WHILE in the office of Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh, late Dorjee Khandu had raised strong objections to Beijing’s “Concern” over Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to the State on October 3, 2009 and had said that China has no business to meddle with the internal affairs of the Arunachal Pradesh which is an integral part of Bharat. China describes Arunachal Pradesh as “the disputed area”. The abnormal complacence and criminal neglect by Central government is encouraging China to do more notoriety. And the patriotic leaders of Arunchal Pradesh like late Dorjee Khandu and the likes are fed up of this inaction.
A popular leader
Dorjee Khandu, a devout Buddhist hailed from Gyangkhar village in Tawang district. He belonged to a middle class family and did his schooling from Tawang. He served in the intelligence wing of the Bharatiya Army for seven long years and received a gold medal for meritorious service during Bangladesh War of 1971. He joined politics in 1980 as a grass root worker. He won his first election from Mukto constituency in 1990 which started his innings in big time politics. He was re-elected from the same constituency a number of times and held portfolios of Animal Husbandry, Power, Mines, Relief and Rehabilitation in course of his political career. He first took the oath of Chief Minister in 2007 following a revolt in the Congress legislative party which tided away with Khandu replacing Gegong Apang as the CM. In October 2009 Khandu was again elected to the Assembly unopposed and became the CM second time. During three years combined tenure at the helm of affairs of the State, Dorjee Khandu became extremely popular and was famous for his strong “development mantra” above everything else to uplift the condition of Arunachal Pradesh. Credited for improving water supply, bringing educational facilities and also revising wages, Khandu clearly had a vision for the betterment of the State and its people. Khandu was well known for his anti-China stance who also strongly wanted the building of dams to harness the true hydro potential of Arunachal and by virtue of it not only make the State self-sufficient but also resurgent. He signed a number of MOUs to this effect.
Dorjee Khandu shall be remembered in the history as a humble yet pragmatic leader and above all a fantastic human being who left his mark in making an effort to usher in a new era of stability and development in the north-east State of Arunachal Pradesh.
The tragic end
On April 19, a chopper belonging to Pawan Hans Helicopter Ltd. (PHHL) crashed at Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh killing 17 people. 11 days later on April 30, another PHHL helicopter crashed in the Tawang district. The twin chopper crashes have raised the pertinent question how safe and reliable the helicopter service is. The whole country and the people of Arunachal Pradesh in particular were shocked and pained to learn that one of their most beloved sons has to depart in an extremely unwanted and unfortunate incident. Faced with irreparable loss, the words of condolence were really furtile to share the grief of not only the family members but every citizen of this frontier Bharatiya state from one corner to another.
The sky was clear and just perfect when Khandu boarded the ill fated single engine Eurocopter As- 350-B3 chopper at Tawang with his trusted PSO Yeshi Choddak and Yeshi Lhamu, the sister of Tawang MLA Tsewang Dhondup as his co-passenger on the morning of April 30, for flying to the capital Itanagar. The pilots-Capt. JS Babbar and Capt. TS Mamik made the grave mistake of failing for the fine weather and not making a requisition seeking the comprehensive weather report for Full Flight Path(FFP).
The Full Flight Path is optional and is only provided when asked for by pilots. FFP should now be made mandatory in flying over a place like Arunachal Pradesh known for its very difficult terrain and hugely inclement weather so much so strongly in cases of VIP and VVIP movements. It should also be made equally imperative for every fight in the area. Originally the plan was to fly to Itanagar via Guwahati, a longer yet safer path. But it is not yet known as to why ultimately the more tortuous flight path over Sella-Dirang-Tenga Valley – East Kameng to Itanagar was chosen. The clear weather during take-off turned out to be quite deceptive and hugely misleading as not too long after, the flight got hit with poor weather. 15 minutes into the flight around 10:10 am, the last radio contact with the ground recorded while the aircraft flew over the Sella Pass. And then the chopper went traceless.
The hours and days that followed were harrowing to say the least. The clock ticked on with no information about the missing aircraft and hopes of finding Khandu alive receded despite the fact the search machinery was not only massive but of highest gear. Army, IAF, SSB and ITBP employed their men and machines to pan out the area. The local villagers and volunteers pooled in their numbers and strength to go flat out in search for their beloved leader. Corresponding effort was also made in the Bhutan side as apprehension got build up that the aircraft may have digressed from its flight path to move into the bordering Trashigang district of Bhutan. Bhutanese people and forces not only looked out for the chopper themselves but the Himalayan neighbour also allowed Bharatiya sorties into its territory to search for the plane. Personnel of the specialised National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) mobilised a highly trained search and rescue team to look for the aircraft carrying the CM. ISRO contributed by sending in satellite images with the help of RISAT, a high quality Radar Imaging Satellite which can penetrate clouds to take pictures and aerial mapping was made by Sukhoi 30 aircrafts. However, all that went in vain as the very difficult terrain comprised of deep gorges, narrow valleys, dense forests, turbulent mountainous rives and paucity of surface roads in such high altitude (where height from sea level ranges from 13,000 to 15,000 feet) along with persistent inclement weather condition that plummeted from bad to worse, made the search operation an uphill task.
On May 4, almost 100 hours after, it was the nomadic yak herding tribal called ‘Brokpas’ who achieved what the highly advanced technology failed to. The Brokpas discovered the wreckage of the aircraft alongwith all the dead bodies including that of the CM, from a place between Keyla and Luguthang near the Jung Falls in Mukto, Khandu’s own constituency in Tawang district.
The next day, on the May 5, Arunachal’s beloved Chief Minister and a worthy son of Bharatmata lovingly called “Laughing Buddha” was brought to the capital in a glass casket amidst shock and over-pouring grief as people wept and cry openly. Thousands line up the streets to have the “last darshan” of their most loved leader as the casket was carried from the helipad to his official residence. Priests of eternal Sanatan Dharma and the lamas of Buddha Dharma chanted mantras and prayers and people from all walks of life paid tributes to their departed leader.
On May 6, Khadu’s body was flown to his home in Tawang when Prime Miniter Manmohan Singh. Home Minister P Chidambaram and Sonia Gandhi arrived to pay homage.
The last rites of the 56 year old Khandu was performed on the May 10, in Tawang district according to the tradition followed by the Monpas, the Janjati to which Khandu belonged.
Dorjee Khandu was popular as one of the most true, forthright and visionary politician from Arunachal Pradesh. He was revered as the Vikas Purush (Man of Development) of Arunachal Pradesh. Speaking as Chief Guest in 5,000 strong Indigenous Youth Conference (Sanatani Yuva Sammelan) at Pasighat (East Siang district of AP) on December 1, 2008, Dorjee Khandu had said, “ Arunchal Pradesh is faced with constant threat from China and this conspiracy must be foiled militarily and diplomatically by the Central government. But only government action will not save Arunachal Pradesh, the civil society particularly the youths from each and every community must exhibit their organised strength and cooperate with State Government to protect Arunachal Pradesh from external threat posed by China and the internal threat posed by church working through the militant cadres of NSCN (IM) and NSCN (K) terrorist organisations originated from Nagaland”. Khandu cautioned further, “Conversion in any form from Sanatan Dharma (eternal religion) to Christianity is violence and a heinous crime because it breaks the family, destroys religious and cultural identity and generate militancy and insurgency challenging the sovereignty of the country.” He cited the example of Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura where church was allegedly found master-minding militancy and anti-national uprising by converting the local people and turning them anti-national. He said that Arunachal Pradesh was peaceful because there was no Christianity or least Christianity but the places like Changlong and Tirap where church had made inroads were virtually taken over by Christian militant organisations from Nagaland. He appreciated Indigenous Faith and Cultural Society of Arunachal Pradesh (IFCSAP) for rendering commendable service to the people of Arunachal Pradesh in the field of preserving cultural identity and stalling rapid westernisation. He once again graced the general conference of IFSCAP as Chief Guest on January 27, 2011 at Itanagar and drew the attention of masses on the nobility and greatness of people of Arunchal Pradesh, their religion and culture. He particularly cautioned the people living in bordering villages adjacent to China and Tibet to be ever vigilant and away from conversion conspiracy of church. He said, “I am worried over coming of churches in some of the bordering remote villages adjacent to China. The church may hatch conspiracy here also which will be difficult to control due to inaccessibility of the region.”
Geo-strategic location of Arunachal Pradesh
Arunachal Pradesh, the extreme N-E State surrounded by our sworned enemy China has very significant geo-strategic location having the most difficult terrain across its length and breadth and uptill now surface communication is almost nil in most part of the State even in bordering areas facing constant threat from Dragon – China. The villages spend their nights in dark due to absence of electricity. It is highly dependent on helicopter service not only for inter State but also for intra State communication. This has made a heavenly place like Tawang beyond the reach of regular visitors and tourists. Its skies have always been very difficult to negotiate with huge number of recorded accidents and air-crashes. In the last decade, 66 people have lost their lives in air disaster in NE-of them 47 were in Arunachal Pradesh. Now with the twin back to back tragedies there is an absolute fear psychosis in the minds of politicians, businessmen, tourists and common people alike to fly over Arunachal Pradesh.
It is accepted that the skies of N-E are the most challenging to fly over for the pilots particularly of small aircraft and choppers. Low and narrow valleys, high humidity and turbulent weather make flying highly risky. The formation of clouds is very sudden here due to inflow of cold air currents and is a huge detriment to smooth flying. Air currents and drafts are also very difficult to negotiate for pilots. There is also sudden thunder, lightning, rain and snow in this area and the visibility can dip suddenly for these reasons. Pre-monsoon turbulence is particularly very notorious and greatly difficult to negotiate if the aircraft confronts it. It is accepted in flying circle that no amount of flying experience is enough for the N-E. Respecting the weather is of paramount importance for pilots as also the ability to make instinctive split second decisions in a given situation.