AAPSU and the Chakma Hajong issue

According to its Wikipedia page, All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union (AAPSU) is the apex students’ union body in Arunachal Pradesh, India which in the absence of a strong opposition party in the state, sometimes acts as the opposition for the ruling government. Otherwise, AAPSU is mainly known to be spearheading a so-called mass movement to oust the Chakma and Hajong people from Arunachal Pradesh since the early 1980s. At other times, they are known to “voice the concerns of the indigenous peoples in a systematic and consistent manner over the long-festering Chakma issue in the state.” AAPSU is also said to enjoy “massive popular support both from the student community of the state and the people at large, and has emerged not only as the most influential oppositional force in the state, but also as the most articulate spokesperson of the people on several issues — the most important of which is the Chakma question.” This is often said to be evidenced by the fact that none of the Chief Ministers of the state has ever sought to question or curb the anti-Chakma movement being spearheaded by the AAPSU.

The dominant narrative of what AAPSU is makes it an intriguing entity given its sheer prominence and influence in the political circles of Arunachal Pradesh. AAPSU is privy to the corridors of power in Arunachal Pradesh. It is no surprise then that AAPSU has been a breeding ground of many a politician including Eken Riba, Jarbom Gamlin, Takam Sanjoy among many of their other exponents as well as proponents for decades now.

There is however a flip side to AAPSU which we are not used to knowing. The flip side of AAPSU makes them nothing but a long-held myth.

If one closely looked at the very foundation of AAPSU, one might be able to see through the very facade of AAPSU too. The foundation of AAPSU lies in the political history of Arunachal Pradesh as a state with federal powers, its political culture and social fabric.

Arunachal Pradesh as a full-fledged state is young and for a significant part of its history, has been practically alienated from the mainland. Meanwhile, the dominant political culture of the state and the dominant trend in its politics has been largely marked by uncertainty, coalitions, dissidence and defections. As far as the social fabric of the state is concerned, there are 26 major tribes and more than 100 sub-tribes in Arunachal Pradesh that speak at least 30 and possibly as many as 50 distinct languages in addition to innumerable dialects and sub-dialects thereof.

The foundation of AAPSU at its very heart has individuality, diversity of numerous ethnicities and sub-cultures. Under normal circumstances, in such a scenario, it is practically impossible to expect univocal and massive support and following across the spectrum which is touted to be potent enough to topple governments and yet, we have AAPSU which claims to have it all. In other words, AAPSU makes for a classic case of a paradox or is it really so?

What is the secret of AAPSU’s powers?
The harsh truth is that, in the very origins of AAPSU are the very politicians who have defined the political culture and trends in Arunachal Pradesh and have set a certain precedent. The politicians make AAPSU and AAPSU make them in turn. And, AAPSU backed by the politicians are master propagandists.

What’s with the Chakma-Hajong issue?
Ironically, in the parent state of Assam which is also the gateway to the North East, the anti-foreigner agitation had started in the late 1970s. It then snowballed into the neighbouring state of Arunachal Pradesh in 1979 and spread the disease when AAPSU supposedly came to the forefront to spearhead a mass movement to oust the Chakma and Hajong people from Arunachal Pradesh. In their hunt for so-called foreigners, the peace-loving Buddhist Chakmas and a microscopic Hajong Hindu tribal community became the soft targets. Backed by the state machinery, AAPSU have been subjecting the hapless Chakma and Hajong people ever since to systematic denial, deprivation and de-recognition of their fundamental rights.

On the contrary, the Chakma and Hajongs were permanently settled in five different settlement areas in 3 divisions of NEFA (now Arunachal Pradesh) by the Government of India under a Centrally sponsored “definite plan of rehabilitation” in 1964-69 which means, they were accepted as citizens of India. Once rehabilitated, they no longer remained refugees but became equal citizens and enjoyed all rights at par with other local tribal population of the state. However, the rights of the Chakma-Hajong such as jobs, ration cards, trade licenses, ST and PRC facilities, etc. were stripped off one after another.

The fact of the matter is AAPSU have vested political interests and feet of clay. Their only success story has been once they got hold of the Chakma and Hajong people and made them their soft targets, they successfully created confusion, fear and xenophobia in the minds of the innocent Arunachalee public and, leveraging a binary world-view that pits indigenous sons of the soil versus outsider framework, turned the whole matter into an emotive issue and, soon after, branded the Chakma and Hajong people “refugees”.

No wonder, AAPSU were dismissed once as a body comprising of “pampered” students (Gupta 1982) and at another time as a “private entity” (Limpert 1998). However, being master propagandists, backed by the corridors of power in Arunachal Pradesh, they managed to nullify those threats to their validity and nobody took those revelations seriously thereafter. It is evidenced by the fact that, in the mainstream, it is only the AAPSU version of what the Chakma-Hajong issue is that is available and accessible to the people. Meanwhile, the politicians leverage AAPSU and use the Chakma-Hajong issue as a diversion from many burning real issues like poverty, illiteracy, drugs, corruption, flood, women empowerment and development which end up getting masked while emotive issues take the political spectrum by storm. Lately, AAPSU have ironically begun to play the victim themselves of the so-called “refugee influx” while using the Chakma-Hajong people as shield and bargaining chips with the Union Government.

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