Chinese scare turns into election issue in Arunachal

By Syed Zarir Hussain, IANS,

Itanagar : Two major allies of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the centre are raking up the Chinese incursion issue in the run up to the assembly elections in the frontier state of Arunachal Pradesh even as Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu maintains that Chinese claims over the state are baseless.

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Elections to the 60-member legislature are scheduled for Oct 13, although voting would be for just 57 seats with three candidates already declared elected unopposed.

The Trinamool Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), both allies of the UPA, have made reports of Chinese incursions and Beijing’s claims over Arunachal Pradesh election issues in the state. In this state assembly poll, the parties are fighting one another.

“New Delhi should be bold enough in its stand against China, especially when it comes to Arunachal Pradesh. The central government should firm up its stand,” Kito Sora, state Trinamool Congress president, told IANS.

Apart from the Congress that has fielded candidates in all 60 seats, the NCP is putting up 30 contestants and the Trinamool Congress is fielding 28.

“Time and again China is staking claim over Arunachal Pradesh and the response by the central government is seen to be rather muted. We want a very bold stand from New Delhi,” said senior NCP leader L. Wanglet.

The Trinamool Congress and the NCP are fighting the polls independently against the ruling Congress.

The latest hiccups follow reports of Chinese intrusion in the Jammu and Kashmir sector, soon after Bejing’s opposition to Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh had irked local sentiments here.

The mountainous state of Arunachal Pradesh shares a 1,030-km unfenced border with China. The two countries had fought a bitter war in 1962 with the Chinese troops advancing deep into Arunachal Pradesh and inflicting heavy casualties on Indian soldiers.

The border dispute with China was inherited by India from British colonial rulers, who hosted a 1914 conference with the Tibetan and Chinese governments that set the border in what is now Arunachal Pradesh.

China has never recognised the 1914 McMahon Line and claims 90,000 sq km, nearly all of Arunachal Pradesh.

After 1962, tensions flared again in 1986 with Indian and Chinese forces clashing in Sumdorong Chu valley of Arunachal. Chinese troops reportedly built a helipad in the valley leading to fresh skirmishes.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) too is making the Chinese scare an election issue in Arunachal Pradesh.

“Chinese incursions are a great security threat and despite reports the Congress-led UPA government seems to downplaying such risks. It is unfortunate on the part of the central government to be taking things so lightly,” P. Chandrashekhar, BJP organising secretary for the Northeast, said.

Almost all the opposition parties are making the Chinese threat an election issue in the state.

“Surely people want an assurance from us about our stand on the China issue,” the NCP leader said.

Chief Minister Khandu too is concerned, but maintains the central government has already clarified its stand on Chinese claims over Arunachal Pradesh.

“Arunachal is part of India and will remain so. The central government had time and again clarified in bold terms that Chinese claims are baseless,” Khandu said.

But with massive Indian army movement along the frontiers, the Chinese scare is going to dominate electioneering in Arunachal Pradesh, a state where political parties are bereft of any other major poll issue to harp on.