Kiren Rijiju is a politician with a difference. An outspoken and forthright leader, he was twice the former national secretary of the BJP, representing Arunachal Pradesh (AP). He cut his teeth early in the fickle world of politics; as a student he was associated with the ABVP. He also participated in the ‘Festival of India in USSR’ held in Moscow in 1987. A widely travelled leader, he has been in most continents as a member of various Parliamentary delegations.
In an interview with Organiser’s associate editor Ashish Joshi, he touches on a variety of topics, including the 1962 Indo-China War, the alienation felt by the people of AP due to constant neglect by the Central government and the lack of national integration in the country.
What inspired you to enter politics in the first place?
A streak of patriotism runs in my family. My father was an MP from Bomdila. We have been associated with ABVP for a long time. We all have been imbued with a deep sense of nationalism and service to the nation. I decided to follow in my father’s footsteps and became an MP to serve the country.
Do you think people have become more alienated from their leaders since your father’s time in politics?
Definitely! And this sense of alienation runs deep and is felt by most people in the country. Take my state, for instance. The people of Arunachal Pradesh are intensely patriotic; not only do they speak fluent Hindi (surprising for a north-eastern state) but there has never been a separatist movement in the region. In fact they greet each other with ‘Jai Hind’. I myself took my oath in Sanskrit when I was sworn in as an MP in 2004. But with constant neglect by the Centre, AP citizens feeI deeply hurt. They are seen with some sort of distrust and even their loyalties towards the Indian state are questioned. Worse, they are being neglected even 65 years after Independence.
How are the people of AP reacting to repeated Chinese incursions?
The 1962 war was a turning point in India’s history, an event whose repercussions are being felt even today. For the first time we saw that China could not be trusted. When the Chinese invaded AP, they distributed cigarettes and chocolate to win over the locals, but to no effect. The people remained fiercely loyal to India. It was during this period that there was a sense of patriotic fervor all over the country. But with time, the people of AP have become increasingly disillusioned. They see signs of neglect all over the state. We continue to remain on the periphery. When we see the development on the other side of the McMahon Line, how the Chinese are building roads and infrastructure, we begin to question the government’s motive in keeping us backward.
The surprising thing is that the ’62 war has never been discussed in Parliament by our leaders. There is almost a blanket ban on the issue. I was the only MP who raised this issue in 2004. I told our leaders that Chinese incursions into AP are a regular affair, not confined to one or two sectors. The government denied it and the army rejected my claims. At that time the Chinese President was on an official visit to India. The then Defence Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, asked me not to stall Parliament at that time. He told me that once the Chinese President’s visit was over, then I could raise the issue. I rejected this idea firmly. Then Mukherjee, along with the Prime Minister, promised to provide a 25,000 cr financial package to Arunachal Pradesh.
Do you think the RSS can play a greater role in the nation’s political scenario?
Absolutely. The people of India are singularly misinformed about the good work the RSS has done for the country. This is the only organisation which keeps the spirit of nationalism alive in the country. It is particularly necessary in AP as the state is being claimed by the Chinese. The people in AP make sure they keep the banner of patriotism flying high. RSS has always dreamed of a strong and united India.
Why is the Indian youth so disillusioned today?
There can be many reasons for this. There is no national integration in the country, and the youth remain cut off from each other. The lack of education and knowledge act as barriers to cross-cultural contact. We are too diversified as a country. The youth of, say, Mumbai, don’t know what is happening in Itanagar, and vice-versa. A more important factor is that the youth are obsessed with the Western way of life, seen through Hollywood films and TV serials. They youngsters have more knowledge about what is happening in the West than in their own country. They may know more about an American pop star’s current boyfriend than issues that hit closer to home.
What do you have to say about the violation of the Act for Protection of Indigenous tribes? (Freedom of Religion Act).
Lack of proper awareness and ambiguity of the Act among people is one reason why the Act is being violated. The people in the state are also ignorant about freedom of religion. Adopting a religion is the constitutional right of a citizen but losing your indigenous faith and culture is like losing your own identity. So, misuse or violation of the law results from a lack of understanding and inefficient governance.
What is your take on the recent actions of the Indian Home Minister and Arunachal Pradesh repealing and allowing the missionaries and conversion? How is the Congress working for conversion in AP?
In Arunachal Pradesh some people convert genuinely and others follow innocently. Missionaries are involved in many noble social activities which is a good reason to attract the tribals to embrace Christianity. The government is not involved in it but many individual ministers and MLAs have a hand in the conversion process. This is something that must be checked.