The following article is the earliest and still the most comprehensive article on the Uttarakhand movement of 1994. It includes critical voices as well as some hard realities about how the movement emerged and how it was perceived at the time.
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.
by Manisha Aryal
Himal Nov/Dec 1994
The eight hill districts of Uttar Pradesh state that make up Kumaon and Garhwal have always made news quite disproportionate to their size and population. More than elsewhere in South Asian hill or plain, Garhwalis and Kumaonis 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 Uttarakhand, 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 pahadis 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 decided 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 recommendations 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 intransigence in Lucknow’s power corridors and ambivalence in New Delhi, the anti-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 Uttarakhand 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 recommended 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 recommendation 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.