Eclipsed by Osama

BY TERESA REHMAN| IN Media Practice | 03/05/2011
One anguished reader of The Arunachal Times wrote, "Osama killed Dorjee Khandu". But for the people of Arunachal Pradesh, Khandu is probably more important.
TERESA REHMAN says the media and people of the Northeast wish the country would care more about the missing CM
By a quirk of fate, this forlorn frontier state has managed to surface on the radar of the so-called national media. Arunachal Pradesh is in news. For a rather unfortunate and gripping reason – its chief minister Dorjee Khandu and his aides in a helicopter are missing for the past four days now. Some of the ‘national’ channels like Times Now managed to fly in their correspondents to the state to provide updates of any information on the head of the state government.
As the people of the state spent sleepless nights praying for the safety of their leader, by the third day, the news of Khandu’s rescue operations were reduced to a ticker on the television screens of the national channels. Of course, they had more meaty news in the form of Osama and Obama. Long deliberations on Osama’s death and its implications eclipsed Khandu. One anguished reader of The Arunachal Times wrote, “Osama killed Dorjee Khandu”. But for the people of Arunachal Pradesh, Khandu is probably more important.
Dorjee Khandu, hailing from the Monpa tribe was born in 1955 and was sworn in as the fifth chief minister of the state in 2007. Inclement weather and rough terrain has ‘delayed’ rescue operations of the possible wreckage of the Pawan Hans AS350 B-3 helicopter carrying the chief minister and four others which went missing after it took off from Tawang at 9.50am on Saturday. The last radio contact with the ground was about 20 minutes after take off as it flew over the Sela Pass along the Chinese border perched at an altitude of 13,700 feet.
The local satellite channels aired from Guwahati did try to give details of the rescue operations and showed the indignation of the people at the delay. One politician from Arunachal Pradesh told a television channel, “It is unfortunate that a powerful country like India with its advanced technology could not trace the chief minister of a state who has been missing for the past four days now. One should also not forget that this state shares a strategic border with China and Myanmar.”
The local channels also illustrated how obsolete helicopters are pushed for operations in the Northeast. This incident comes just days after another Pawan Hans helicopter crashed in Tawang April 19, killing 17 people and injuring six. The Pawan Hans Helicopter Services Limited (PHHL) has been operating five helicopters in Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura and daily Guwahati-Tawang services for the past nine years. For a land-locked state like Arunachal, this helicopter service is one of the major links with the rest of the country. The helicopter in question, AS350 B-3, is a single-engine chopper. In case of an engine failure, there are very slim chances of the helicopter making a safe landing.
The local TV channels thronged at Itanagar, the capital of the state. Citizens expressed their anguish on News Live, a local satellite TV channel. “I appeal to the Government of India to put their sophisticated equipments to use to find our chief minister. If they could not trace the head of state, what would be the plight of the common people? Will rescue operations go on for months or years?”, rued one.
Another citizen said, “We are feeling very insecure. Even powerful aircrafts like Sukhois have been used but in vain. Please find him as soon as possible. The intelligence of the region is also pathetic. If the government of India cannot find him, who can we turn to?”
Earlier, officials had come on record to say that the chopper had landed safely in Bhutan. Even Arunachal Governor Gen (retd) J.J. Singh and the chief secretary went on record and told the media that the chopper had landed safely with five passengers. The chief minister’s adviser Kiren Rijiju confirmed the news and added that the chief minister was flying back to Guwahati. However, authorities in Bhutan said that no Indian helicopter had landed in Bhutanese territory, adding to the confusion. The Newslive correspondent says, “This confusion delayed rescued operations by more than five hours which could have been crucial.”
The Arunachal Times newspaper carried a news item “Arunachal awaits its Chief Minister” which evoked varied reactions from its readers on its online edition. One Khusbu wrote, “Its so unpleasant to hear the 2 pilots and the CM’s sister and security officer being collectively referred to as ‘the 4 others’! For Gods sake! Even these people are someone’s sons/ brothers/ fathers /lovers or friends. This collective casual dismissal is so hurtful to their families. Why such apathy?”
While the state waits and prays with baited breath, another reader Dokar rues, “Why can’t the media like Aaj Tak, NDTV, India TV etc who make a hell lot of a noise if Salman, Shahrukh, Amir, Katrina etc even get a new hair cut and shows it thousand times again and again, can’t give this smell of a conspiracy in the false phone call of safe landing a wide coverage? Or just to say an appropriate coverage of the case in hand? I’m just so angry and frustrated.”
Now, more than 100 rescue workers early on May 3 began an arduous trek along a rugged mountainous terrain after the ISRO radar spotted some bright metallic pieces, believed to be the wreckage of the helicopter in Nagajuli. But as the same stereotyped press releases with minor changes here and there are issued by the authorities every evening, the journalists too come back with a sense of despair.
The New Live correspondent added, “We have been camping here for the past four days. Every evening we go with eagerness to get some new information but are disappointed. The entire ministry is in a disarray due to the sudden absence of the chief minister. Many people have lost hope. But, till a definite news comes, there will be hope.”
Some citizens have demanded that the Prime Minister should come and see for himself the rescue operations. The News Live correspondent tries to give a pulse of the people here, "The general feeling among the people is the step-motherly treatment of the Centre towards the region. Its sad that no organisation have also come to raise their voice against this apathy. Many have questioned if they are really a part of this country."
The denizens of this strategic border state can only wait and hope for news of its chief minister. And hopefully, the national media will also continue with its follow-ups.
(Teresa Rehman is a journalist based in Northeast India. She can be reached at
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