'The Congress, all these decades, worked on a slow Hindi-isation and Indianisation of Arunachal tribes. The RSS wants rapid Hinduisation,' says Shekhar Gupta.
There is a Nehru-in-NEFA (later Arunachal) story I cannot confirm referring to any recorded history, but if you spend time in the Northeast, you'd hear it often enough from old-timers.
In October 1952, Nehru visited Ziro, the heartland of the Apatani tribe, accompanied by young Indira. The Apatani chief greeted him and took a liking for Indira, and apparently told Nehru something like: You are the chief of your people and I am the chief of mine. Why don't you give your daughter to me in marriage and I will give you so much in bride money.
That offer included, it is said, some hundred mithuns -- the bovine, which is more a buffalo than a cow, is reared for meat, sacrifice and trade, not milk, and the slaughter of one of which in front of his Raj Bhavan infuriated the current governor so much he had his chief minister fired.
Nehru, it seems, smiled and said he was so touched, but that he had already given his daughter away to someone else in marriage and it was such a pity they never met earlier. He probably knew, unlike Governor Rajkhowa, that slaughtering a mithun is the highest honour an Arunachal tribe offers a guest, not an insult.
The story may indeed be embellished in folklore. But the fact is, Nehru loved the Northeast, and didn't necessarily know how to deal with the problems he had inherited there. In the process, he resolved some, complicated others, but also laid the foundation of three doctrines to protect, govern and integrate the region with the Republic.
The first was to give the region's ethnic diversity wide political space even if it ultimately resulted in states with a million or less people each: Nagaland, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tripura, Manipur and finally Arunachal Pradesh. If states so far were organised on linguistic lines, these were carved out ethnically.
The second was what I call the Doctrine of the Insurgency Bell Curve. Naga Hills, then a district of Assam, erupted in the fifties and Nehru unleashed the army. So intense was the fighting (before the 1962 China war) that the IAF even had a Dakota shot down by insurgents as it took supplies to a besieged garrison and the pilots were taken 'prisoner'. But Nehru never stopped talking to the rebels, led by exiled Phizo.
The doctrine that finally emerged was: The State will fight an insurgency brutally and unforgivingly, but never close doors for negotiations. The bell curve of violence will reach an inflexion point when rebels are convinced they will never win, no matter what the score in lives lost or taken. That's when the politicians and the spies will be waiting to cut deals.
Over the decades all these major groups have made peace in return for political power. The government was to be flexible in the extreme, even Constitutionally creative, as in inserting special amendments (under the convenient larger umbrella of Article 370) to answer some Naga concerns (Article 371A(1))
The third doctrine evolved for the most remote and wide northern rim of the Northeast, stretching along the Himalayas from Bhutan in the west to Myanmar in the east, but mostly bordering Tibet (China). The British also had a unique dispensation for it, like the North West Frontier, allowing mostly tribal laws, including bride price and blood money, to prevail.
Like the NWFP, this was called NEFA, or North-East Frontier Agency. It was distant, sparsely populated (1.5 million people in 84,000 sq km today), but never posed the challenge of separatism or violence until some rioting this week. But the Chinese started claiming and then invaded it in 1962.
Nehru built a bespoke cadre for the the Northeast: Indian Frontier Administrative Service rather than leave it to the main IAS. Most IFAS officers here had an adventurous, exploratory disposition. Much of what I know about this elite came from one of its most illustrious members, Nari Rustomji, who visited my home in Shillong often in 1981-1983 while writing his brilliant Imperilled Frontiers: India's Northeastern Borderlands (OUP, 1983).
Nehru, he would say, wanted better understanding of the tribes and reached out to self-taught English ethnologist Verrier Elwin (trained as a theologian with a doctorate in divinity) who did landmark work on tribal India. Elwin became an Indian citizen and Nehru's trusted counsel on tribal affairs.
The most important element of Elwin's approach was to protect the tribals from 'outside' influences and from the misplaced and dangerous mainlander notion of 'civilising' them as they had wonderful cultures and customs of their own. He elaborated on this in his own writings, notably A Philosophy for NEFA.
Rustomji called it the policy of 'hastening slowly.' Nehru embraced it. Rustomji had begun finding parts of it outdated as change was becoming inevitable.
Nehru was also paranoid about the Chinese in NEFA. What if the China-backed separatist virus of Nagaland reached NEFA? At its eastern edge (Tirap region) Arunachal also shares a tough border with Nagaland. The Chinese could then just walk through. For Nehru was also deeply upset by having to deal with foreign pastors (Reverend Scott, notably) negotiating on behalf of the Nagas.
A decision was therefore taken to keep Christian evangelists out of what was to be renamed Arunachal Pradesh. Its tribes were brought into the national -- and nationalist -- mainstream through Hindi-medium education. Arunachal is now the only Hindi-speaking state in the Northeast. Talk to Kiren Rijiju in Hindi.
This continued after Nehru. I entirely believe the story that Mrs Gandhi told Nanaji Deshmukh she didn't want the church in Arunachal and would rather have Hindu missionaries, the Ramakrishna Mission and the RSS fill in.
In 1978 (when the Janata Party ruled Delhi) the Arunachal assembly passed the Freedom of Religion Act, making proselytisation nearly impossible. There were protests by the church and some unusual complications.
For example, the Nagaland assembly adopting a resolution condemning this law and the then Arunachal chief minister, P K Thungon, calling this interference in his state's 'internal affairs.'
That law survives because of a larger Congress-RSS agreement on the principle. That's why as power changed hands in Delhi, the ruling party in Itanagar defected en masse the same way. Gegong Apang served as Congress, 'Arunachal Congress' in partnership with United Front and then BJP chief minister with the same legislature party. Of course, he returned to the Congress as it came to power again at the Centre.
That compact is now breaking with the rise of the BJP. The RSS has an obsession with the region where its key ideologues have devoted lifetimes. While some of Arunachali tribes are Buddhist and a handful Vaishnavite, most would have been called animists in the past.
The biggest tribes, Adis (Gegong Apang), Nyishi (Nabam Tuki) and Apatanis (former CM Tomo Riba) follow Donyi-Polo, or the worship of the sun and the moon. In the RSS view, how is this animism? Hindus have prayed to planet-gods forever -- note how a Shani (Saturn) temple has been in the headlines lately.
The Congress, all these decades, worked on a slow Hindi-isation and Indianisation of Arunachal tribes as distinct from Christian Nagas, Mizos, Khasis and Garos. The RSS is no longer the B team of the Congress in Arunachal. Now it wants rapid Hinduisation.
This should put the desperate impatience of its hand-picked governor in Itanagar, as also some statements of the governors of Assam and Tripura, in perspective. And you know what? Mr Tuki, though a Nyishi, is that rare Arunachali convert to Christianity.