Calling a spade a spade! | MP Gao toes Pul’s spirit on thinning Indo-China border

Beyond the Horizon

By Pradeeep Kumar

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has termed North East as ‘Growth Engine’ of India whose all-round development is vital for development of the country, which was repeated by state Deputy Chief Minister Chowna Mein while responding to suggestions of members during Budget discussion in Assembly on July 10 last.

But can the ‘Growth Engine’ grow with external threat is a million dollar question (?) as pointed out by Lok Sabha member Tapir Gao that “country’s security is under threat as people living in hilly areas of Arunachal Pradesh along Indo-China border are shifting to urban areas for education and health facilities for lack of road connectivity making their areas no man’s land for China to occupy every year.

The BJP MP Tapir Gao, while taking part in Budget discussion on July 10, never hesitated to point out the lapses in Prime Minister Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) roads taking the name of country’s first woman Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman for which roads were never built in border areas for the villagers to migrate while China had also intruded into Indian Territory at Bishing village under Tuting sub-division in Upper Siang district in 2017 to build about 2-km road.

It is worth mentioning to that state’s tribal welfare-cum-finance minister Kalikho Pul, addressing a ministers’ conference in New Delhi on 28.10.14, attended by Union Tribal Affairs Minister for Jual Oram, had warned of a “Kargil-like” situation in the state as villagers were migrating from the border areas because of lack of development and this would offer China an opportunity to venture deep inside Indian territory.

“You speak here about seven, eight-lane roads, metro trains and what not, but our people do not even have tracks for walking. There is no drinking water, nothing,” he said, adding administrative circles on the border were yet to be connected by road.

“There has to be a special dispensation for states like Arunachal, Sikkim and Jammu and Kashmir because if they are not settled, India itself will be unsettled,” he had told this editor later. Pul’s statement coincided with border face-offs between Indian Chinese Armies at various points in Ladakh and at Asaphila in Taksing in Arunachal Pradesh over raising infrastructure along the border.  The Govt of India should not only retain the population settled along the border but also encourage more people to inhabit empty swathes of the hillsides along the border, Pul had said, adding  lack of development in the far-flung areas was aggravated because of the Centre’s policy of population-based funding.

This I had highlighted during a two-day national seminar conducted by Rajiv Gandhi University in March 2019 on “Border communities of central Arunachal Pradesh” besides highlighting with documentary proof that tribal people including women in dozens from Damin in Upper Suabansiri district go to Tibet crossing snow-fed mountains for barter trade to collect essential commodities for survival as show in the picture. Former RGU vice chancellor Prof Tamo Mibang had pitched in support to say: Thinning of border areas is a fact and matter of concern.

However, I had also recalled that Union MoS Kiren Rijiju had announced on 16.03.17 to develop 18 border villages with sanction of Rs 2 crore each and Chief Minister Pema Khandu on 11.03.18 to develop 53 border villages to halt such migration, but nothing was visible the way ‘Look East’ and ‘Act East’ policies remain for name sake.

Congress Lok Sabha member Takam Sanjoy on 25.04.13 had also expressed concern over large-scale migrations from villages near China border in Arunachal Pradesh due to “Food scarcity, lack of basic amenities and road accessibility.  “It is difficult to quantify, but most villages on the China frontier are deserted, with their inhabitants migrating to Itanagar, Koloriang and other towns deeper inside the state,” he added.

There are some 600 villages within 10-km of 1,080 km border that Arunachal shares with China-controlled Tibet. The border in Arunachal Pradesh is not demarcated and many strategic points take three days’ foot march to reach from the nearest inhabited area.

Natural resources rich Arunachal Pradesh still lacks basic requirements, particularly road connectivity despite BJP Patriarch L K Advani, as Deputy Prime Minister in his public address at Itanagar on 14.11.03 had said: “Delhi had decided not to develop Arunachal after the 1962 Chinese aggression fearing it could benefit the neighbour. It was a veiled policy to not develop Arunachal Pradesh to serve it as natural barrier to China which was a historical blunder”. But his famous remarks—“Arunachal Delhi se door hey, par dil se nahin” – ultimately proved contradictory.

A MP being the representative of his state in the Parliament is expected to highlight the ground realities rising above party line. And MP Gao exactly did that toeing the famous quote of former

American President John F Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country?

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