The violence in Arunachal Pradesh capital Itanagar primarily started on Thursday as a protest against the probability of granting Permanent Residence Certificate (PRC) to members of six communities – Adivasi, Deori, Gorkha, Mishing, Moran, and Sonowal Kachari – mainly inhabiting Namsai and Changlang districts of the state.
Over the last three days, one protester has died of a bullet wound after firing by security forces, houses of ministers have been attacked, public vehicles burnt, media personnel on duty threatened, and offices of powerful student organisations like All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union (AAPSU) set on fire.
The Indian Army on Saturday conducted a flag march in Itanagar and a defence statement said soldiers were “deployed to impose caution on protesters”.
Arunachal Pradesh, a state marked with a history of political instability and mass defections, is headed for Assembly elections this year alongside the General Elections.
‘Long pending demand’ for PRC
In Arunachal Pradesh, it has been a long-pending demand of these communities to get PRC and be recognised as residents of the state but the demand has run into trouble with powerful groups which oppose the same. Persons belonging to some of the communities in the quest now were issued PRCs earlier till 1992-93, which was stopped consequently.
Last year, the state government had announced granting PRC to the communities by January and then too powerful groups like AAPSU among others.
The government then had said it will examine the issue of PRCs only after receiving a report from the Joint High Power Committee (JHPC), chaired by senior Arunachal Pradesh minister Nabam Rebia.
The JHPC included members of political parties, student organisations and other groups held multiple rounds of meetings with all stakeholders and was expected to table its recommendations in the Assembly this week.
The PRC is a document of a persons’s residence in a state, and is useful in availing reservations against quotas for state residents in educational institutes and quota-based jobs. Each state tends to have its own eligibility criteria. In Arunachal Pradesh, PRCs have mostly been issued to the state’s Scheduled Tribes (APSTs).
Old demand, issue flares up just before polls
It has been a long-pending demand of six communities in Arunachal to get PRC so as to be recognised as residents of the state, but it is opposed by powerful groups in the state. Given that the BJP government had said it was putting off any call on it for now, the protests are puzzling, leading to claims of political backing, with Assembly polls slated to be held along with general elections in a couple of months.
Arunjyoti Moran, president of All Moran Students’ Union (AMSU), told The Indian Express, “The PRC is a genuine, legitimate demand of the communities including Morans living in Arunachal Pradesh — they are genuinely belong to the state. We are not even demanding ST status, but only PRC. Even the government is not able to do it now they have to consider our demand later.”
AMSU-Lekang Regional Committee (LRC) president Bihudhar Moran told The Indian Express, “We have been living on this land for time immemorial and the demand for the PRC is a long-standing demand. It has gone through several ups and downs.” Lekang is an area in Namsai district of Arunachal.
He added: “The PRC will mean our community is officially recognised as residents of Arunachal Pradesh. We have never been residents of Assam, so Assam will never give us PRC. But Arunachal should — and not only to us bout the other five communities too.”
In January, the AMSU had started an “economic blockade” in eastern Arunachal Pradesh affecting districts of Namsai, Lohit and Changlang, by hampering the movement of goods like carrying oil, coal and timber in trucks in and out of the state, primarily through Assam’s Tinsukia district.
Politics over PRC and the protests in Arunachal Pradesh
Although nothing is known officially about the recommendations prepared by the JHPC, sources said that it suggested the granting of the PRC to these communities with a cut-off year of 1968.
Owing to large public sentiment against it, the government did not table the recommendations of the JHPC in the Assembly. And yet the violence in Itanagar went on perplexing many and raising questions of political backing to the protests.
Chief Minister Pema Khandu on Friday tweeted, “Keeping in view the present situation, Government has decided not to take the PRC matter in current Assembly Session.”
On Sunday, Arunachal Pradesh Chief Secretary Satya Pal issued a statement saying, “Considering the present situation in respect of the matter pertaining to grant of PRC to non-APST residents of Namsai and Changlang districts, the state government has decided that no further action shall be taken in respect of grant of PRC”.
The nature of the mob that has gone on a rampage has also confused many — including top leaders of the AAPSU, considered initially to be at the forefront of protest against the issuance PRC.
A senior leader, who refused to be identified owing to the situation, said, “We are not behind this violence. Our offices are being burnt down and there is a possibility of attack on our residences. This seems to be politically backed.”
In recent press conference in Itanagar, AAPSU president Hawa Bagang had clarified the body’s stand on the issue and said as the non-APSTs requested for PRCs for educational and employment purposes and that “it will only be used for that, and having PRCs will not grant them APST quota in jobs.” Bagang had also pointed out that committees looking into the PRC issue over the years have recommended that PRC should be granted.
Bagang said in one of the eight JHPC meetings the AAPSU had asked indigenous people of the areas where people from the six communities reside regarding land ownership. In response, they said that it belonged to the non-APST community people residing there.
The Arunachal Pradesh BJP president Tapir Gao told The Indian Express, “This violence is definitely politically backed by the Congress. The government has already agreed to not table the recommendations and discuss the matter. It is an attempt to destabilise the BJP government in the state. Goons have been going around Itanagar for the last few days.”
Takam Sanjay president of the state unit of the Congress told The Indian Express that the violence signifies a “total failure of the government” and that President’s Rule should be imposed immediately in the state.
“In my lifetime, I am seeing this is the worst condition of the state. How can the BJP blame the Congress? Who brought the bill to grant PRC in the Assembly? Who constituted the JHPC? Is there a Congress government now in Arunachal? The BJP is blaming the Congress to hide its own failure. The Army has been called in, mobile internet is banned.”
“I am saying since Friday, impose President’s Rule. And the Pema Khandu government should institute a Judicial Enquiry Commission into the matter,” Sanjay added.