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Uttarakhand: Political Immaturity and the Unresolved Issue of the Permanent Capital
Annpurna Nautiyal, 4/1/2013

The creation of the Uttarakhand state in 2000 was seen as a victory of the common people who generated immense pressures through the mass movement of the 1990s for the statehood of Uttarakhand. This mass movement was unprecedented for two reasons: firstly it had participation from all the sections of the society and secondly though, initially, it was launched by the students to oppose the unjustified 27 percent OBC reservation but within no time it spread like a wild fire and engulfed all the hill areas. Later on due to the policies of the then Uttar Pradesh Government it got converted in to a movement for the creation of Uttarakhand state.

From the very beginning it was an apolitical movement as the political parties and their leaders were not allowed by the groups of the agitators to share their forums or to participate in the rallies organized by them. As Uttarakhand has been a part of the big and ungovernable state Uttar Pradesh, therefore, after the creation of the Uttarakhand state, people naturally expected that the pace of development, democratic decentralization, governance and distribution of facilities and resources would become fast.

Unfortunately, Uttarakhand still remains a saga of underdevelopment and poor governance because out of thirteen districts, the eight hill districts are still very backward and deprived of the basic facilities like water, electricity, schools, hospitals, motorable roads etc. The caste politics, regional politics, the absence of an effective leadership, administrative efficiency and political immaturity, has not allowed Uttrakhand to secure a place and respect like its neighbor and role model Himachal Pradesh.

Politically Immaturity at Large

The five chief ministers appointed within the brief period of 12 years signal the political immaturity and instability of the state's political scene. As a result the first transitional government of Uttarakhand, formed by the BJP had two Chief Minister (Nitya Nand Swami and Bhagat Singh Koshyari) in a short span of two years. The internal differences, caste equations and rising political ambitions of the political leaders besides making the transitional government shaky did not allow it to lay the foundation of the holistic development of the hill state. After the first election of Uttarakhand assembly in 2002, the first elected government was formed by the Congress. The taking over of the chief minister ship by N.D. Tewari, a very seasoned politician, deeply annoyed Harish Rawat (now Union Minister), a grass root worker from the hill areas of Kumaun and main aspirant for the chief minister ship. It saw internal divides, fights and dissent within the congress party and to quell the rebellion within the party a new culture of distributing various kinds of chairmanships or vice chairmanships was introduced in the state politics.

However, the fishers of this dissatisfaction and the non performance of the congress party in various fronts allowed the BJP to emerge as the single largest party in the second assembly elections held in 2007. The BJP lacked majority therefore, it formed the government with the support of the UKD and B.C. Khanduri, the ex army general, and a Member of Parliament form Pauri Lok Sabha constituency of Garhwal held the reign. The imposition of Khanduri was not liked by the state leaders as well as the Thakur group led by Bhagat Singh Koshiyari, a popular and senior leader from the Kumaun region . It also forced the BJP to continue with the practice of the Congress party of allocating the portfolios to the party leaders and MLAs to gain their support for the running of the government. Although to pacify the Bhagat Singh Koshyari faction Koshyari was made a Rajaya Sabha member but this could not stop the attempts within the party to dislodge Khanduri. The opportunity came very soon with the Lok Sabha election of 2009 which saw the BJP losing the entire five parliamentary seats to Congress. The election result also exposed the differences and internal fights within the BJP and under the pressures from the dissident groups the leadership of B.C. Khanduri was held responsible for the loss of entire parliamentary seats. As a consequence Khanduri was displaced and as a consensus candidate Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishak was made the chief minister of Uttarakhand in 2009. It was unfortunate that despite performing well and providing relatively good governance Khanduri became the victim of the internal power politics of the BJP and was removed in such an insulting manner.

However, as per the traditions of the BJP Nishnak also could not complete his tenure and was removed just four months before the third assembly elections which were held in January 2012. Ironically Nishank who was facing allegation of financial irregularities in the organization of the Kumbh Mela was replaced once again with Khanduri, who was inducted to not only lead the party but also to give across the message that BJP was against all kind of corruption. Unfortunately the 2012 assembly election of Uttarakhand saw the most regrettable and unprecedented political practices as the Congress and BJP almost stood at the same juncture, the Congress with 32 seats and BJP with 31 seats. With no party in the condition of forming the government without the support of the independents and BSP, the political game not only became very nasty but also interesting. The Congress being the largest single party was invited to form the government but to find a consensuses leader in the Congress party became a herculean task.

However, the imposition of the Member of Parliament, Vijay Bahuguna, from Tehri Lok Sabha constituency by the Congress high command dramatised the situation as it was not liked by the Harish Rawat faction who claimed to have a support of a large number of MLAs from Kumaun division. This created a kind of rift among the two leaders which suspended the formation of the government for several days. The deadlock which indicated towards the open fishers in the Congress party was resolved by the Congress high command with great manipulations, difficulties and assuring the Harish Rawat faction of cabinet births and other important portfolios in the Uttarakhand government. The Congress had also to lure the independents, who once belonged to the Congress and were denied tickets during the assembly election 2012 by offering ministries. Finally a government was formed in the state with a chief minister who had to look towards the high command for every small or big decision and to Harish Rawat faction for its survival as well as to navigate its course of action through various pressures. As the claim of Harish Rawat was defied by the Congress High command for the second time therefore to appease him and allow the Bahuguna government to work, Harish Rawat was promoted and made a cabinet minister in the centre in the cabinet reshuffle of October 28, 2012, but despite these changes the Bahuguna government's journey in the state is still full of thorns.

The shaky government of Vijay Bahuguna had to show immense survival skills to undo the pressures and also to adopt subtle strategies to get elected from an assembly seat without decreasing the number of seats in the assembly. In this context the strategy adopted by Vijay Bahuguna for capturing the Sitarganj assembly seat from the BJP and also to increasing the tally of seats of Congress from 32 to 33 indicated the intense manipulative political games played by the Congress party. The ways and methods which were employed by the Congress to lure the sitting BJP MLA Kiran Mandal from Sitarganj assembly seat to vacate it for providing a walk over to the Chief Minister stunned the people as well as the BJP. This phenomenon not only pointed towards the new dawn in the politics of the state but also added a new political phrase "poaching of candidates" in the political dictionary of the state. The power games also saw BJP stalwarts like Matabar Singh Kandari leaving the BJP to join the Congress party. But soon after capturing the Sitarganj seat and increasing the tally of seats from 32 to 33 the Congress had to encounter the loss of the Tehri Parliamentary seat in the by poll. Though, the election result of the Tehri parliamentary constituency of Uttarakhand may not be very significant from the perspective of national politics but it amply indicated the mood of the voters of the state. The result of this election was unprecedented because it took both the BJP and Congress by surprise.

The BJP was amazed as firstly it did not expect to win and secondly by a margin of 22, 694 votes. On the other hand the Congress party and its Chief Minister not in their wildest dreams imagined that the seat which was vacated by the Chief Minister himself would slip away from its grip and a novice like Mala Rajlakshmi Shah of the BJP would win this seat. Braving the annoyance and opposition of senior leaders of the Congress of Uttarakhand, the Chief Minister though, on account of his reach was able to convince the Congress high command about the suitability of his son Saket Bahuguna whom he had planned to launch in to national politics from this seat, but, unfortunately, Bahuguna's assessment about the victory of his son proved to be totally wrong. Bahuguna had thought that like he won the Sitarganj assembly seat his son, whose candidature was a much bigger surprise to the people, would also win the Tehri Lok Sabha seat but his overestimation about the surety of winning election proved erroneous. He or the Congress party could not assess the anger of the people about the non seriousness of the government towards meeting the people's needs during the major natural calamities in Uttarkashi district, non delivery of promises and political manipulations to seek the stability of the Congress government. The voter turnaround of just 43 percent also made it clear that it was not a vote for the BJP but against Congress and particularly the policies and actions of the Congress led UPA government at the center.

The fractured mandates in the state on the one hand has enhanced the political instability, pressure politics, introduced dishonest and manipulative practices and on the other has also ensured the politics of the state to always remain in agitational mode. The non-resolution of the contentious issues like the identification and establishment of the permanent capital of the state, development of infrastructure and removing the remoteness of the hill areas are some of the issues which has affected the process of political change, and also ensured the culture of people’s movements in the state to remain intact and unhindered. The people also seem to have realized the importance of continuous movements, Dharana and Pradarshans to make their demands known and action by the political leadership therefore, Uttarakhand has also largely become a state of movements. More over the dillydallying attitude of the political leadership towards the resolution of the problems has generated a kind of disrespect and anger among the people towards all the political parties in the state which also reflects in the fractured mandates.

Issue of Permanent Capital: A Tale of Disappointment and Neglect of Hill Areas

People of Uttarakhand are also dejected about the fact that even after 12 years the political leadership could not decide the issue of permanent capital of the state. During the statehood movement there was a consensus among all the groups that the capital of Uttarakhand would be in the hill areas and Gairsian, a historical, but non-descript, small, but panoramic town in the deep hills, located at an equidistance from the two divisions of Uttarakhand: Garhwal and Kumaun, was favored as most suitable for establishing Uttarakhand's capital. Most of the activities of the statehood agitators and activists centered around Gairsain as the people from both the divisions found it convenient to assemble at Gairsian and spread the Uttarakhand movement far and wide. The people also hoped to see Gairsian as the capital of their dream state because of the flat land available around the area for infrastructure development as in the hill areas the biggest problem is to find a flat land in large quantity for construction or other facilities. During the British period Gairsian was developed as a tea plantation area due to its climatic conditions and a good quality tea was produced in Gairsian.

It was also put under the category of free sample state by the British to encourage the tea plantation and earn profit. However this could neither remove the remoteness of the area nor brought any economic changes in the lives of the people to stop the migration from the hill areas to plain areas for livelihood. Though, tea is still cultivated in Gairsain by the state tea board but the tea produced in Gairsian is still not available in the local markets for the local people which points out towards the lacuna in the management and distribution of resources even after the creation of Uttarakhand. Gairsian has always been in news in Uttarakhand not because it is bestowed with immense natural beauty but because of the people's sentiments about it for establishing the permanent capital of Uttarakhand. The political parties like Uttrarakhand Kranti Dal (UKD) which was formed with the sole aim of working for the development of the hill areas of Uttarakhand has always advocated Gairsain as the capital of Uttarakhand. Its election manifesto always claims to make Gairsain Uttarakhand's permanent capital on coming to power. However, unfortunately, the UKD, despite being the share holder of power in the BJP government of the state as well in the present Congress government so far could not do much to realize the aim of making Gairsain Uttarakhand's capital. Besides the political opportunism and fractions within the UKD, the issue of Uttarakhand's capital is also one of the reasons of UKD's declining appeal and popularity in the state and considering it an opportunistic and less serious party.

During the initial stage of the Uttarakhand movement, the Kaushik committee, constituted in 1994 by the then Mulayam Singh government of Uttar Pradesh, to calm down the agitators as well as to assess the viability of Uttarakhand as a separate hill state not only recommended the establishment of Uttarakhand as a state but also making Gairsian its capital. But when Uttarakhand was created Dehradun was preferred as the transitional capital because Gairsain was not only less accessible but also lacked infrastructural facilities. This shattered the dreams of the people and they started feeling cheated. As majority of the people believed that Uttarakhand being a hill state its capital should be in the deep hills for its holistic development therefore, they could not reconcile with the idea of the state's capital in Dehradun and have been voicing their anger from time to time. A number of Dharanas and Pradarshans were observed at Gairsian to give the message to the governments that the fire of Gairsian was alive and people would not satisfy unless it is made the capital.

Unfortunately, the one transitional and two elected governments of Uttarkhand did not do anything to address the issue except to appointing the Dixit commission which also lingered the issue of the capital. The Dixit commission, which gave its report after 08 years of its constitution in January 2001, considering the parameters of centralization of population, appropriate land availability, less vulnerability to landslides and earthquakes, less possibility of deforestation and pressure on agricultural land, accessibility, connectivity security from international border, proximity to national capital and scope for expanding public facilities favored Dehradun as a permanent capital and concluded that Gairsian was not very suitable for the capital because of poor connectivity, distance from the national capital, insufficient land and water resources for future development, steep slopes, proneness to landslides and earthquakes, hostile etc. With the result despite being most favorite place for Uttarakhand's capital, Gairsian, happens to be one of the least developed areas of the Chamoli district and Dehradun once known as a paradise of the retired people is dying under the weight of the unexpected influx of the people, offices, institutions and most importantly the capital. This has ruined both the areas, Gairsian due to its underdevelopment and Dehradun due to undesirable and unplanned development as a result, while, no one wants to visit Gairsian even in dreams, on the other hand, no one wants to shift from Dehradun for any reason.

The preference for Dehradun among all sections of the people for permanent settlement due to its facilities, climate and good schools has completely changed the social, economic, cultural and political geography of Dehradun. This has also given birth to a kind of divide between the people of hill and plain areas of Uttarakhand and also a tendency to look down upon the people who live in the hill areas which is reflected in the local folk songs also like pauri pauri kya cha mee to Dehradun wala chuain (what is this Pauri Pahari I am not from the hills but I am from Dehradun). It is unfortunate that Dehradun being part of Uttarakhand since long is being seen as a separate entity and with such mind set it is actually turning into a most hostile and unlivable town from once being a most liveable and friendly town.

The BJP government of the state like the Congress Government also dithered on the issue of the capital and made no attempts towards establishing the permanent capital of Uttarakhand in hills. Therefore in view of the dissatisfaction of the people of the hill areas about the issue of capital the holding of a half day cabinet meeting at Gairsain on November 3 , 2012 by the present Congress led government of Uttarakhand could be considered a welcome move because at least through this meeting the bureaucrats and other officials got an opportunity to have an aerial view of the place and hill areas. Though, due to the lack of facilities all the important participants returned back to Dehradun the same day but the declaration of the construction of the Vidhan Sabha building at the cost of Rs. 25 crore and laying of the foundation stone on the auspicious day of Makar Sankranti on January 14, 2013 certainly elated the people who saw this step as something instead of nothing.

The suggestion of declaring Gairsain the summer capital of Uttarakhand is also doing rounds in the political circles. If taken seriously these attempts are likely to boost the development of these remote and inaccessible areas a fact, which is not hidden from the political leadership also as most of the leaders hail from these remote areas. While holding the cabinet meeting the chief minister Vijay Bahuguna also informed the people the tourist attraction of the area would increase by the construction of the Vidhan Sabha which would be an architectural marvel but can the construction of a Vidhan Sabha building or the facilities for holding a brief session of the assembly be a barometer of development of the hill areas? The long wait for infrastructure development has actually frustrated the people therefore they do not see it as a courageous step. For them there is nothing which could be treated as a bold step because in people's view such rhetoric makes the hill areas untouchable and the people inhuman as they are forced to live in the intimidating conditions.

Actually in a large section of the society it is also being felt that it is shameful to loud the Congress government for its courage as Uttarakhand being a hill state can achieve the goal of development only when all the hill areas are developed equally and not regarded as untouchable. In view of this the move of the Congress government of holding the half day cabinet meeting in Gairsain is also being seen in some quarters as settling of the scores with the BJP or adding the brownie points against the BJP or election gimmick to woo the voters of the hill areas for the Lok Sabha elections 2014. In some sections it is also being considered as a move to pacify the internal dissent within the Congress party in the state. This also allows one ask is the issue of capital only political meant to score points with the opposition and not for people or hill area's development? In view of this even after the twelve years of the creation of Uttarakhand the happiness which is being expressed on the holding of meeting at Gairsain with such fanfare and considering it a trump card only shows the bankruptcy of ideas. But people are also not to be blamed for this display of happiness because despite the consensus for Gairsian as a capital the BJP and Congress did not take any initiatives to go back to the hill areas and make concrete plans for their holistic development therefore the display of happiness about this small step could be justified in a politically immature state.

Dr (Mrs) Annpurna Nautiyal, a Fulbright Scholar is a Professor of Political Science, HNB Garhwal University, Srinagar, Garhwal, Uttarakahnd-246174.