-K 'headquarters' in the ‘no mans zone’ somewhere in Myanmar, to meet with Khaplang. Khaplang apparently informed the villagers that Nalong had been assassinated according to the message he had received from the 'political and military supervisor - Union Territory (UT) 3,' Chipu Menon-Khunwang. [12] Till date Nalong Tongluk has not been found.

Newspaper reports disclosed evidence that the first ideas for UT-3 were hatched as a unifying political force and a strategy to topple Apang, and to re-install the conspirators in the State government. [13] Menon-Khunwang, as 'supervisor UT-3', had signed letters to the Legislators demanding compliance. It is, at present, not clear who holds the strings in this drama, whether Menon-Khunwang is working on his own, or being used by State politicians to intimidate the people of the area. However, senior politicians vouch for Menon-Khunwang's credentials, and former Home Minister Lijum Ronya had stated that no reports have been received from intelligence or other sources pointing to subversive and anti-national activities by Chipu Menon. [14] Sources, however, contest this version, indicating that Menon-Khunwang, who lives in Khonsa, joined the NSCN-K sometime in 1995 and gradually worked his way up to project himself as leader of the area. Menon-Khunwang was apparently engaged in the timber business with his uncle, T.L. Rajkumar, before he took to the gun. Things might have moved peacefully enough, if business had remained as lucrative and undisturbed. What no one foresaw was the Supreme Court timber ban that suddenly hit the State. [15]

After this point, deaths, disappearances, threats and extortion cases became more open and frequent, as the tactics of terrorism built up in the area. At roughly the same time, a political crisis was developing within the Apang ministry. In the 1997 parliamentary elections, the Chief Minister's son, Omak Apang, was nominated as the regional Arunachal Congress candidate. After his election, though he was a relative newcomer, he was nevertheless given a ministerial berth (Tourism) over and against the sitting MP from the east parliamentary constituency, Wangcha Rajkumar (Tirap), who was also in Apang’s party at this time. At this point Apang also suddenly axed seven senior Ministers, including T.L. Rajkumar and Mukut Mithi.

The first ‘peace meeting’ with the NSCN-K cadres was called at Zedua village, Tirap, on the December 15, 1998. For the first time, all the Legislators from the Tirap and Changlang districts were seen together. Immediately thereafter, by December 20, the spate of resignations began. This gave the green signal to Legislators of the other communities, some of whom were also keen on a change in leadership. Then, on January 19, 1999, Mukut Mithi was unanimously elected as the new leader of the unified Arunachal Congress (M), and was sworn in as the State’s fourth Chief Minister.

Sources say as many as five 'peace meetings' have been convened since the ministry formation. At the meeting at Kheti village, three Ministers who could not attend were fined INR 150,000 each. A two per cent 'UT Development Fund' is also being levied on citizens, and recently, a demand note for INR 700,000, signed by Khaplang, was reportedly received by an Executive Engineer of the Public Health Engineering department in Changlang.

While Tirap and Changlang are at the epicentre of the deteriorating law and order situation in the State, the spurt in militancy is not confined to these districts alone. Intelligence sources report that, all along the border with Assam, in the adjacent Bodo areas of Seijos (east Kameng) and Balijan circle (Papum Pare), politicians are paying for security and patronage to terrorists, who would otherwise threaten their (now illegal) timber operations. United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) cadres have also infiltrated the towns and are collecting funds from traders in the capital complex. Bands of armed youth operate in the foothill tracts of East Siang district, taking shelter in the nearby villages or living in makeshift tents. Local people now hesitate to go hunting and fishing in these areas for fear of an accidental confrontation with the UGs. At Ziro in lower Subansari, police picked up Ngilyang Tagia, aged 30, a National Liberation Front of Arunachal (NLFA) activist, and interrogation confirmed that this group was receiving active support and training from the NSCN-K. [16] Tagia was serving extortion notices and, when apprehended, was armed with a 9 mm pistol, 2 HE grenades and 30 rounds of 9 mm ammunition. Police say feedback on the extortion had earlier been submitted to the government, and that Tagia featured in the police list before he went underground. The chairman of the NLFA, which is active mainly in the Ziro area, is identified as one Koj Tara alias Daniel. Tara faced problems as a technical college drop-out and allegedly murdered his brother-in-law before joining the UG cadre.

According to police sources, in addition to the NSCN-K, there are currently nine UG splinter groups in existence in Arunachal. However, other than the NSCN-K, the Liberation Tigers of Arunachal (LTA) and the National Liberation Front of Arunachal (NLFA), the levels of activity of the others remains low. These groups include:

1.       UPVA (United Peoples’ Volunteers of Arunachal Pradesh). Active: Lohit and Changlang districts.

2.       ULMA (United Liberation Movement of Arunachal). Active: Lower Subansari.

3.     ULVA (United Liberation Volunteers of Arunachal). Active: East Siang.

4.     ULAA (United Liberation Army of Arunachal). Active: West Siang.

5.     PRAA (Patriotic Revolutionary Army of Arunachal). Active: Lohit.

6.     LTA (Liberation Tigers of Arunachal) Active: Papum Pare/UG Training directly under control of ULFA, Assam. The leader, Docho Tachang was arrested and has been partly rehabilitated and given land allotment in the capital complex.

7.     ADF (Arunachal Dragon Federation) Active: Lohit.

8.     ALTAP (All Liberation Tigers of Arunachal Pradesh) Active: East/West Siang.

9.     NLFA (National Liberation Front of Arunachal) Active: Lower Subansari. A group organisation under active support and training by NSCN-K.

The police have frequently been accused of apathy towards the general problem of increasing militancy and the widening regime of extortion and intimidation that is progressively reaching into every part of the State. The police, however, insist that they are simply undermanned and ill-equipped to deal with the scale and the character of the problem. The militants are ordinarily armed with a range of sophisticated weapons, including the AK series of assault rifles, grenades and rocket launchers. The police make do with World War II vintage .303 bolt-action rifles. Despite the handicaps, police sources indicate that there are many who are willing to fight and lay down their lives for the security of the State, but that 'commitment comes from laid-down policies’. In an atmosphere of political ambiguity, if not collusion, and the absence of clear-cut instructions from the government, the police simply hedge their bets, focusing their efforts on routine duties.

The police are also handicapped by an acute shortage of manpower, with approximately 6,775 civil and armed police personnel dispersed across the State - in an area of 83,743 square kilometres, much of it under dense forests and with few connecting roads across hilly and rugged mountainous terrain. The police receive only 10 rounds per year for firing practice, and have very poor access to training, housing, funds and, indeed, everything. Border outposts are opened at the Ministers’ whims, and personnel put up in rooms taken from the veterinary and forest departments. Increasing numbers of the State Police force are engaged in 'VIP duties', and their already scanty numbers withdrawn from crime prevention and law and order duties for assignment as Personal Security Officers (PSOs) for the Legislators.

It is interesting, within the context of the State's inability to handle the emerging crisis of militancy, to note that, till 1972, there was no police force in Arunachal. There are still no jails. The DCs hold dual charge as executive and judicial magistrates in the absence of a separate judiciary. Reports indicate that in two districts the DCs have not disposed of a single case in the last five years. [17] Convictions, even in other districts, are rare. Instead, it has become a matter of pride for Legislators to boast of the number of bails they have arranged for their 'boys' who are picked up by the police from time to time.

Recently, for the first time, a senior police officers’ conference was held at the capital, Itanagar. The Chief Minister stressed the need to change the structure and working style of the police to make it people friendly and effective as a protector of law. The Cabinet has also approved filling up of 75 posts under the First Indian Reserve Battalion (IRBn) and the creation of 89 posts under 2nd Arunachal Pradesh Police (APP) battalion. [18]

Arunachal does not have inter-district link roads, and journeys from one part of the State to another involve long drives through Assam. The risk-factor involved in travelling through Assam has also created a psychological barrier in a Force that is probably the only one still using the relatively antiquated Punwire wireless system, when all other States have upgraded to the more sophisticated Motorola communication systems. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), New Delhi, Arunachal, for its population of less than a million people, is the sixth highest crime-prone State in the country with regard to the incidence rate (incidents/population) of heinous crimes. [19] Yet, the nearest forensic science laboratory is in Guwahati, Assam, and finger printing is also only available in Guwahati or Calcutta.

Drugs may also add to the security headaches of the State, and the drug trade in the entire Northeast region is closely inter-linked with the insurgency problem. During the Assembly elections last October, a consignment of a heroin-producing agent with INR nine million was seized at Miao, Changlang. The two main suspects, who were non-Arunachali, escaped. According to sources, certain Legislators then sought to pressurise the DC to release the consignment, and there were reports that NSCN-K supremo, Khaplang, issued orders to all the Legislators of the area to cough up INR five million in lieu of the seized goods. The case remains 'unsolved'. Officials, however, insist that except for this single case there has been no evidence pointing to a narcotics trade in Arunachal, but admitted that the possibility could not be ruled out.

Recently, the Union Minister for Home, L.K. Advani, conceded that he was aware that there was ‘some measure of insurgency’ in the two districts of Tirap and Changlang, and that the State government should initiate a dialogue with the people of these two districts and not with others claiming to speak on their behalf. He added that the Centre was prepared to assist State governments on security-related issues, and that the State police was being provided with more weapons, vehicles and communications systems. [20]

Before 1972, when Arunachal became a Union Territory, this vast and open land was administered under traditional systems, and there were no fences. Yet all the territory of the State was invisibly marked according to traditional law, and everyone knew where and what were a village's boundaries, who owned each plot of land, and what belonged to which tribe and which clan. A council of village elders (the Kebang), an institution that has existed since time immemorial, functioned as the judicial body to maintain peace and tranquillity and settle various disputes. Across the State, these councils worked within the framework of the Assam Frontier (Administration of Justice) Regulation Act, 1945, under which “(t)he proceedings of the village authority need not be recorded in writing.”

This system has been progressively dismantled. And yet, even today, Arunachal is perhaps the only State in the country that does not have a separate judiciary. All power has now lapsed into the jurisdiction of the DCs. Since there are no jails, undertrials are held in the para-military Central Reserve Police Force's (CRPF) lock ups. Cases are filed to the Guwahati High Court.

The traditional institution of the Kebang does, no doubt, still function. But where justice was once the goal, and conviction and persuasion came from the power of words of men who were respected for their knowledge, honesty and experience, today, the authority and dignity of the Kebang is eroding under the problems brought about by the rapid changes that are taking place. There are new crimes that have no precedent in tribal society. Corruption in high places, juvenile delinquency, rising unemployment and questions relating to the changing status of women in a traditional society are some of the problems that elude solution in the Kebang today. This gives rise to new tensions and new stresses within the system, some of which find expression in political cynicism, discontent and violence. It has, consequently, become imperative to codify customary law, to restore the dignity and efficacy of the decentralised traditional systems of justice and administration, and to discuss the possibilities and forms under which the traditional and modern legal systems can work together.

Arunachal Pradesh also does not have a civil services cadre, and is clubbed with the Union Territories under the AGMUT cadre. This has been an immensely significant drawback. Senior bureaucrats from other parts of the country often regard an assignment in Arunachal Pradesh as a 'punishment posting' and are impatient to return to more familiar environs. The quality of administrative services, consequently, suffers enormously and developmental programmes are never implemented. Gross mismanagement of funds has kept the economy stagnant, and sanctioned schemes meet with little success. With politicians ruling the roost, there is little professionalism in administration, and honest officers work under a perpetual threat of arbitrary transfer at the behest of local Legislators if they do not toe the line.

In a State with as small a population as Arunachal, employment should not be a problem. Yet, a growing number of educated unemployed youth are languishing without jobs, with few avenues available or emerging. Incentives are offered to tribal students to pursue technical education outside the State, enormous 'capitation fees' have been paid to gain admission to technical courses, but the growing pool of trained manpower is wasted for lack of jobs after the completion of these courses.

The simmering discontent is growing more visible day by day. The people of Itanagar are shocked daily by fresh reports of extortion, theft, murder and growing incidents of violence against outsiders. There is a deep-rooted feeling among many of the locals that the businessmen who come here to invest and practice ‘benami trade’ with powerful politicians have ruined and corrupted the State. They have never given back in equal measure what they have taken in terms of the State's forest wealth, its medicinal plants, cane and bamboo. At the same time, the average Arunachali also appears to seek only quick returns with a minimum of effort. The result is that little that is abiding has been created over the past decades. The dependence on outsiders to run businesses on behalf of the locals and to engage in the more mundane provision of consumer items and essential goods has attracted a large floating population that caters to the daily needs of the rising urban population. In the absence of a Land Act and with no official records of this floating population it is difficult to assess the exact number and growth of immigrants entering the State. The All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union (AAPSU) has been repeatedly calling for a revision of the electoral rolls on the grounds that the names of many illegal migrants are put on the list as vote banks for local politicians, who employ the labourers and provide them with Inner Line Permits (ILPs) whenever necessary.

Another disturbing and destabilising factor is the increasing disparity between the urban elite and the large mass of villagers. The social system in the State had strong egalitarian traditions. Most of the present crop of politicians are all ‘first generation’, and belong to the same village backgrounds, but there is a growing hiatus between them and their remote constituencies. The pressures of change and ‘keeping up’ in the corridors of power have altered outlooks and attitudes radically. Wealthy businessmen in towns and cities have also contributed to this rapid turn-about. This is, of course, a process that is common to every part of the country, but in a social system that has been kept in stagnant isolation for such a long period, the impact is exceptionally disruptive. With a growing awareness, especially among the youth and student organisations, with significant migration of the rural population to the State capital, and a rising tide of expectations, the situation is becoming increasingly confused and volatile. There are no major industries in the State and local entrepreneurship is often handicapped by geographical bottlenecks. Marketing of local products is seriously hampered, and once the economic returns fail, all incentive is lost.

The failure is, in essence, one of political foresight and planning. As the old ways die out, there seems to be nothing concrete, in the modern context, to replace them. Little effort has been made to define a concrete direction for development, in line with the emerging aspirations of a people suddenly brought in contact with a larger world. The total dependence on Central assistance for funding has also, in a way, ruined the local work ethic. Coupled with the leakage of funds, this had made the ‘new tribal’ accustomed to ‘easy money’, which he now expects as a right.

Arunachal falls into what is referred to as the ‘special cell’ category, and receives 90 per cent of Central Plan assistance as a grant against 10 per cent that is provided as a loan. Moreover, funds from the North East Council (NEC) and the Central ‘non-lapsible’ pool that flow into the State exceed INR six billion per year. When the Supreme Court's timber ban hit the State, it was argued that the forest industry was the only industry in Arunachal, and that it had benefited large sections of the people. This however, is not entirely true. Less than one per cent of the local youth were actually employed in the timber trade, and most of these were engaged more in receiving fringe benefits (enough to buy a motor cycle) rather than in full-time employment, or in running their own mills. Forest department sources clarify further that the methods of extraction and the equipment used were outdated and destructive. Forest resources were irreparably damaged as sawmill, ply and veneer licences were handed out to influential politicians working with outsiders, and the fabulous returns were the monopoly of a select few. Immigrant labour poured in, while middle-men garnered the greater share of the returns. The State was, in effect, short-changing itself, with maximum depletion of resources for little or middling gain.

The number of liquor shops that have mushroomed all across the State is another 'industrial' development that is working in a similar fashion, and protests have been made by certain groups to declare Arunachal a ‘dry’ State in view of increasing juvenile delinquency. A virtual convention has been established on the unlimited distribution of free liquor during elections, to woo an electorate that now seems to welcome every bout with the ballot box as a season of plenty.

The new structure of economic and social relations is also pitting tribe against tribe, clan against clan, and community against community. A growing consciousness of the ascendancy of some tribes has created resentment among others who lived together peaceably in the past. In fact, unstable and transient coalitions of tribal leaders now dominate dissident activity within political parties in the State.

An upright and professional civil administration could have provided the necessary weight to correct some of these imbalances. Professionalism in the civil services, however, has been seriously eroded, as officers are moved about like puppets at the whim of successive governments. Decisions become arbitrary, and all accountability is lost. Today, the aggrieved citizenry has no institution on which it can rely for justice and the redressal of grievances. Indeed, the degree of immunity that every institution of government enjoys in Arunachal is astounding. The political executive, the administration and the absent judiciary are answerable to no one. If, from time to time, the Centre seeks to impose any kind of accountability or review, the political leadership simply uses the shield of 'customary and traditional practices' to deny the validity of any objective review.

The insurgency in Arunachal is still comparatively new, and organised locally by only a handful of extremists. Firm action and responsible and transparent governance can reverse the present trend towards disorder and violence. In the absence of such initiatives, however, Arunachal could follow the downward spiral of other States in the region. Recent and rapid transformation have drilled holes into the delicate and complex structure of tribal societies in the State, and a period of unstable transition is a natural outcome. Nevertheless, the margin of error cannot be allowed to exceed the parameters of civil governance. If even a small section of the people is living in fear and feels that there is no one to turn to, the situation is unnatural and unacceptable. It is necessary for the government to come clean and clearly express its determination to protect all such groups, to fight terrorism, and to translate this determination into immediate, convincing and visible action on the ground.


*       Mamang Dai is based in Itanagar and is an accredited journalist with the government of Arunachal Pradesh, a correspondent for The Telegraph, Calcutta, and for The Hindustan Times, New Delhi, and is affiliated to the All India Radio and Doordarshan Kendra at Itanagar. She has also served as Programme Officer with the WWF, Itanagar, and worked with their Biodiversity Hotspots Conservation Programme to research, survey and protect the flora and fauna of the Eastern Himalayas. She is also the founder President of the Arunachal Heritage Society, Joint Secretary of the Northeast Writers’ Forum and Secretary of the Itanagar Press Club.

[1]       See Table 1.

[2]      Venkatram, Shree, "Our People Our World: A Fight for Tribal Identity," New Delhi: Hindustan Times, February 13, 2000. The numbers may be an exaggeration, or may also include migrants crossing over through Arunachal into other States of the Northeast. There are, however, no official estimates available on the actual flow of Bangladeshi and other migrants into the State. Nevertheless, there is a general consensus that these numbers are significant. The State Government is already reported to have filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court seeking the 'redistribution' of some 60,000 Chakma and Hajong refugees outside the State. Cf. Ali, Syed Liaquat, "Arunachal fears influx from Bangladesh," New Delhi: Hindustan Times, October 4, 1999; Sharma, Shantanu Nandan, "The state of influx," New Delhi: Northeast Sun, December 1-14, 1999, Volume 5, No. 9, pp. 8-9.

[3]      Quraishi, Humra, "The Forgotten State," New Delhi: The Times of India, February 18, 2000.

[4]       "In 1961, there were no Christians in Arunachal Pradesh; in 1981 they numbered 27,306, and touched 89,013 in 1991. In the last decade the number is expected to have doubled. An inexorable flow from Bangladesh has also doubled the Muslim population in the State. And since Hinduism has been trying to assimilate the tribes within its fold, the Hindu population has also increased." Venkatram, op. cit. The number of conversions gains enormous significance in view of the fact that the total population of the State was just 864,558 in 1991.

[5]       Source: South Asia Terrorism Portal,

[6]       Cf., Dai, Mamang, "States: Arunachal Pradesh: Fall of the Titan", New Delhi: India Today, February 1, 1999.

[7]       "NSCN(K) is threatening to assassinate me, says ex-CM", New Delhi: The Hindustan Times, January 22, 1999.

[8]       While this account is based on sources who prefer anonymity, Gegong Apang confirmed the substance of these allegations in a Press Release, the contents of which appeared in The Sentinel: Guwahati, on July 29, 1999. These allegations were, however, subsequently refuted in a Press Release signed by 10 ministers in the Mithi Government and the Deputy Speaker of the State Assembly.

[9]       For instance, the Arunachal Pradesh Government's affidavit to the Supreme Court seeking relocation of migrants denied that there were any separatist outfits operating in the State and claimed that "Arunachal Pradesh is still recognised as an island of peace in the North East." Ali, op. cit.

[10]      Interview at Itanagar on February 23, 2000.

[11]      The traditional long-house meeting place for men.

[12]      Chipu Menon-Khunwang is the son of the late K.D. Menon, an officer of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), and the nephew of T.L. Rajkumar, Minister for Rural Works in the Arunachal government (Rajkumar's elder sister is Chipu’s mother).

[13]      "It was a Sangma-Jamir-NSCN coup: Gegong Apang," Guwahati: The Sentinel, February 3, 1999. Other related reports were also published in The Sentinel on 4, 5, 6 & 7 February, 1999.

[14]      The claim was made at a Press Conference shortly after the Apang government was toppled. Ronya is now Power Minister. The present Home Minister, Kameng Dolo, during an interview by this writer on Doordarshan, stated that the situation was "still quite normal" in Arunachal Pradesh, and that the government was trying to "maintain peace and normalcy," while trying to gear up the police force. Itanagar: March 27, 2000).

[15]      The rise of Chipu Menon-Khunwang as a timber baron in the Khonsa area, in collusion with his uncle T.L. Rajkumar, is well documented in confidential police and intelligence files.

[16]      The NSCN-K reportedly trains and arms various other UG cadres on a purely mercenary basis. Cf., for example, Shukla, M.K., "NSCN-K making a mint by training NE ultra groups," New Delhi: Hindustan Times, August 17, 1999.

[17]      The claim is based on statements to the writer by informed officials on condition of anonymity. 

[18]      The Conference was held during the first week of March 2000 with the objective of upgrading and effecting structural changes in the State police force. The Cabinet decision to fill up the posts in the IRBn and the APP battalions were subsequently disclosed at a Press Conference by IPR Minister, Takam Sanjoy.

[19]      Crime In India, 1997, New Delhi: National Crime Records Bureau, Ministry of Home Affairs.

[20]      Press Conference of April 3, 2000. Advani also stated that those who indulge in violence and militancy must be dealt with sternly, and if such persons were apprehended, it should be seen that they are immobilised. Cf. New Delhi: The Hindustan Times, April 4, 2000.





Copyright © 2001 SATP. All rights reserved.