Muddied by MoUs

In Arunachal Pradesh, political changes are often linked to the
dam lobby’s corporate interests 

Vijayan MJ Delhi

Arunachal Pradesh and its people have always got little space in the national media. Even the worst political turmoil in the state has received far less space than Aishwarya Bachchan’s pregnancy. One news item in a national daily in the last quarter of 2011 caught my attention. It was about the Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Jarbom Gamlin’s resignation and replacement. This article is an effort to take it beyond that small space. 

Yaken Mang Jamoh from Boleng township in the Seang valley of Arunachal Pradesh does not know what is happening to her state. She stopped bothering about ‘who is the present chief minister’ a while ago. Keeping track of the changing CMs of the state is difficult not only for her, but also for businessmen like Toko Tatung of Nahar Lagan. But Yaken, a traditional agriculturist and mother of three, cannot afford to ignore the change of CMs. She has her reasons. 

Every time the CM is changed in Arunachal Pradesh, many more changes take place in the political economy and ecology of the state. “With every new CM comes a new set of MoUs and Arunachal’s landscape changes once again,” says Advocate Vijay Taram. Having spent more than a decade mobilizing people against the unwanted ‘development’ in the state, he knows why it is important to analyse political changes in the light of the dam lobby’s corporate interests. 

Surely, Jarbom Gamlin had to go! For one, he was bound to be impacted by the manufactured ‘tribal feuds’ in Arunachal. After all, it’s quite routine for New Delhi to play this game with every tribe in the Northeast, using one as its buffer against another. That, however, is only one part of the story. 

With every new CM comes a new set of MoUs and Arunachal’s landscape changes once again’

The other part – in fact, the more important one – is about the numbers. The number of MLAs supporting your chief ministership directly corresponds to the number of MoUs you have agreed to sign for the corporate dam lobby operating in the state. The ‘problem’ with Gamlin was the slow pace at which he signed MoUs! Just seven MoUs in 80 days since he was sworn in on May 5, 2011. For the corporate lobby, this was nothing short of blasphemy. 

Statistics will reveal the story further. Since January 18, 1999, the CM was changed seven times. It means a new CM after every 600 days on an average. Interestingly, all but one have been from the same party: the Indian National Congress. The only time when it was not in power was when its most loyal and the longest serving CM in the state, Gegong Apang, had moved out of the party and made an alliance with BJP, called United Democratic Front. In stark contrast, before 1999, since the inception of the state in 1975, Arunachal had only three CMs! 

The strategy for power change not only seems to be stable and consistent, but also pretty simple. Every new CM is lobbied for and supported by a corporate house or a set of corporate dam-builders – all with vested interests in the rich hydro sector of the state. The aspiring corporations ‘buy’ or ‘rent’ a required set of MLAs, bring them over to Delhi, campaign with the High Command, utilize ‘enough’ money to silence opposition within the party. The High Command in Delhi’s 10 Janpath is convinced and yippee, the CM is changed! 

As mentioned earlier, till July 20, 2011, Gamlin had managed to sign seven MoUs. However, he was far behind his predecessors. Take a look at the year-wise data of MoUs signed, brought to light by multiple RTIs: 

One is not even talking about all the MoUs the state government has signed in the last five years. These figures only refer to MoUs for the big and small dam-based hydro projects signed by the state government and different private sector
corporations. This is happening at a relentless, scary pace. 

One would have thought that most of Arunachal’s rivers had been dam(n)ed in MoUs by the year 2007. But they proved you wrong, and even after 2007, went on to sign 95 more MoUs. Surely, they will sign hundreds of more MoUs in the coming days, for the same rivers! 

It must be mentioned that all these dams are in the Seang, Dibang, Kamen, Subasin, Lohit, Diknong, Tirap and Tamang basins. Most of them happen to be counted among the most pristine, mineral-rich, unexplored and unexploited river basin valleys of India. It is around them that some of the most peace-loving people of South and Southeast Asian region have found their habitat. Despite all the tensions in the neighbouring tribal regions, the people of Arunachal, comprising the many diverse tribes of the Apartanis, the Adis, the Nishis etc, have been at peace with the idea of India and the Indian nationality. Many of them even learned Hindi, to be able to function as equal citizens when they came to the ‘mainland’ cities of Delhi and Mumbai. 

The ‘problem’ with Gamlin was the slow pace at which he signed MoUs! Just seven MoUs in 80 days since he was sworn in. For the corporate lobby, this was nothing short of blasphemy 

There is a real danger that we might lose another major Northeastern state to insurgency if India does not stop the corporate and dam lobby from playing their dirty games here. Certainly the people are not going to take this lying down forever, and there is a limit to how many of them can be bought over with money. Let us not create more disgruntled citizens who might take up arms to fight the Indian State. 

With another crowning ceremony complete, as 10 Janpath temporarily retreats from yet another power change in Arunachal, let us not forget to wish the incumbent CM. All the best, Nabam Tuki. One can only hope that it’s not too late already, since his coming to power in November 2011. For all you know, yet another political coup is in the offing, one could dare think! 

Call it the ‘Great Indian Irony’: The Indian government’s ministry of environment and forests has a list of the self-congratulatory stuff that they have done in Arunachal Pradesh as part of their efforts at ‘biodiversity conservation’. In a state where they have given permission for submerging and cutting down millions of trees, they have distributed 60 piglets towards building alternate livelihood for the local people. Poor Yaken!   

The writer is a Delhi-based activist associated with Delhi Forum

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: APRIL 2012