That Arunachal Pradesh turned saffron after the recently concluded assembly and parliamentary elections should not come as a surprise. Rather than a testament to the Arunachalee ‘hindutva’ credentials, it appears to be more of a mandate for money. Cash recoveries during the operation of the model code of conduct (MCC) reached a whopping total of Rs. 9.92 crore for a population of around 17.34 lakhs of which only around 7.94 lakh are voters. Anecdotal reports indicate that the BJP candidate for Arunachal West, Kiren Rijiju paid for voters living outside Arunachal Pradesh to fly in and vote for the saffron party.
However, money was only the carrot in this election, the stick was also used quite effectively in the form of destroying electronic voting machines (EVM), attacking workers from rival political parties and intimidating voters. In the course of the elections, allegations and counter allegations of electoral violence and other malpractices by all political parties involved, saw repoll upon repoll in several polling stations. Civil society on several occasions called for peace and an end to the violent campaigning.
The results, however, appear as though all the anger aimed at the BJP during the Permanent Resident Certificate (PRC) issue, did not find its expression in the polls. Neither did the fear and anger over the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) issue. The PRC issue saw Itanagar and other areas plunged deep into rioting as the Arunachal Pradesh Scheduled Tribes (APST) refused to allow PRCs to be issued to non-APSTs. The fear was that the PRC status would be treated as an equivalent to an ST with respect to jobs and admissions.
There was clearly a miscommunication between the BJP government and the malcontents as the PRC was merely to allow people belonging to non-APST communities to register their land in their own names. Due to the fluidity of borders, when the state of Arunachal Pradesh was created, many people belonging to communities native to Assam fell within the boundaries of the newly constituted state. Given that the Inner Line Permit (ILP) System exists for Arunachal Pradesh, and that the state is deemed to be a ‘tribal’ state, the non-APSTs were invariably at a disadvantage. Hence, they demanded PRCs. What made matters worse was that the Deputy Chief Minister, Chowna Mein politicised the matter in his public interactions in the border areas.
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Similarly, during the anti- CAB agitation which temporarily united the Northeast in spirit, the All Arunachal Pradesh Students Union (AAPSU) as a constituent of North East Students Union (NESO) agitated against the Bill. AAPSU even went so far by almost becoming a vigilante organisation, conducting random ILP checks. These actions appeared to be more or less tacitly supported by the local population.
On March 30, two party workers of the National People's’ Party (NPP) were allegedly abducted by members of a National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN) faction. The two workers were bludgeoned with only one surviving in the hospital. Then on April 25, a gaonburah (village headman) was allegedly shot dead by BJP supporters. An arrest has been made in the gaonburah's case, however, information regarding the accused's political affiliations has not been established. Finally on May 21, Tirong Aboh was shot dead, again allegedly by members of an NSCN faction. Tirong Aboh was a member of the legislative assembly (MLA) and was contesting from Khonsa West on an NPP ticket. His convoy was stopped and the assailants opened fire on the entire convoy killing eleven people including his 20 year old son. Only two people survived the attack.
The state unit of the NPP has repeatedly accused the BJP of hiring the Naga armed groups to intimidate political opponents. However, the NPP leadership has not made as strident remarks and instead has only urged the Home Minister, Rajnath Singh to do something about the attacks on their party’s workers.
The NPP is in a difficult position regarding these developments, particularly since they are still a part of the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), a grouping of non-Congress aligned regional parties and state parties aligned to the BJP. This would then beg the question as to why the BJP seems to have been targeting the NPP?
Firstly, despite the NPP being a rather new entrant in general and a brand new entrant in Arunachal Pradesh, the party has gained quite a bit of following in the state. A part of this may be that Conrad Sangma utilised his father PA Sangma's old Nationalist Congress Party’s (NCP) contacts in the state. What is possibly the most seductive factor for the NPP's popularity, is the focus on having a tribal face in a Union Cabinet, not a token face in the form of a Minister of State, but a position with real power and authority. This message is broadcasted in the travails of late PA Sangma who worked earnestly and honestly for whichever party he was a part of but never felt he received the respect and recognition he deserved. What adds some credence to this message is that India has not seen a tribal President, let alone, a tribal Prime Minister, whether from the Northeast or Central India. This message must certainly have struck a chord if one were to look at how the party fared in its first election in the state.
Also Read | Elections 2019: Arunachal Pradesh -- A Saga of Electoral Violence and Re-Polls
The NPP, despite being a member of the BJP’s North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), decided to enter the polls alone. In Arunachal Pradesh they contested 57 seats for an assembly of 60 members. Of these 57 contested seats, the party’s maiden foray saw it win 5 seats with a total vote share of 14.55 per cent. In terms of seats they came third after the Janata Dal (United) (JD(U)) which got 7 seats. However, in terms of vote share they placed themselves third after the Congress which got 16.86 per cent. The BJP of course had the lion’s share of 41 seats with 50.88 per cent of the votes.
In all the 14 seats that the NPP finished as the runners up, the BJP won. The average margin works out to 1,860 votes with 68 votes being the slimmest margin in Mechuka and 10,755 in Namsai. The average margin of the five seats the NPP won, was of around 368 votes. The slimmest margin was in Seppa East, of 29 votes with the BJP candidate as the runner up. The largest margin was in Khonsa West of 1055 votes, where a by-election will have to be held as the winning candidate, Tirong Aboh was killed before the results were announced. In this constituency, the runner up was again the BJP.
Pema Khandu took oath as the Chief Minister on May 27. Conrad Sangma attended the swearing in- which indicates that the NPP will side with the BJP government in the state. It is unclear whether this is a politics of vendetta against the Congress for PA Sangma, or whether this is purely opportunism.