Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Dorjee Khandu, who died in a chopper crash on April 30, was to be accorded a state funeral in Itanagar on Friday. The last rites were expected to be a departure from the tradition his tribe, Monpa, adheres to. The Monpa funeral entails chopping a body into 108 pieces – equal to the number of beads in a rosary for Buddhist prayers – and throwing them into the rivers for fish and other aquatic creatures to feed on. The belief is that a lifeless human body should be of utility to lesser beings. “Khandu was against the traditional system and rooted for a shift to eco-friendly cremation,” said Yeshe Dorjee Thongchi, former bureaucrat and litterateur. He is an authority on customs of northwestern Arunachal Pradesh.
The chief minister’s body was airlifted to Itanagar on Thursday afternoon, after it was recovered from Lobotang, 30 km north of the 13,700 feet Sela Pass in Tawang district, where the wreckage of the crash was found. His body and those of the other four crash victims were first flown to Tawang, 60 km northeast of the crash site.
After four days of search by over 3,000 security forces and choppers, it was finally a group of tribals who on Wednesday found the wreckage of the helicopter that went missing Saturday, with the mutilated bodies of Khandu and four others. Grieving family members also reached the crash site in a remote hilly region and identified Khandu. But the other four bodies were mutilated and charred beyond recognition, officials said. Even as Indian Air Force (IAF) helicopters hovered over the cloudy skies, a small team of tribals led by community leader Phukten telephoned Itanagar at 10 am on Wednesday to inform that they had sighted the wreckage, 96 hours after the Pawan Hans AS350 B-3 helicopter lost contact with ground control after taking off from Tawang at 9.50am on Saturday.
The arrival of top AICC leaders on Friday was also expected to erase the suspense over who would be Khandu’s successors. Five names including former chief minister and Rajya Sabha MP Mukut Mithi, PCC president Nabam Tuki and Gamlin are doing the rounds.
Earlier, a pall of gloom had descended in the mountainous state with news of the wreckage being found. “The news is heartbreaking and we are sad as the chief minister was a real visionary and honest politician. His death has shaken us,” said Bamang Tago, a civil rights campaigner.