Kalikho Pul, the eighth chief minister of Arunachal Pradesh, has a few firsts. He is the first Congress CM in India to be installed with support from arch rivals BJP, and the first from south-eastern Arunachal Pradesh belonging to one of the smallest ethnic groups – Kaman Mishmi.
He is also the first CM with many members of his tribe living in China.
Anjaw, Pul’s home district bordering China, has ethnic groups such as Zakhring whose population is barely 1,000. The Kamans are thrice this number but fewer than the Idus and Digarus, the other two in the greater Mishmi group with an estimated total population of more than 30,000.
Across the border, in southern Tibet, the Kamans are called Geman Dengs. Numbering some 1,500, the Dengs are one of several ethnic groups not recognised by Beijing.
Arunachal Pradesh has 26 major tribes and 100 sub-groups, and among the smallest are the Sherdukpens who practise Buddhism. Prem Khandu Thungon, the state’s first CM from 1975-79, was a member of this community that numbered around 2,000 then.
But, considering the frontier state’s average decadal population growth of 26%, Pul’s community is believed to have fewer members.
According to the Indigenous Faith and Cultural Society of Arunachal Pradesh, Pul is a minority among minorities on the religious count too. The Kamans follow Amik Matai, an indigenous faith distinct from the Nani Inyata faith of the Idus and Jab Malo of the Digarus.
Adherents of these and other faiths such as Donyi-Polo, Rangfrah and Nyezi-no are 26.2% of the population in Arunachal Pradesh (2011 census), the largest religion being Christianity at 30.26%.
“Miniscule nature-worshipping communities are in the true sense India’s minorities, though the term is invariably used for mainstream religious groups,” Assam-based Ramkui Newme, head of an indigenous faith called Heraka, told Hindustan Times.
Some 200,000 Zeliangrongs comprising Zeme, Liangmai and Rongmei Nagas in Assam, Manipur and Nagaland follow Heraka.
Like the Monpas of Tawang, the Kaman Mishmis had borne the brunt of the Chinese attack in the Walong (Anjaw) sector in 1962. Many played the ethnic card – some Chinese soldiers were Mishmis – to save themselves as well as help the Indian army.
Nabam Tuki, the man Pul ousted to become CM, had in 2010 honoured a septuagenarian named Alorno Pul as recognition of his role in saving Indian lives and property in the 1962 war. “I helped carry guns and ammunition to our soldiers on hill tops by managing a Chinese commander who was a Mishmi,” the old man had said.
He also said Mishmis on either side cross the border often to meet up and exchange farm produce.