As the remains of former Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Kalikho Pul were consigned to flames on Thursday at his native village in Walla, emotion was running high in the streets and on social media.
Though Pul headed the state government for only a short period, from February to July, he had quickly earned the reputation for being a “People’s CM”.
He was found hanging in the prayer room of the Chief Minister’s official bungalow in Itanagar early on Tuesday morning, on the day he was supposed to shift out to make place for the new occupant, Pema Khandu.
The dissident Congress leader seems not to have left a suicide note. But four booklets that he reportedly wrote were found in his room and handed over to the police. There are demands that these booklets be unsealed and made public.
Since Tuesday, there have been tense moments in the state capital. The government shut down internet services in the city, ostensibly to prevent further deterioration of law and order.
Property is damaged
As news of Pul’s death became public, more than 30 cars in the parking lot of the Chief Ministers’ office, next to his official residence, were damaged by his agitated supporters. The residences of two ministers near the Chief Minister’s Office were also vandalised by angry citizens.
Many of Pul’s supporters blame the Congress leadership for forcing him to take his own life. As a result, Chief Minister Pema Khandu and his cabinet colleagues skipped the final rites at Walla. Instead, two government officers were appointed as official representatives.
Pul’s short stint in office was ended by a ruling on July 13 by a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court directing a return to status quo ante (a return to the original status) in Arunachal Pradesh as it prevailed on December 15, 2015, referring to the time before a rebellion in the Assembly created chaos in the state’s political system. This had led to President’s Rule being imposed there for two months, until dissident Congressman Kalikho Pul formed a new government, propped up by the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Despite the court ruling, however, it was expected that Pul would manoeuvre himself back in power. But a few days later, he was unseated by his younger colleague, Pema Khandu, in a dramatic turns of events.
When the Supreme Court decision came, Pul was attending a meeting of the North East Democratic Alliance, the North-Eastern offshoot of the National Democratic Aliance, with BJP president Amit Shah in attendance. Some 35 MLAs turned up at a press conference as Pul proudly declared that he had the numbers to form the government in the 60 member house. But overnight, the MLAs decided to go back to Congress leaving Pul on his own.
Apparently, Pul never recovered from the shock and betrayal of his own colleagues.
Nonethless, in the four odd months that he ruled the state as chief minister, Kalikho Pul captured the imagination of many people. He threw open the fortified Chief Minister’s official residence to the people, an act never seen before in the state. His public meetings at the residence were hugely popular, sometimes lasting more than 15 hours.
Pul, an orphan, worked as a chowkidar and a carpenter to fund his school education.
When he inspected government buildings, he was often seen checking leaking water taps. He was even seen climbing a water tank, forcing people to comment that the department should have gotten a ladder for his safety.
In a state notorious for nexus between politicians, engineers and contractors, he would dash off on inspection of bridges and road and give deadlines for completion, while promising that there would be no dearth of funds.
While some of his opponents ridiculed Pul for trying garner publicity and public sympathy after a questionable climb to power, for many poor people, he was their ultimate hero who did everything, right from affecting transfers to monetary assistance for the sick and the needy.
Though he had previously spoken of attempting suicide as a teenager, people were shocked by his death. In the tribal societies of Arunachal Pradesh, suicides are often seen as an act of cowardice.