His name meant ‘better tomorrow’. How apt it was! From a carpenter, then, a chowkidar and later Arunachal Pradesh’s eighth Chief Minister, Kalikho Pul had come a long way. But his extraordinary journey was cut short abruptly; he was found dead Tuesday in his official residence. Initial reports say it was a suicide. The former chief minister has spoken earlier of his life in penury in his youth, when he realised he was an orphan and felt unneeded, and set out to commit suicide. He was unsuccessful at the time, and went on to achieve great things. What led him to take extreme step now is unclear.
Kalikho Pul had been Arunachal Pradesh's Chief Minister from February to July 2016, after 12 MLAs from Chief Minister Nabam Tuki's camp decided to jump ship and join Pul.
Born at Walla village in Hawai circle, Anjaw district, Pul was orphaned at the age of six. His mother, Koranlu, died when he was 13-months-old and five years later, he lost his father, Tailum, too.
“I couldn’t go to a regular school as I had to go to the jungle to bring firewood for the family of my aunty who raised me. When I was 10, I underwent a two-year training course in carpentry at the Hawai Craft Centre and used to get a stipend of Rs 1.50 a day. At the end of my training, I got an opportunity to work there as a tutor for 96 days in the absence of an instructor who went on leave,” Pul had recalled, in an interview with Express, after he was chosen as chief minister. Those days, Army officers and senior government officials used to visit the centre to place orders.
Pul said their frequent visits egged him on to pursue education. He got enrolled at an adult education centre and attended night classes. “One day, an official function was held at the education centre, which was attended by education minister Khapriso Krong, then Lohit Deputy Commissioner (District Collector), D S Negi, and others. I delivered the welcome speech in Hindi and also sang a patriotic song. So impressed was the Deputy Commissioner that he asked officials to put me in a day boarding school. Within days, I joined one in class VI. While studying there, I got the job of a chowkidar at the Circle Office, Hawai, at a monthly salary of Rs 212. Hoisting and lowering the national flag was part of my job,” Pul had said.
In the years that followed, the teetotaler Pul ran a paan shop and worked as a petty contractor, making bamboo fences and thatched houses for villagers until trying his hand in building concrete structures and becoming the owner of four trucks. An economics graduate, he also studied law for a while. But it was not all rosy.
“I suffered from chronic gastric problem for six long years, beginning 1980. I had just Rs 1,600 with me. I approached my relatives. One offered just Rs 2 and another Rs 5. It was then that I realised I was an orphan. One day, I made up my mind to commit suicide and walked up to the bridge over the river Lohit. I stood there for 36 minutes but couldn’t take the extreme step due to the presence of people,” Pul had recalled at the time.
Later, with a loan of Rs 2,500 taken from the Deputy Commissioner he met as a child several years ago, he underwent the treatment and in due course repaid it. As chief minister, his official residence in Itanagar was like a hospital. Poor villagers from his constituency and elsewhere came for medicines and other assistance. “I feel satisfied to be able to help the poor. People come from various parts. I had been a minister for 22 of my 23 years of life in politics. To me, power, position and money don’t have any meaning,” he had said, philosophically.
“I married in 1996 when I was a minister. Chief Minister Gegong Apang, besides several other dignitaries, attended the wedding ceremony, which was held at Hawai, just 32 metres away from the Circle Office where I worked. That day, I cried inconsolably... the national flag I used to hoist and lower there, now flutters proudly on my official vehicle,” Pul had recalled. He still possessed all his carpentry tools. “They are still part of my life ,” he had said proudly. Did he believe in providence? “I don’t believe in God because had He been there, I wouldn’t have suffered,” he had replied.