Protests over the issue of permanent resident certificate (PRC) to six communities of Arunachal Pradesh took a violent turn in the state capital on Sunday, with two people dying in alleged police firing to control the mobs. The protests spread despite a state government assurance that they had deferred the plan to give them PRC.
Police opened fire when protesters tried to march to the private residence of Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu in Itanagar in the afternoon, and started pelting stones.
Express Explained: The protests in Arunachal Pradesh and politics over PRC
On Saturday, the authorities had clamped indefinite curfew in Itanagar and Naharlagun, after stone-pelting by protesters led to injuries to 35 people, including 24 police personnel. The Army conducted flag marches in Itanagar and Naharlagun on Saturday as well as Sunday. A PTI report said late Sunday evening that the Central government had dispatched 1,000 paramilitary personnel to help maintain law and order.
On Sunday, police said, the protesters set ablaze the private residence of Deputy Chief Minister Chowna Mein, ransacked the office of the deputy commissioner of Itanagar, including setting afire many vehicles parked in its compound, and attacked the Itanagar Police Station and other public properties in the state capital. Others marched through the streets vandalising public property and vehicles. Police also accused them of damaging a shopping mall and looting valuables besides setting ablaze a market complex in Naharlagun.
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.
The violence started soon after the body of a person who had died in police firing on Friday was cremated on Sunday, after the protesters had initially refused to allow the last rites. An officer told The Indian Express, “Protesters are running havoc on the streets of Itanagar. Roads are blocked and any vehicle seen moving is attacked.”
The protesters are demanding permanent resolution of the PRC issue, resignation of Khandu, unconditional release of the 40-odd detained protesters and transfer of the chief secretary. The Arunachal unit of the Congress has demanded dismissal of the BJP government and President’s rule in the state.
With tension escalating, Chief Secretary Satya Gopal issued a statement Sunday saying, “Considering the present situation pertaining to grant of PRCs to non-APST (Arunachal Pradesh Scheduled Tribes) of Namsai and Changlang districts, the state government has decided that no further action will be taken on grant of PRCs.”
Internet services remained suspended while markets, petrol pumps and shops were closed in the state capital Sunday. Most ATMs were out of cash, police said.
On Saturday, the protesters had damaged the stage of the Itanagar International Film Festival. The organisers later called off the film festival.
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh has appealed for calm.
On Sunday, Minister of State Kiren Rijiju accused the Congress of instigating the protesters, saying the state government had clarified that it was not bringing a Bill on PRC but only tabling a report of a Joint High Powered Committee (JHPC) set up for it. “It means the state government has not accepted it,” Rijiju, who belongs to Arunachal Pradesh, tweeted.
Khandu had also said on Saturday that the JHPC’s recommendations on PRC would not be tabled in the Assembly.
The communities which have been demanding PRCs include five non-Arunachal Pradesh STs — Deoris, Sonowal Kacharis, Morans, Adivasis and Mishings — and the Gorkhas living in Vijaynagar. Most of these communities are recognised as STs in neighbouring Assam.
The demand by these communities for PRC, recognising them as residents of the state, is long-standing, but is opposed by powerful groups.
Last year, the state government had promised PRC to these communities by January 2019, but said it would wait for a report of the JHPC. It was expected to table its recommendations in the Assembly this week.
Pointing out that the state government had deferred the move, Arunachal Pradesh BJP president Tapir Gao said, “This violence is definitely backed by the Congress…. It is an attempt to destabilise the BJP government in the state.”
Seeking President’s rule in the state, Arunachal Congress president Takam Sanjay said the violence showed “total failure of the government”. “This is the worst condition of the state I have seen. How can the BJP blame the Congress? Who constituted the JHPC?”
The timing of the violence is significant given that the state, with its history of political instability and mass defections, is to have Assembly polls soon, alongside the general elections. In the 2014 Arunachal Assembly elections, the Congress had won 42 of the 60 seats, but after a series of political U-turns, court cases, and a mysterious suicide, it is the BJP that now rules the state, with 48 legislators. The Congress is down to five MLAs.
In his tweets Sunday, Rijiju said the Congress had supported and “instigated” non-Arunachal Pradesh STs in Lekang area to fight for the PRC and is now blaming the BJP. “From the beginning I have urged the state government not to grant PRC unless people are convinced of full protection of indigenous rights. We must stand united.”
The latest protests began on Thursday. In the past four days, apart from targeting public officials, the protesters have threatened media personnel covering the protests, and attacked offices of student organisations like the All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union.
Talking about the deaths of two protesters on Sunday, Arunachal minister Bamang Felix said, “They were among those trying to attack the CM residence. They tried to break the barricades despite warning.”
with ENS, Delhi; PTI, Itanagar