Pema Khandu, Arunachal Pradesh, Chief Minister, is one of the youngest faces in Indian politics. The popular political figure just completed a euphoric celebration of six years of his government. Rohan Dua, Executive Editor of The New Indian, speaks to him
Pema Khandu, Arunachal Pradesh, Chief Minister, is one of the youngest faces in Indian politics. The popular political figure just completed a euphoric celebration of six years of his government. Rohan Dua, The Executive Editor of The New Indian, caught up with him recently. In a free-wheeling interview, Khandu talks about how he paved the path to his achievements and scripted success.
Rohan Dua: Many congratulations on the completion of six years of your government. It’s no mean feat, actually, for your government. What are the big takeaways of this completion and the celebration, which is still underway?
Pema Khandu: First of all, thank you, Rohan, for inviting me for this interview. I have completed six years as chief minister of the biggest state in the entire Northeast: Arunachal Pradesh. The Northeast was earlier a totally neglected chapter by the Government of India. The pace of development was slow and the corruption level was high. Earlier, people did not know much about the Northeast. It was very challenging as well as an opportunity for me to solve the complications. In these six years, most of the works have been done successfully in every sector.
Rohan Dua: What is your prime focus area?
Pema Khandu: As I said, Arunachal is a big state and surrounded by lofty slopes. So, the biggest problem is connectivity. And we have done a great job in this sector in the last six years. If I talk about the road sector, starting from the westernmost district of Tawang to the easternmost district Longding, a total of 1,800 km of trans Arunachal Highway, parallel to China, has just been completed. And the development of all highways in district headquarters is almost complete. Apart from that, under the Pradhan Mantri Gramin Sadak Yojana, our villages have also got good road connectivity in the state. Foothill roads of Pasighat, Namsai and Tezu are now good enough for the outsiders to bring their supercars.
If I talk about the railway connectivity, we, the people of Arunachal, never imagined the railways before. But with the help of PM Narendra Modi, today Naharlagun of Arunachal Pradesh is directly connected to Guwahati and Delhi by rail network. The railway department has almost completed the survey and Tawang and foothills areas (bordering areas of Assam) will get a new railway line very soon.
If you see the development in air connectivity, we have completed six advanced landing grounds in the last six years. Two of the airports — Pasighat and Tezu — are functioning under the UDAAN scheme of the central government. After holding talks with the Ministry of Civil Aviation, we got two Dornier flights under the Make- In-India initiative. Along with this, my government is planning to launch Itanagar airport for the passengers by this year. And the fourth connectivity is nowadays based on digital connectivity, and to move it forward, PM Narendra Modi contributed a lot. Some of the fibre cables are taking more time; we have signed a tender for 1,000 4G towers with the Airtel for execution of digital connectivity.
Rohan Dua: You spoke about the border area of Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. Recently, you also held a meeting with Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sharma. There were a lot of border problems for many years before your government came to power. And those problems were resolved during the meeting. MoUs were signed between your government and that of Assam. How satisfied do you feel after meeting with your counterpart in Assam and what would be the impact of this now?
Pema Khandu: Chief Minister of Assam Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma has taken a proactive role because Assam is at the center of the Northeast and almost all the northeastern states share their boundary with Assam. Arunachal Pradesh shares the longest boundary (stretching to 720km) with Assam. Recently, we had meetings with Himanta Biswa Sharma in Namsai, Before that, we had two meetings, wherein we set up a committee from representatives of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. We started working on the basis of 2007 Local Commission Report. We solved the conflict of 30 villages, out of 123, immediately. Some of 89 villages still remain but we have given a deadline of September 15 to submit the report.
Rohan Dua: Your state represents one of the rising states in the Northeast, which was always involved in one controversy or the other, in the previous government as well because of the China dispute. Is that also something which you have worked upon? How satisfied do you feel today that you have worked on the border issue?
Pema Khandu: We share three international boundaries. One is with Bhutan (almost 250km) and the longest border with Tibet-China (1,100km) and Myanmar (around 550km). We definitely have border problem with China. We don’t have border fencing. People of higher areas frequently do yak rearing and sometimes, they cross the border while searching the herds. Sometimes, local natives and even the people of Tibet cross the boundary because there is no defined border line or pillars in the region. At times, they lose track of the path due to bad weather. But under the leadership of PM Modi, in the last eight years, roads have been constructed in the border areas in Tawang, Kurung and hilly areas. We have also made new Bum La Pass road. Along with this, the temporary shelters for the jawans have been replaced with permanent structures.
Rohan Dua: I have seen many of your pictures and videos where you travel in and around the state, whether to promote eco-tourism, tribal dance, or giving thrust to religion or forces. I have seen all this in the last two years since I last met and started knowing about you. I feel proud of you because you come across that man who keeps his ear to the ground and visits places, even on foot. You are one of the youngest CM not only in the Northeast but even in India.
Pema Khandu: As I said earlier, Arunachal Pradesh is a very beautiful state. The natural beauties are really very amazing; so whenever I get opportunity, instead of sitting in the office, I prefer to visit all the beautiful locations. This gives me an opportunity to meet the people of these regions. Every valley consists of unique beauty. Before getting statehood, Arunachal Pradesh was a Union Territory. In 1972, when Arunachal Pradesh became Union Territory, we had only five districts and it were all named after five major rivers. The beauty of every river basin is distinct. Arunachal Pradesh has huge tourism potential.
Rohan Dua: Which are those areas that you have discovered lately; those that you were not familiar with before?
Pema Khandu: Last year, I visited Vijaynagar area in eastern Arunachal. The development of road in that area was very slow. So, I travelled by car and reached there within two days. I promised the people of Vijaynagar that a proper road will be made in 2022 and now, the road is complete. I am again planning to visit Vijaynagar by road and organise a Cabinet meeting there.