Arunachal govt bows down to public, accepts charter demands in paper leak case
Protest in Itanagar

Talk about a busy day after an election day. Around the time we, at EastMojo, were wrapping up our day-long coverage of the Tripura elections, we started hearing that Arunachal was far from peaceful. Scores of people, fed up with the state government’s inept response to the corruption in the state public service commission, finally decided to take to the streets in protest. 

What followed was a state administration’s failure of epic proportions. 

Now, before we address what happened on Friday, we must understand what preceded Friday; causing people, mostly students, to take to the streets, calling out the state government and the chief minister. 

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On August 29, a candidate filed a police complaint stating that he suspected that the AE (civil) examination paper had been leaked. More than 400 candidates had appeared for the exam held on August 26 and 27. 

The BJP, both at the state and at the central level, leaves no stone unturned in assuring its supporters that the party deals against corruption with an iron hand. No sooner did this scandal break that the party whips went into full damage control mode, promising severe action against those involved. Leaders promised that no one will be spared, and that India’s premier investigating agency, the CBI, is investigating the case. 

And herein lies the first problem. 

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For too long, the CBI has been offered as a panacea to all public agitations. Corruption case? CBI. Rape and murder? CBI. Alleged love jihad? CBI. But it is also becoming clear that state governments are waving goodbye to their accountability and saying “Oh, now go ask CBI”. But where do the aspirants go? 

Unlike local police, with whom aspirants can speak and/or argue, the common man would not even get a glimpse of who the CBI officer is. The Arunachal Government thought people would appreciate the CBI’s involvement. Instead, it further angered the people. The resulting chargesheet was so ‘weak’, the aspirants said, that the accused managed to get bail by the end of January 2023. As per reports, the court stated that the CBI failed to file a chargesheet within the statutory period of 90 days. 

Now, compare this with hundreds languishing in jail on the flimsiest of charges. I will not name those people, lest I am labelled as anti-national. But what is the state government doing if the prime accused gets out on bail?

The state government, it turns out, was planning an ‘overhaul’ of the Public Service Commission by making new appointments. 

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Except that this too backfired. 

The Pan Arunachal Joint Steering Committee (PAJSC), which has been leading the protests, immediately called out the appointments, questioning why 61-year-old Shantanu Dayal, a retired Lieutenant General, was appointed as chairman with only one year left in his term. The commission mandates 62 as the retirement age.

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The Committee also questioned the credibility of the screening committee of APPSC for appointing Rosy Taba as a member of APPSC, whose name had surfaced among the members of the Arunachal Pradesh State Commission for Women appointed illegally. Four days ago, the PAJSC made it clear that they would be marching on February 16, pressuring the state government for justice and pushing for a 13-point charter of demands. 

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Yet, the state government seemed less interested in addressing their concerns and more focused on other issues. The protesters had been making it clear that they were not happy with the appointments, and on Friday, thousands hitting the streets made their feelings clear. It was not until protesters had been injured, streets had been littered with stones, and the air smelled of tear gas as the entire Itanagar Capital Region had come to a standstill that the Arunachal government woke up. The CM cancelled the appointment ceremony of APPSC’s new officers and said he would meet the protesters the next day. 

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The protests, which continue as I write this, once again highlight the absolute mistrust between residents, especially students, and the state machinery. Northeast India is plagued by unemployment and jobs, especially government jobs, are riddled with corruption. In such a scenario, yet another corruption case against a state government trying hard to come across as honest does irreparable damage. In a state like Arunachal Pradesh, a government job not only ensures a comfortable life for the person elected but also for his/her entire family and even extended families. Simply put, a government job can catapult a family into the modern age, equipping them with all skills needed to deal with the world as we know it. 

From Sikkim to Meghalaya and Tripura to Arunachal, teachers, students and aspirants have never been angrier. What we saw in Itanagar is not just the anger of Aruanchalee aspirants, but a manifestation of an entire region crippled by corruption and an indifferent administration. The central government, which gets the northeast residents thank them every time they allocate some funds, needs to understand that the money is not being used for people’s welfare. Instead, it is only empowering those who wish to keep us in darkness for decades to come. The Arunachal Paper Leak is not an anomaly, rather, it has become the norm. Nothing the CBI will do will change that. 

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