When Delhi papers label the demand for Uttarakhand secessionist, racist and rejectionist, they ignore the economic and cultural factors behind the agitation. Meanwhile, because the hill people lack coherent ideology and organisation, their righteous anger and energies are being squandered.
The eight hill districts of Uttar Pradesh state that make up Kumaon and Garhwal have always made news quite dispro¬portionate to their size and population. More than elsewhere in South Asian hill or plain, Garhwalis and Kumaon is have been fighters for social justice— whether combatting turn-of-century feudals to emancipate forced labour, daring the British in pre-Independence times, or fighting government and big business through the Chipko movement.
Today, the hill people are once again generating news. Their battle with authority is approaching a derisive juncture. After a period of relative quiet in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the Chipko and anti-alcohol movements had lost their steam, the hills are once again alive with slogans and mass action. The population demands Uttara-khand, not just a collective name for Kumaon and Garhwal, but a new state of the Indian Union to be wrested from Uttar Pradesh. The six million yahadis of Uttarakhand want the centuries of domination by “outsiders” and “plains people” to end.
While an undercurrent for separate statehood has always been part of the earlier agitations, it was only in the middle of 1994 that the final fuse was lit. Instead of fighting village overlords, the British, the timber mafia or the hooch merchants, the hill people are this time challenging the reluctant power elites of the Indian mainland to redraw the map and give them a state.
In March 1994, the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav dedded to implement the Mandal Commission recommendation of reserving 27 per cent jobs in government and places in schools and colleges for socially and economically backward castes and classes. On an Uttar Pradesh-wide scale, this recommendation was hardly a problem. The gigantic state, largest in India and with a population of nearly 140 million, has long been ripe for social transformation with its rampant and mass-scale discrimination against less privileged castes and classes.
The hill people, however, felt that they were being bulldozed into a scheme designed with plains society in mind. Those who would be eligible for affirmative action under the Mandal recommen-dations make up no more than two percent of the population of Kumaon and Garhwal. It would be travesty to guarantee 27 percent reservation for that two percent, however backward they might be. Meanwhile, the remaining 25 percent jobs and education quotas would be filled by backward classes from the plains, leading to massive cultural intrusion, said the angry activists.
Mulayam Singh´s order has drawn sustained and violent opposition. Faced with intransi¬gence in Lucknow´s power corri-dors and ambivalence in New Delhi, the an fi-reservation stir was quick to convert itself into a full-fledged demand for statehood.
It was not that Uttar Pradesh´s Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav was against a separate state of Uttarakhand. Soon after he took office in January 1994, he set up not one but two committees to look into the proposal, one headed by a minister and another by a party secretary. Both recommended that nine districts, eight in the Uttara-khand hills and the Kumbh area of Hardwar, be spun off as a separate state. The village of Gairsain, located astride the Kumaon-Garhwal border, was reco¬mmended as the future state´s capital.
Back in 1991, Mulayam Singh´s arch-enemy, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), had also declared its intention to create a separate hill state, which it christened Uttaranchal. But the BJP´s two-line resolution-was left collecting dust till the U.P. Assembly was dissolved in 1993. Mulayam Singh, on the other hand, sent his Assembly resolution to Delhi and put the ball in the court of the central government.
With his Samajwadi Party´s support base mainly among the socially and educationally “backwards” of the plains, Mulayam Singh could afford to give up cantankerous Uttarakhand. Only one of the 19 members of the state assembly from the hills belongs to Samajwadi, whereas the BJP has ten and the Congress six. By allowing an Uttarakhand state, Mulayam Singh would not only look magnanimous, in the process he would be diluting BJP and Congress representation in the U.P. State Assembly in Lucknow.
Come July, the equation changed. Lucknow decided to implement the Mandal reco¬mmendation across the state, to which the hill people cried foul. Mulayam Singh´s government, which survives on the sufferance of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) with whom it also vies for votes of the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and the “other backwards classes” (OBC) in the plains, could no longer afford magnanimity. And there was no faulting Mulayam Singh´s logic. How could he enforce two reservation policies in one state? Until the Centre decided to grant statehood to Uttarakhand, Kumaon and Garhwal were still part of U.P., and would have to accept reservation.
Separateness and Identity
Uttarakhand´s separateness has its origins in geography, and over the course of history the hill economy and culture diverged significantly from that of the flatlands. The British recognised the situation when their suzerainty extended to the region. The authorities of the Raj treated Uttarakhand separately even though it came under the United Provinces, the rest of which was all plains. The hill districts were exempted from numerous rules and regulations which applied to the plains.
These distinctions were maintained after Independence. Even today, the forest policies here differ from those for the other 56 districts of U.P., and law and order is largely maintained by the Patzvari or Revenue Police. Even though part of U.P., the hill districts receive IRs 400 crore annually from the Centre over and above what is provided in the state budget. An Additional Secretary sits in the Uttarakhand Vikas Bibhag, the development ministry for the hills in Lucknow.
The Indian State´s cognisance of Uttarakhand´s distinct identity is also a result of more than five decades of stridency by Kumaonis and Garhwalis. As early as 1938 Jawaharlal Nehru conceded at a Congress Party meeting in Srinagar (Garhwal) that the hill people had a right to decide what they wanted for themselves. In 1946, the Kumaoni Govind Ballav Pant, then Premier of United Provinces, had to argue hard against a hill state, maintaining that the entity would beeconomicallyunfeasible.Inl952, during the final round of re¬structuring of the Union after the British departed, the undivided Communist Party of India put forward a demand for a hill state. It was rejected by the States Reorgani¬sation Commission, which clubbed the hills with the adjoining plains as part of Uttar Pradesh.
However, the statehood demand was never forgotten. While the hill activists engaged themselves in other pressing causes, they occasionally descended to the plains to remind the Indian mainland that the desire for statehood had not died. Over the decades, the Boat Club grounds in New Delhi, India´s national soap box venue, saw sporadic mass meetings to demand for a separate Uttarakhand.
In July 1979, Uttarakhand Kranti Dal, a regional party which has a lone member in the present Uttar Pradesh Assembly, was formed with the specific agenda of achieving statehood. In 1987, a demonstration at the Boat Club sent off a memorandum to the Prime Minister demanding Uttarakhand.
Even after 47 years of independence, the socio-economic conditions in the hills have not changed significantly. Kumaon and Garhwal are still part of the “money order economy”, running on remittances sent by men folk in army and police and in menial positions all over the Ganga maidan. Lotteries have penetrated the hills; alcohol bhattis have begun to outnumber tea stalls as the alcohol ban has been lifted; forest mafia openly smuggle timber out of the hill forests; the income from tourism goes to plains interests and Bombay´s rich receive subsidised land to open hotels and resorts. There is more ease of travel as a result of the highways built in the 1960s to confront possible Chinese aggression, but the roads also bring pilgrims and tourists by the mil lion, and with them the associated conspicuous consumption, price rises, and siphoning of income to the plains businesses.
The peasantry has been largely neglected amidst the massive economic exploitation of the hills. The fact that Uttarakhand has sent numerous politicians to dance on the national stage in New Delhi via Uttar Pradesh— including three Chief Ministers—-meant little as far as economic development and political decisions on behalf of Uttarakhand were concerned. The very scions of Uttarakhand, once they were in Delhi or Lucknow, became reluctant to push for statehood because this meant losing their Uttar Pradesh-wide clout which afforded them national prominence. A political platform restricted to Uttarakhand paled in comparison.
Circle of Violence
The Chipko movement provided a safety valve to release the bottled-up frustrations of the hill folking the 1970s and early 1980s. By the early 1990s, the pressure was once again up, with the hill population im¬pelled by real and perceived slights of the New Delhi and Lucknow power-brokers.
According to Samsher Singh Bist of the Uttarakhand Sangharsha Vahini, a non-political activist group, the reservation issue only acted as a catalyst for frustrations that had accumulated over the years. He says these had to do with, among others, the lifting in March of the alcohol ban which activists had worked so hard for; the overwhelming of hill society by accelerating tourism; and the Tehri Dam, being pushed on the hills by, the central and state authorities.
Village after village was depopulated of its pahadi men folk migrating down to find work, leaving behind only women, children and the elderly.
Says Bist, “There are so many other causes of our disenchantment. The people have now convinced themselves that the many problems of Uttarakhand will be solved only when we get a state of our own.”
On 16 July, students met in the town of Pauriin Garhwal to discuss the Mandal recommendations and a government proposal to redraw village boundaries. The protests began two days later, when stu¬dents gathered to collect college admission forms in Pithoragarh. By the end of July, Kumaon and Garhwal had seen numerous strikes, processions, and chakkafams which brought highway traffic to halt. On 8 August, police arrested Uttara¬khand Kranti Dal leaders who were on hunger strike. In the stone pelting and lathi charge that followed, a fire brigade worker was killed.
The hills, already agitated, became positively violent when on 17 August the Chief Minister saw fit to make an pahad virodhi (anti-hill) statement. He told reporters in Lucknow that the anti- reservationists must understand that his government was not elected to office by the people of the hills. What would happen to the hills if the plains decided to start an agitation in response? “My one signal can bring the people out to the streets,” said Mulayam Singh. There would be no compromise on reservation.
Rallies and strikes became the order of the day; ´relay´ hunger strikes were observed in makeshift huts all over the region. Struggle committees mushroomed to fight arakshan (reservation). Government vehicles were stoned or set on fire, schools and colleges shut down, and thousands of pilgrims stranded as the roads were blocked. Civil servants, post offices and banks joined the protests, and all of Uttara-khand stood still on 23 August in a bandh of historic proportions.
With Mulayam Singh´s one statement, the alienation of the hills became complete. On 31 August, believing that things were getting out of his control, Mulayam Singh invited student leaders with Samajwadi allegiances to Lucknow for talks. Even as the Chief Minister was briefing the media about an agreement to halt the agitation, the demonstrations in Kumaon and Garhwal became more violent.
1 September, 10,000 demonstrators came out on a procession at Khatima in Nainital District. Four were killed in police firing which a fact-finding mission of the Nainital Bar Association said lasted an hour and a half. The very next day, there were seven deaths in the tourist town of Mussoorie, including the lynching of a police officer by the mass.
A month after the Mussoorie massacre, on (Gandhiji) Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi´s birthday, thousands of activists from Uttarakhand piled into some 300 buses and headed for a rally in Delhi. The plan was to gherao (encircle) the Parliament building and make a demand that would be heard all over the country.
Buses from Kumaon reached Delhi safely, but those from Garhwal taking the Roorkie-Muzaf famagar route were stopped on the way. It is not clear whether the by-now notorious police action was ordered by New Delhi or Lucknow, but the pre-dawn hours of 2 October were a nightmare for the Garhwali activists, most of them still asleep in their seats.
“Hell broke lose at 5.30 am,” wrote one reporter who was present. The police, members of the infamous Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC), chased the Garhwalis towards sugarcane fields, using tear gas and batons, shooting randomly and molesting women. A kilometer long stretch of the road was said to be splattered with blood and broken glass.
The official toll for Muzaffar-nagar is four killed. According to Nainital Samachar a credible information source, it is nine for Muzaffarnagar, seven in Mussoorie, and four for Khatima. By mid-November, more than 30 people had died in the four months of agitation.
Politics of Information
It is difficult for the observer, whether from the hills or elsewhere, to figure out exactly what happened in Muzaffarnagar, Khatima or Mussoorie. While the papers carried exaggerated or contradictory reports, for the activists mis-reporting was okay if it made the agitation look strong. Any weak¬ness revealed to the press, any excessive claim that was exposed, they felt, would only affect the momentum. They were not averse to peddling propaganda, whereas reliable information was what both the hill public and the larger Indian population required.
Without reliable information sources, feeling completely aban¬doned by the rest of the country, and manipulated by opportunistic leaders, Uttarakhand has become a hotbed of rumours. Events are magnified and multiplied, a lathi-charge can become a massacre by the time news reaches the other side of the hill.
In conversation, Uttarakhand intellectuals—so isolated and frustrated do they feel-—often seem to have lost their sense of proportion. Take the Muzaffarnagar carnage, for example. DevanandaNautiyal,a Dehradun advocate, who was in one of the buses stopped by the PAC, says, “The police had their trucks ready to take away the dead. I don´t know where the bodies were taken, but I counted more than four hundred.” Another lawyer, sitting across from him in the Dehradun kacheri, interrupts the conversation, “No, no! It wasn´t four hundred,it was sixty-five.”Did this second gentleman see any one being killed, this writer asked. “No,” he replied, “but I am sure it was not less than thirty.”
A journalist from Pauri said he had to climb a tree to save himself from the police. He claims to have had a good view of the cane fields and believes that hundreds of women were raped that night in Muzaffarnagar. Abadh Bihari Pant, a lawyer from Dehradun, believes there were deaths that day not only in Muzaffarnagar but also in Delhi. He said in early November, “Thousands have still not reached home.”Virendra Paineuly of the Bhubhaneshwori Mahila Ashram in Anjanisain, a recognised non-government organisation of Garhwal, says he does not understand why people are inflating death figures. “One life is as important as ten. A revolution is something that has a leader, a philosophy and a method. This is anger, nothing else. This is an agitation run by corrupt people.”
And indeed there have been reports of corruption. Some names linked to lotteries and to the alcohol and forest mafia groups are said to be associated with the agitation. All over Uttarakhand in September, buses were stopped by activists asking for donations; they gave no receipts. Says Samsher Singh Bist of the Uttarakhand Sangharsha Vahini, “It is true that all kinds of people are involved. It is the responsibility of those who lead the agitation to make sure that the bad elements are weeded out.”
Vacuum on Top
While those who are corrupt certainly would not form a significant proportion of the agitation leadership, the lack of astute leadership and wise counsel has been a critical factor in Uttarakhand´s frustrated efforts to make itself heard and understood by India´spowerful. Thisleadership vacuum results in crossed connections between Kumaonand Garhwal activists, inability to use a sympathetic media, bad public relations all around, and rumour-mongering which debilitates the movement and wastes righteous anger.
The rallyists who were not waylaid in Muzaffarnagar and reached Delhi were witness to this major weakness in the agitation. As the demonstrators gathered at the Red Fort grounds to hear the orations, different groups tried to take over the podium, snatching microphones from each other. Everyone wanted to be a leader, and in the fracas someone gave a call to march on Parliament. The entire effort of coming down from Uttarakhand to make a point was squandered in the ensuing chaosas police lathi charged and the crowd scattered.
A month earlier in Pauri, 35,000 people had gathered in an unprecedented demonstration which brought together busloads from the far corners of Kumaon and Garhwal. When the political party workers tried to capture the microphone, some of the student organisers resisted, and the mike broke. By the time another could be arranged, the publichad dispersed.
Both in Pauri and Delhi, the public´s participation was spon-taneous but chaotic, with no channeling force to give it shape and direction. Every village in Uttarakhand echoed with energy and slogans; every segment of the hill society—women, children, ex-servicemen, students, school teachers, college professors, journalists, lawyers, and busi-nessmen—was involved. A call for a rally, and within minutes thousands would be out on the streets, blocking traffic, gheraoing district officials, and burning effigies. “Mulayam, Uttarakhand is not your fiefdom. It is ours!” they shouted, but to little effect.
The hill people had convinced themselves that a separate state would solve all their problems. Not waiting for anyone, least of all a leader, they went all out for Uttarakhand. But the very egali-tarian nature of the movement, led as it was by spontaneous outbursts all over, meant that much of the popular energy dissipated into the mountain air. There was no coordination´ between the people of Kumaon and Garhwal, and little between the individual eight districts.
Conversations with journalists, advocates and university professors, the three pillars of Uttarakhand intelligentsia, tend to consist of unidirectional tirades against Mulayam Singh, Nara-simha Rao, BSFs firebrand leader Mayawati, the Congress, the BJP, the UKD, and pretenders known and unknown.
Some of the activists thought that this lack of overall leadership was not a problem. “It is a revo-lution, and no leader is necessary for a revolution,” said Abadh Bihari Pant, an advocate in Dehradurt. Atul Saklani,a historian at Garhwal University in Srinagar believes that Indian history has few examples of Uttarakhand´s kind of uprising. “No leadership is necessary,” he says. Asked who would go to Delhi to talk to Government, he replies, “What is there to talk about? We just want Urtarakhand.”
The public did not trust the political parties, neither the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal nor the national-level BJP and Congress. Tired of opportunism and insince-rity of the party hacks, the agitators banned politicians from parti-cipating in demonstrations and meetings if they used party banners and slogans. Thus, while the party stalwarts might have been making grandiloquent speeches in Lucknow or issuing press state-ments in Delhi, in the hills they were rejects. Many local politicians routinely and resignedly took to being garlanded with shoes, or having their faces blackened with soot paste.
The professional politician, of whichever party, had lost all trust of the populace. Rather than bring focus to the agitation and act as mediator between the Establish-ment and the hill public, the politicians fought each other for credit of the movement. On the ground, the battle for leadership was between the BJP and the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal, the regional party.
The Congress (I) party, mean-while, has foundered in Uttara-khand. The cadres are torn between the people and the party, with a national leadership that is firmly opposed to statehood. Narain Dutt Tiwari, boss of the Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee and a man with prime ministerial ambitions, did try to use the Uttarakhand agitation to get rid of Mulayam Singh´s government. He got nowhere because a wary Rao did what he does best, which is to wait out a crisis. Besides serving to clip Tiwari´s wings, the continued survival of Mulayam Singh was expected to help the party´s prospects in state assembly elections in faraway Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, where opponents could have made the most of a Congress-engineered downfall of a “pro-backward” government in U.P.
The Chief Minister, mean-while, reaped full advantage of tarring the hill agitation ´casteist’and sponsored by the hindutwa stalwarts of the BJP, Rather than let on that he understood the socio-economic reasons why the pahadis were distressed, it was more worthwhile politically for Mulayam Singh to label the hill activists anti-backward and anti-dalit. What he lost in the hills, he gained many times over in the plains.
A Casteist Movement?
Bol pahari holla bol, Mayawatika kachha khol!
Was the movement in the hill anti-backwards and by that token, racist? If catchy slogans represent movements, then the slogans and rallying cries that could be heard in Uttarakhand might well indicate that the movement is primarily directed by the upper castes against the lower castes. Crude and sexist sloganeering against BSP leader Mayawati, for example, or perusal of the Delhi and Lucknow head-lines, leaves one with the impression that hill Brahmins and Thakuris are on the warpath against dalits and harijans, using the statehood demand as a cover. There are many in the hills, too, who believe that this is so (see box on page 16).
While some of the slogans and the reaction of the dalit leaders and outside observers to the movement does paint it as casteist, a more objective assessment indicates that the anti-lower-caste vocalisation is primarily an extreme reaction to the perception that the hill population is being experimented upon in a problem that is entirely plains-based. After all, why should Uttarakhand bear Uttar Pradesh´s burden?
If the backwards make up only two percent of the total hill population, as is accepted, it is unlikely that activists would go to such lengths to get a state mainly to suppress the backwards. Besides, while the hill Brahmins can certainly beas conservative as the plains Brahmin, the history of agitations of past decades does not show any great predilection towards racism.
Though the hill high castes might not be any less racist than those of the plain, the present Uttarakhand agitation seems to be neutral on the point. R. R. Tamta, a pahadi back-ward´ working with the Akhil Bharatiya Balmiki Vikas Parishad in Srinagar (Garhwal), does not buy the only hill Brahmins and Chhetri societies are involved in the agitations” argument. He says, “All of Uttarakandi society is involved. This is a battle of the hill scheduled castes as well.” Tamta believes that only by involving themselves in the agitation can the scheduled castes ensure that existing discriminations in employment and educational institutions be removed.
Reservations to Statehood
Because the intelligentsia, the politicians and the leaders of the erstwhile Chipko were either unable or unwilling to provide direction to the people, their place was taken by the sangharsha samitis—”struggle committees” of women, students, teachers and government employees. Profess¬ionals who had never engaged in politics before got involved. Says Kranti Bhatt, a journalist in Gopeshwor, “If people like us do notparticipatein theagitation, then the villagers and the women who have joined in such numbers will be cheated, just as they were in the Chipko movement.”
This involvement of non-political activists was good enough to maintain fervour at the local level, and no one would argue about the egalitarian nature of the overall stir. Nevertheless, the lack of a central coordination could be seen to be acute. In the absence of overall direction, therefore, the population became increasingly angry and confused. The anti-reservation stir was hot but going nowhere, Mulayam Singh was not interested in compromise, and the Centre was just not interested.
Non-party activists and reporters like Mahipal Singh Negi, a correspondent for Amar Ujala in Tehri, decided to take matters into their own hands. The next step, almost naturally, was to move from anti-reservation to pro-statehood demands. After ail, the people would be able to decide on affirmative action quotas more in keeping with the demographic reality of the hills after they had their own state and government.
In mid-September, unplanned and unannounced, the anti-reservation stir converted itself into a full-fledged demand for statehood. After all, as Bhairab Dutta Pande, onetime Governor of Panjab and West Bengal, said, “Reservation and separate state are two sides of one coin.”
As the hill population agitated for its identity and to separate its destiny from that of the plains, the Indian public read only what the mainstream papers of the plains saw fit to report. These papers, in turn, chose mostly to print what their Delhi- and Lucknow-based reporters gleaned in quick dashes to the hills. The very weaknesses that were evident in the plains-based reporting of the Chipko movement (see “Axing Chipko”, Himal Jan/Febl994) were once again evident in the coverage of the statehood demand.
That the movement´s roots were mainly economic and cultural with a history that went back more than five decades, was so much wheat chaff for the reporter with a deadline to meet, It was more satisfying to report on rapes, violence, and the supposed prowess of over 50,000 ex-servicemen of the hills who might be aroused any moment to pick up the gun and take matter into their own hands.
The coverage of the Muzaffar-nagar affair is a case in point. All of October, the newspapers were more interested in rape count than on what the women from Gopeshwar in high Garhwal hoped to achieve in Delhi. Three women were violated, and that was bad enough, but to make a good story the reporters had to have more rapes. In mid-October, The Nabaharat Times sent a three-member all-male team to the hills with the assignment to cover rape. In conversation with a local journalist, one said, “Yaar, masala nahi mila, eek bhi ladki nahi mili” (Didn´t get a story yaar, couldn´t find a single woman.) Sushila Barthawal, an activist who was on the first bus emptied at Muzaffarnagar, recalls being hassled by reporters with whispered questions, “aao ke saath bhi huwa?” (Did it happen to you as well?)
The Times of India headlined a story, “Rape Becomes Fodder for Uttarakhandi Agitators”. Actually, rape was fodder for the journalist as well.
While the reporters did full justice to rape, the violence and the protest marches, the editorial columns were enigmatically silent on what mattered most: the question of statehood and whether it should be granted.
The national English language newspapers, more than the regional vernacular ones, took the high road of reporting in order to look down upon Uttarakhand. The Times of India, Indian Express, Hindustan Times, and even the new entrant Asian Age, seemed incapable of recognising the movement as one that was primarily economic and cultural in character. The headlines said it all in caricature: long after it was dear that the anti-reservation issue was but a catalyst for the much more widely-held belief in separate statehood, the English papers continued to term the agitation “anti-quota”, “anti-reservation” and “militant”.
Media people who ascended the hills to do event-based reporting had no time to delve into the complex issues of hill demography and economy. Never tarrying for long, they covered incidents as they unfolded, taking their cues from slogans and graffitti, and conveying the raw anger of the people and little else. Their was neither time nor sensitivity to see the disquiet in perspective.
Mostly Lucknow-based, and keen to remain ´politically correct´, the correspondents were incapable of seeing the stir in the context of hill sodety, that there are liberals and conservatives in the hills, and that both want statehood. In their refusal to acknowledge the hills as separate and deserving indi¬vidualised attention, the editors and reporters were reflecting the ostensibly liberal Indian metro-politan attitude towards caste issues and its fear of national breakup if states are to be granted to “whoever asks”. While these are fine attitudes to maintain in general, by failing to apply their avowedly liberal instincts to the case at hand, of Uttarakhand, the mainland inte¬llectuals simply exposed their self-interest.
The eagerness with which the plains scholar and reporter jumped to conclusions about the radal and secessionist nature of the movement seemed to have transferred to over¬seas observers a s well. An American anthropologist who has studied Garhwal, obviously relying on Delhi´s English language press, was critical of statehood which he feared would hold back reservation quotas from deserving backwards. The Delhi-based correspondent of a London paper, just back from the Mussoorie hills in mid-November, understood of the stir only as “that anti-reservation thing”.
What are the chances that the hill people will get what they want? But first, do they know what they want, and will they spawn a leadership with the ability to get it for them?
The demand for statehood is vehement, but it is not well-articulated. Nowhere in hill town-ships does one come across indi¬viduals who have been able to lead the population out of the wrathful cul de sac that they are presently mired in. The energies of hundreds of thousands are being expended, but without results. If this vacuum at the top continues for long, the people will give up the fight before long, at which point the problem will be resolved at the pleasure of Delhi and Lucknow politicians. They will throw a sop to the hills and that will be all, until the hills boil over once again a few years hence.
Uttarakhand requires the strategic vision of leaders who can negotiate with the power brokers at the national level, to argue against being given a hill council a.la Darjeeling, or Union Territory status, or some easy-to-forget promises of economic development. Uttara-khand´s activists need to study Sub has Ghi sing´s disenchantment with what he got as the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council, in which the state government in Calcutta keeps him on a tight leash. The Jharkhand Autonomous Council Accord in was signed in September to create a new entity in today´s Bihar, but some Jharkhand activists now feel that the accord is excessively restrictive in terms of the proposed Council´s access to budgets, fund transfer procedures, representation in Parliament, control over administration, and so on.
The people of Uttarakhand need a state of their own, to be able to make their own mistakes. And they should hold no illusions about the challenges that will come their way when the statehood is achieved. These challenges will arrive in the form of the Kumaon- Garhwal divide, which is bound to resurface once the plains enemy is dealt with loss of doubt at the Centre (which Uttarakhand have been able to wield by riding the Uttar Pradesh wagon to Delhi); the rise of autocratic leadership and home¬grown corruption; and the inefficiency of a weakened and more vulnerable bureaucracy.
The Uttarakhand strategists must learn from the mistakes made in Himachal and Sikkim—and also Nepal, Bhutan, Kashmir or the states of the Indian Northeast. They might study the escalating divide between the lower regions of Himachal and its subsidy-rich northern areas. They might also study how Sikkim has managed to consume enormous investments made by the Centre with little to show for it, and how kickback merchants arrived in Kathmandu as soon as large hydropower projects began—once there is a Uttarakhand state, the kickback merchants will migrate to Gairsain from Lucknow.
It is unfortunate that the Uttarakhand movement, perhaps by virtue of being so broadbased and relatively egalitarian, has not thrown up individuals who would be able to lead the masses towards statehood rather than martydom, for the fight will be long and hard. In the larger scheme of things, Uttarakhand is too small to be able to counter overriding interests and concerns of the U.P. state and the Centre.
Both Mulayam Singh and his successors will find it convenient to paint the hill people´s fight as one of the high caste against the low. They will not be inclined to compromise. Due to concerns that statehood will open the floodgates to numerous demands elsewhere in India, whoever is in power in New Delhi will be against the creation of Uttarakhand. They will try to offer piecemeal solutions instead, such as autonomous hill councils.
These complex issues of organising the present movement and planning future governance cannot be handled by an agitation, however spontaneous. Even as they demonstrated, those who would lead Uttarakhand ahead will have to dedde what kind of state it will be; how Kumaon and Garhwal can be integrated, which are presently united mainly in opposition to Lucknow and Delhi; what will be the state´s economic base and viability; what kind of hydro, mining and forest policies it will adopt; and how will the social fractures that has become evident among the castes and classes be dealt with.
Above all, Uttarakhand the region to become Uttarakhand the state needs groups and within them individuals who have the vision, ability and charisma to lead their people in negotiations with the Chief Minister and the Prime Minister who represent the rest of India.
Women to the Back, Please
Whileolder women march the streets in nari samman yatras, organised to honour women´s activism with slogans ´Ham Uttarakhandi nari hai fool nahi chingari hoi” (We women of Uttarakhand are firebrands, not fragile flowers), fewer young women are-participating in the rallies of Uttarakhand these days. The wide coverage of the violence and rape in Muzzaffarnagar, among other things,seems to have stripped the self-confidence of many, enough to worry some activists that issues of concern to-women will take a back seat in the movement for statehood.
Uma Bhatt, Editor of Uttara a Nainital magazine oil women´s issues, is concerned that despite their deep involvement in the ongoing agitation women will ultimately be deprived of leadership roles, “There,were many women activists in the independence movement .But they have all been forgotten. It was almost as if they ceased to exist after independence. If the same thing happens here in our Uttarakharid State, women´s voice will be weakened and they will be given the back seat once again ”
You Kumaoni, Me Garhwali
The need is for a common front against the plains, and so the ongoing Uttarakharid agitation has relegated existing divisions in the hills to the background. So much so that Kumaonis and Garhwalis have been willing to put aside their individual identities as Kumaoni or Garhwali. Maheshwar p. Joshi, Kumaon University´s History Department in Almora, was furious when a writer brought up the topic of Khaturua, a Kumaoni festival that celebrates a mythical victory over Garhwal.
“Khaturua has no historical base!” he bellowed. “There is no divide between Kumaon and Garhwal. This movement has proved that the divide is only in the minds of those who come and ask us, about Khaturua,”
But Khaturua continues- fo be celebrated on Ashwin Sankrantj, the first day of the month of Ashwin, with Kumaonis burning effigies said to be of a Garhwal general named Khatur Singh legend says was defeated that day.
By the very fact that there is a ´Garhwal´ and a ´Kumaon´, the two divisions of the Uttar Pradesh hills also have separate histories and distinct traditions and economies. The two divisions are also very different, Garhwal is the land ofthe revered Himalayan massifs suchas Nanda Devi, it holds the sources of the Ganga and jamurva, and the holy precincts of Kedarnath and Badrinath. What Kumaon lacksin physical grandeur and holy places, it makes up with its human resources. Kumaon´s population isbetier educated than Garhwal´s,more exposed to the outside world of government and commerce and is quicker to resppnd to opportunities as they present themselves.
Jagdish Bhatt, a Times of India correspondent in Shimla, a Gharwali feels that the Kumaon-Garhwal divide is too wide to be bridged permanently. Like a number of scholars, he is convinced that the under development of Garhwal is a result of neglect by Kumaoni politicians who made it big in Lucknow and Delhi, “Unless we, are careful, Uttarakhand will only mean a license for Kumaon to exploit Garhwal.”
“Talk of existing divides only take one deeper. There is, for example, Tehri Garbwal, ruled at orte time by a king, and Pauri Garhwal, which came under British control. Then there are the Sikh, Punjabi Khatri, Muslim, Bbksa and Bengali of the Uttarakhand Tarai who do not want to be part of the . proposed hill state. They want instead to be included´ as Rud fa pur district in Ruhelkhand, which is another autonomous province that has been proposed in the tarai.
Doubtless, it is possible with good planning, and proper administration to tackle the existing divides and ensure that Uttarakhand serves the greater good of all. As if to prepare for that day of unity, this year´s Khaturua was celebrated on 17 September with renewed vigour and with a difference. Effigies were burnt with greater enthusiasm than previously, but this time it was not the General Khatur Singh of legend who was buming but P.V. Narasimha Rao and Mulayam Singh Yaday.