The fear of aggression from the other side of the bamboo curtain is, to a great extent, driving the government’s Bharat Nirman programme in the remote border areas in Seppa.
At Lada, the last major habitation this side of the McMahon line — the dividing line between India and China — people are getting increasingly apprehensive about the presence of the Red Army nearer home.
The McMahon line was agreed between the British government and the government of Yuan Shikai in China. But later, the Communist Party-led government refused to recognise this line and staked claim to about 90,000 sq km of Arunachal Pradesh.
The fear that the Chinese might one day take their land has made local tribal chieftains like Sipi Bagang, also a Zilla Parishad chairman, offer land for an Indian army base at Seppa, over 150 km inside the border. “I will be submitting a memorandum to the government in this regard,” he said.
The government, however, has beaten Bagang to it. Brigadier P.K. Srivastava, commander of Ball of Fire Division’s artillery brigade said, “We received an application from the government in January this year to set up a unit for development of this area.”
Though setting up a base in an unmanned area is a long-drawn-out process, the army is testing waters through developmental initiatives. Bharat Nirman, a time-bound plan for creating rural infrastructure like water supply and health and education facilities — except building roads — has provided the army the vehicle to win over the locals.
“This is the first time that the army has taken part in this programme, which is ideal for developing a rapport with the local people before making our presence felt here,” says a senior army officer.
The locals’ threat perception can be understood from the experience of 53-year-old Solung Miji of Lada, a local body member, who recalls how a decade ago he would spot Chinese soldiers after trekking five days towards the Indo-Tibetan border to hunt with his .22-bore rifle.
But he said, “Last time, I saw them only after two days of walking.” In most of Arunachal, Pradesh distance is measured in terms of time taken to walk.
J Raiso of Jokhyo village, three days’ walk from the international border, has a similar story to tell. The local authorities, too, earlier reported incursions by the Red Army in the East Kameng frontier, at a point beyond Lada. But India played down the infiltration reports.