On February 25, Rajiv Gandhi University (RGU) Teachers’ Association, RGU Employees Association and RGU Research Scholars’ Forum held a peace rally and called for a condemnation of the ongoing violence in Itanagar, the capital city of North East India’s Arunachal Pradesh.
The peace rally was a response to a series of violent events that have gripped the state since last week, when the Bharatiya Janata Party-led state government took a decision to grant Permanent Resident Certificate (PRC) status to six communities. The certificate would be given to communities who live in two border districts of Changlang and Namsai along the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border.
The six communities concerned are Deoris, Sonowal Kacharis, Morans, Adivasis, Mishings and Gorkhas.
A mob protesting the PRC issue torched close to 150 vehicles at the Indira Gandhi Park on February 22, on the scheduled opening of the first Itanagar Film Festival.
The protest turned more violent after a youth named Risso Tari, who was protesting the PRC decision, died in police gunfire.
The mob went out of control and even burnt Deputy Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh Chowna Mein’s residence.
The army had to be called in to contain the growing mob. Although no further reports of violence have surfaced, an indefinite curfew has been imposed in Itanagar and Naharlagun areas.
Central paramilitary forces were also called in to help maintain law and order. Reports suggest that ten companies of 100 personnel in each unit were deployed in the capital city. Internet services were suspended and most public places closed down.
After accusing the All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union (APPSU) of selling out by not protesting against the PRC issue, the mob set its office on fire.
PRC issue dropped
Due to the nature of violence, the state government on Sunday decided not to take up the PRC matter in the current Assembly Session. This statement also coincided with the death of two other people in police gunfire and three others being badly injured.
Pema Kandu, Arunachal Pradesh chief minister tweeted:
For the peace & tranquility of our state, Government has already dropped the PRC matter of Namsai & Changlang districts.
— Pema Khandu (@PemaKhanduBJP) February 24, 2019
The chief secretary of the state, Satya Gopal in a written statement on February 24 noted that in lieu of the present situation “no further action shall be taken in respect to the grant of PRC”.
Prior to the International Film Festival, a 48 hour “capital complex bandh” was called for by the Nyshi Ethnic Students’ Union of Arunachal (NESA), Arunachal Law Students’ Union (ALSU) and All Papum Pare District Students’ Union (APPDSU) from February 21 to 22 against granting of PRC.
The AAPSU in a statement on February 22, highlighted the fact that the recent violence in Itanagar is due to “misinformation and propaganda”.
Refusing to identity anyone in particular, the letter also added that the recommendations of the Joint High Powered Committee (JHPC), which was formed to grant PRC to non-Arunachal Pradesh Schedule Tribes (APST), was “grossly misinterpreted and politicized”.
The AAPSU student body took matters into their own hands to wean out “Bangladeshis” after the National Register of Citizens (NRC) draft was published earlier last year through their campaign “Operation Clean Drive”.
The representatives of the student union said in the statement that they were also a part of the JHPC which aided the PRC recommendations. However they retracted their stand later and urged the government not to table the JHPC report in the Assembly. In the same letter, they threatened to launch a state wide movement if their demands are not fulfilled.
As the state nears its date for the Assembly Elections, questions are being asked about whose political ends were being met by the violent protests.
In a state where ‘money is the ideology’ and jumping ships between political parties is a standard practice, the timing of the violence on the last days of the Assembly session raises many unanswered questions.