In the last week of February, Arunachal Pradesh capital Itanagar burned for three days as demonstrators protested against the government’s proposal to grant Permanent Residence Certificates (PRCs) to certain non-tribal communities, who had been living in the state for years.
In the protests, three people died, scores of public vehicles were burnt, and government offices were attacked, leading to an announcement by the Pema Khandu-led BJP government that the issue would not be touched upon ever.
The two Lok Sabha seats in the state go to polls today, along with its 60-membered state Assembly.
The area in Arunachal which houses a majority of six non-tribal communities – Deoris, Mising, Moran, Sonowal Kachari, Ahom, and Adivasi – who are at the forefront of demanding the PRC, falls in the Lekang Assembly constituency in Namsai district. The other communities demanding PRCs are Karbis in Papum Pare district and Gorkhas of Changlang district.
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At Mahadevpur in Lekang, the communities say that building an emotional bridge between the tribals and the non-tribals and expressing their genuine demands is the way forward.
“We have been living on this land for ages. We are the indigenous people of this land. And yet we are not recognised as residents of Arunachal Pradesh. We cannot avail multiple education schemes like scholarships and free books, cannot avail many central jobs, for trade licenses and loans PRC is required in Arunachal, and you need it even for old age pensions you need PRCs,” says P K Deori, president of the United Indigenous People’s Forum of Lekang (UIPFL), who has led the movement for demanding the PRC for the communities of Lekang.
Politicians like Congress candidate Takam Sanjay and BJP’s Jummum Ete Deori are very careful while treading upon the issue since any off-hand comment or assurance could offend the sentiments of the majority tribal population of the state.
Last year, the state government announced that it would grant PRC to the communities by January 2019. The government then said it will examine the issue of PRCs only after receiving a report from the Joint High Power Committee (JHPC), chaired by senior state minister Nabam Rebia.
The JHPC report was expected to be tabled in the Assembly, but when violence broke out, the government said no further action would be taken in the matter. The report, it is learnt, was favourable towards providing the PRC and the all-powerful All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union (AAPSU) too had come on board, albeit with a set of pre-conditions.
An AAPSU leader, who did not wish to be named, told The Indian Express, “We have made inspection of the areas where these communities live, inquired, and found that they have been living here for a long time and own the land. Granting PRC, while seeking protection clauses for tribals, seems the most feasible option at this point.”
As BJP’s Deori campaigns in Mahadevpur, she has accused Sanjay – the state Congress chief – of stoking the violence in Itanagar. She has alleged that Sanjay is an “outsider” who has come to contest to “reap benefits” from the PRC imbroglio.
“Why will people be angry with the BJP? Takam Sanjay has caused all problems. Who did violence in Itanagar? He has played with sentiments of people of Lekang. Sanjay kept telling people here that PRC should be given and when Chowna Mein made a committee and the government was about to table the report in Assembly, he got worried and played game to create violence,” she said.
On the other hand, Sanjay maintains that it is in the BJP’s “ideology to create trouble” everywhere.
He said, “I am not in the government. Not even an MLA. Had I been one, then they could have blamed me for the violence. It is the BJP’s ideology to create trouble. The BJP committed to give PRC even before the report was submitted. How can they do it?”
Meanwhile, UIPFL leader P K Deori says his vote is for the Congress since the BJP has closed doors on the issue and the Congress, he expects, might look at a way to form a “bridge between the tribal and non-tribal indigenous communities”.
“If the Congress does not help build that bridge, we will see what next. Our fight will go on. We will not leave our land,” he said.