THE elections in Arunachal Pradesh, which would have otherwise gone unnoticed owing to the small size of its voter population and of the State Assembly, got global attention because of the war of words and the subsequent diplomatic engagement between India and China over the latters claim to the border State. The dispute overshadowed the election campaign as well.
A meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in Hua Hin, Thailand, on October 24 was followed by one between External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi in Bangalore on October 27.
Of the three States Maharashtra, Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh that went to the polls on October 13, Arunachal Pradesh recorded the highest voter turnout, over 72 per cent 7.25 lakh voters exercised their franchise. In 2004, the voter turnout was 68.77 per cent.
The Chinese objection to the elections came 10 days after the visit of Manmohan Singh to Pasighat, the headquarters of East Siang district, on October 3 to campaign for Congress party candidates. However, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ma Zhaoxus statement on an Indian leaders visit to the disputed east section area of China-India boundary was carefully worded so as not to name the Indian leader or Arunachal Pradesh or the Assembly elections there.
Ma Zhaoxu stated that the China-India border had never been officially demarcated. The Chinese governments position on the disputed area has been consistent and clear. China expresses its strong dissatisfaction on the visit by the Indian leader to the disputed area in disregard of Chinas grave concerns. We urge the Indian side to take Chinas solemn concerns seriously and not to stir up trouble in the disputed area with a view to ensuring the sound development of China-India relations, the statement said.
India expressed its disappointment and concern over the statement and said that this does not help the process of ongoing negotiations between the two governments on the boundary question.
The State of Arunachal Pradesh is an integral and inalienable part of India. The people of Arunachal Pradesh are citizens of India, and they are proud participants in the mainstream of Indias vibrant democracy. The Chinese side is well aware of this position of the Government of India. It is a well-established practice in our democratic system that our leaders visit States where elections to Parliament and to the State Assemblies are taking place. The Government of India is deeply committed to ensuring the welfare of its own citizens across the length and breadth of our country, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Vishnu Prakash stated in an official response.
He further stated that India and China have jointly agreed that the outstanding boundary question will be discussed by the Special Representatives appointed by the two governments. India is committed to resolving outstanding differences with China in a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable manner, while ensuring that such differences are not allowed to affect the positive development of bilateral relations. We hope that the Chinese side will similarly abide by this understanding.
The run-up to the polling also witnessed political parties and candidates raising the China bogey in their campaign. The increase in the voting percentage can perhaps be attributed to the impact of such campaigns and the fact of voters seeing the Assembly elections as an opportunity to demonstrate that they are proud to participate in the Indian democratic exercise. It could also be seen as an emphatic no from the people of the border State to the Chinese claim.
China has nothing to do with the internal affairs of this border State. Arunachal Pradesh is an integral part of India. All Arunachalis are citizens of India and they came out in overwhelming numbers today to participate in the democratic process to elect their new representatives, said Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu in a statement issued to the press on the day of polling.
He expressed surprise at Beijings reaction to the Prime Minister coming to address a Congress rally. Arunachal has a democratically elected government and is represented by three Members of Parliament. Arunachalis want good relationship with their neighbours across the border. Both sides should make efforts to reopen border trade through the traditional routes for mutual benefits and peaceful coexistence, the Chief Minister added.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made the growing Chinese threat over Arunachal Pradesh a major campaign issue and demanded that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government pursue a proactive policy on China to counter it and protect the countrys sovereignty.
BJP president Rajnath Singh, in an election speech, alleged that China had been making repeated claims over Arunachal Pradesh because of the weak policy of the UPA government. He demanded that the government issue a clarification on the actual status along the India-China border.
Manmohan Singh, in his election speech at Pasighat, refrained from touching the controversial issue; instead he highlighted the Rs.24,000-crore development package announced by him the previous year aimed at bringing the State on a par with the developed States of the country. It gave an indication of the kind of investment New Delhi was planning for it.
The diplomatic row was also over the anticipated visit of the Dalai Lama to Tawang in November. Beijing objected to the visit while New Delhi asserted that the Tibetan spiritual leader was free to visit any part of the country.
Although the Chinese Premier did not raise the issue of the Dalai Lamas visit during the delegation-level talks at Hua Hin, Manmohan Singh said he himself brought the issue up during the dinner thrown by the Thai Prime Minister for all ASEAN and East Asia Summit country leaders. He said the Dalai Lamas travel plans arose in the general context of a discussion about the Tibetan spiritual leader. I told him [Wen], you have raised this issue [of the visit]. He is an honoured guest, a religious figure, but we do not allow him to indulge in political activities.
The new Congress government in Arunachal Pradesh is eagerly awaiting the Dalai Lamas visit and is ready to welcome him as a state guest. However, there was no official word from the self-exiled Tibetan leaders office in Dharamsala about the visit. According to T.G. Rinpoche, an aide to the Dalai Lama, it was scheduled to begin on November 8.Sushanta Talukdar