The allegations made in the late Arunachal Pradesh CM’s purported suicide note need to be probed by the highest judicial platform possible. But no one can make the case that Kalikho Pul was a paragon of virtue.
In a 60-page suicide note, titled ‘Mere Vichar’, the late Arunachal Pradesh CM Kalikho Pul alleged large-scale corruption in the highest echelons of judiciary. He did not mince words when it came to naming his colleagues from the Congress party – both at the state and national level, including the sitting President in his earlier avatar as Congress leader.
My apprehension about the note starts with the kind of language that has been used. Arunachali Hindi is a typical mix of Hindi and Assamese, one where gender and grammar usually go for a toss.
The letter in chaste Hindi makes me wonder why Pul chose that format. But assuming that this was his note, let me cut through the clutter to view it in the light of my years of knowing Arunachal Pradesh, especially Pul’s area.
Also Read: How Good Was Kalikho Pul's Hindi?
Pul's Anjaw District
Pul had represented the Hayuliang constituency since 1995. The constituency falls in the Anjaw district, which was bifurcated from Lohit in 2004. While Lohit comprises mostly plains and low altitude areas, Anjaw is an entirely hilly area.
Claiming that there was no development in the hilly areas of Lohit, Pul insisted and saw the creation of the Anjaw district through. Anjaw has the least density of population across India – just one person per square kilometre. Pul belonged to the Mishmi community, found in both Lohit and Anjaw districts.
Only 35,000-odd people speak the Mishmi tongue. In fact, the creation of the Anjaw district was an alleged money-spinner for Pul, who allegedly treated it as his personal fiefdom.
Locals praise Pul as he helped provide jobs to at least one person from each family in the district at the various government set ups that had been created after the new district was carved out.
But this is among the simplest of allegations that Pul faced while he was alive.
What Pul Did, and Did Not Do, For Anjaw
I have been visiting Arunachal Pradesh, especially Lohit, since 1997 and have reported extensively during this period (including during my month-long stay in Lohit and Anjaw as part of the ‘Rural Reporting Fellowship’ in 2011).
Even the shortest of interactions with locals in Anjaw throws up information about what Pul did, or did not do, for the district. Some accuse him of destroying the health of an entire generation of youth, by first buying from and then supplying people with opium (or kaani as the locals call it).
Pul justified it by saying that the money from kaani paid for the costly education of Mishmi children studying in private schools, or outside the state.
A major allegation against him – that went beyond his district – was that he was one of the many recipients of ‘dam money’ – the alleged kickbacks that Arunachal politicians got from private companies to allow hydro-power projects on the roaring perennial rivers and their tributaries.
The UPA government had showcased Arunachal Pradesh as the powerhouse of the nation, with a minimum of 50,000 MW hydro-power potential.
The BJP had kicked up a fuss and had released a ‘White Paper’ on the issue. But it did nothing after May 2014.
Incidentally, Pul’s note accused former Arunachal CM Dorjee Khandu of selling rivers at Rs 30 lakh per MW (para 9.1). Exactly why Pul’s tale is not just his, but that of the entire Arunachal polity. It is a tale of loot, suppression, deep hurt and irreparable damage caused by the misuse of public funds and the state-sponsored fall in values in public life.
Suicide Note's Misleading Statements
Pul’s suicide note mentions a number of things that have no resonance to things on the ground. For instance, para 7.1, where he enlists his houses – constructed with the help of bank loans – is misleading.
Anyone who has visited Hawai, the headquarters of the Anjaw district, or for that matter Hayuliang, just cannot miss the ‘eyesore’ buildings that Pul is supposed to have owned.
In para 7.8, Pul says that none of the CMs that he worked with had a clarity of vision and that no one could decide the right priority for any of the policies. That was equally true for him.
Soon after Anjaw was created out of Lohit, a set of swanky bungalows was constructed by the district administration at Garam Pani, a spot with hot springs near Walong, the famous town that witnessed war in 1962.
Unfortunately, in the absence of any tourism policy, the bungalows have remained unused, with missing doors and windows and the plaster falling apart, leading to a massive wastage of government resources.
While accusing former CMs Khandu, Pema Khandu, Nabam Tuki and minister Chouna Mein in the PDF scam (para 9.9 in entirety), Pul has tried to make Gegong Apang look holier than thou.
Anyone who knows anything about Arunachal and Apang would agree he was anything but that. In fact, Jarpum Gamlin, a senior journalist from the state, had once described Apang as:
...to make Apang better looking, was a sad and miserable attempt to glorify him as a political hero at a time when the narratives are of mismanagement, corruption, authoritarianism and of all those that Apang remains the epitome till date.
Through para 10, Pul goes on to describe, in detail, the financial mismanagement in various departments. But why are we surprised to read all those at this juncture when Pul was, himself, a part of this setup for almost two decades and never uttered a word against it?
Pul accuses Mein of corruption – and then comes up with a long list of property amassed by the latter (para 11.11 and 11.12) at various places in the state and across India.
Ironically, Mein too can come up with a similar list for Pul. Same applies for what he alleged about another leader Karikho Kri (para 12). Meanwhile, these are few of the reactions to Pul from my friends in Lohit and Anjaw districts:
Why do you want to write about him? He is a dead man now. Why write bad about a dead person? Except his wife, do you see anyone else demanding any inquiry in this case?
and, last but not the least:
Why do you want to get a bad name by writing about his other side… or whatever?
On the one hand are simple Mishmi folks, living an austere life in their Himalayan hamlets, while on the other hand are those who have benefitted from Pul’s largesse. These include local influential people, bureaucrats – especially from the central cadre posted in Arunachal Pradesh – and scores of youth-turned-contractors.
The first lot continues to live a life that is unperturbed by the turn of events. And the second lot, too, continues to live life again almost unperturbed, as they have nothing to lose now.
Sad treatment for a leader like Pul, who expected and appealed to the people from his state (para 13.5) to come take to the streets and seek answers from their politicians for their wrongdoing.
It is also another great irony that Pul’s criticism about Khandu’s wealth (para 9.3) became so relevant for him.
People say Khandu profited Rs 17,00 crore through scams. But he is no more today. What use is this much of wealth? He cannot purchase his life with this money. Nor could he take this wealth to the other world?
These two sets of people will continue to perceive Pul as the person he was before August 2016. It is the power elite and mainly the mainstream media that will need to see the full picture, the other side.
Sadly, even 30 years after attaining statehood, Arunachal Pradesh continues to be ignored. Delhi has neither bothered to work for the common Arunachali people, nor has it ever attempted to understand what Arunachal needs.
And when I say Delhi, I mean everyone – the politicians, the bureaucrats and the media. I doubt if things will be any different, this time around.
(N Bhardwaj is a Delhi-based independent journalist who has been covering social and environmental issues from Arunachal Pradesh for over a decade.)