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Threat to Mithi government

Print edition : Aug 15, 2003 T+T-

BUT for the fact that Arunachal Pradesh is situated on the sensitive and contentious border with China (and Myanmar) and much of this vast territory with all its variety and richness still remains somewhat of a terra incognita, ignored except in moments of crisis on the borders, the recent political events in the State, still ongoing, could well provide rich material for a farce.

In a comeuppance that has been in preparation almost from the moment of its coming into being, the government of Mukut Mithi, in office since January 1999, now faces the prospect of being toppled by Gegong Apang, who headed the State government for over two decades under a variety of political hats. Apang, who until recently was the lone Opposition MLA in the 60-member House, has now become the leader of a new political formation called the United Democratic Front (UDF), comprising himself and 31 of the 58 Congress(I) legislators. The breakaway MLAs, headed by Kameng Dalo, a former Minister, have formed a separate Legislative group called the Congress(D). Gegong Apang whose UDF, he claims, has the support of 38 MLAs (with some more legislators likely to join it) is ready to parade his supporters before Governor V.C. Pandey to prove his majority support. However, Mithi wants a trial of strength on the floor of the Assembly - a procedure that will give him enough time (and leeway) possibly to win back his supporters.

These developments constitute a near-exact repetition of what happened a little over four years ago, when in January 1999, Mukut Mithi, a political protege of Gegong Apang, turned against his mentor and toppled his government. Then, as now, the disaffection against the government was centred in Tirap and Changlang districts, the area inhabited by Naga tribes where the Naga insurgency has substantial support. One of the factors inhibiting any progress in the ongoing talks between the Government of India and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isaac-Muivah), or NSCN (I-M), is the latter's insistence on the `integration' of all Naga-inhabited areas outside the present territory of Nagaland, which would include very substantial areas of Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam (not to speak of Myanmar) into an envisaged Nagalim.

It is widely believed that Mukut Mithi secured the support of the faction of the NSCN headed by S.S. Khaplang to wean away legislators from Tirap and Changlang. Reports that appeared when these events took place spoke of legislators being threatened into withdrawing support to the Apang government, by the NSCN (Khaplang). Now, Mithi is accusing Apang of using the NSCN (I-M) to persuade some legislators to withdraw support to his government. In fact, in August last year, long before the latest developments, Mithi accused the NSCN (I-M) of conspiring to topple his government by putting pressure on the legislators from Tirap and Changlang to withdraw support to his government. In a most extraordinary development in early July, two Ministers from this region were arrested apparently because of their alleged links with the NSCN (I-M), though one of them, T.L. Rajkumar, later rejoined the government, while the other is in the news as secretary of the Congress(D).

Why are Tirap and Changlang, the two districts which together account for just 12 Assembly seats, so important in the recent politics of Arunachal Pradesh? An answer would be that during this period the issue of a political settlement on what may broadly be said the `Naga National Question' has become alive, with meetings and negotiations with the NSCN (I-M) initiated by the Government of India. In the complex linkages that prevail between insurgency and overground politics in Arunachal Pradesh, what Tirap and Changlang think today, the rest of the State thinks tomorrow.

M.S. Prabhakara