Rajiv Lochan Sah
January 23, 2005
Gairsain is not an unfamiliar idea. It was widely accepted as the capital of Uttarakhand even before the demand for a separate hill state came into full swing in 1994. In fact, Gairsain is not a geographical entity alone, it is a complete philosophy of development to be achieved through the 73rd and 74th Amendments of our Constitution. If the present state of affairs is to be maintained forever, then it is all right to make Dehradun as the permanent capital of Uttaranchal. But if we want to tilt our priorities towards that distant person, who has been left far behind in the U.P. model of development, then we will have to make Gairsain our capital. Dehradun means that those who are already better off, will continue to reap the harvest of well being in this new state too. Gairsain means that the government is determined to go to the door of the poorest. Dehradun in no way represents a geography in which the people, though provided handsomely by mother nature, are forced to live in utter poverty.
It is as simple as that.
The irony is, that those who were never interested in a separate state, and in fact who opposed the very idea of Uttarakhand are ruling it since it came into being. Mr. Narayan Dutt Tewari had declared in 1994, ‘I will not allow Uttarakhand to take shape as long as I am alive.’ Today he heads this state. What a mockery of all those martyrs who sacrificed their lives to fulfil a dream of their people!
Even after Uttaranchal became a reality, Baba Mohan Uttarakhandi had to lay down his life for Gairsain after a fast, lasting 39 days. This tragic event took place on 9th August 2004. Then the activists of Uttarakhand Mahila Manch took over. They started a fast unto death, two at a time, from 2nd October, the tenth anniversary of the infamous Muzaffarnagar incident. During the fast when one woman’s condition deteriorated or she was forcibly removed and force-fed by Chamoli District Police and Administration, another would take her place. Women activists had to bear the cruel repression of the police, as they were often lathi charged while being forcibly removed. This sequence continued for 63 days. But no one from the Uttaranchal Government came to talk to the women. This was when the Congress Govt. in Andhra Pradesh was holding talks with the outlawed Naxalite outfits across the table. In Uttaranchal the Chief Minister did not consider the women activists, who sacrificed everything in the historic movement of 1994, fit to talk with. The Uttaranchal Chief Secretary remarked sarcastically, “Uttarakhand activists should not agitate for an impossible demand.” This same man, Dr. R.S.Tolia, as a secretary in undivided U.P., had finalised the Ramashankar Kaushik Cabinet Committee report in 1994, which, after prolonged deliberations, had declared Gairsain as the most suitable place for the capital of proposed Uttarakhand state.
This apathy forced the Uttarakhand activists to review their tactics. The Uttaranchal Government had no concern for their lives. The mainstream media would not write about them — as the propagators of the new consumer economy, they covertly supported the idea of keeping the capital in Dehradun. If media did not ridicule the emotions of Uttarakhand, it tried to ignore them. Moreover, Dehradun did suit the commercial interests bureaucrats and businessmen more than the ill fed and half naked villagers.
So, the best idea, the activists thought, would be to go straight to the people. It was the people who had made the impossible task possible and created this state. But now let down by the politicians, disillusioned and disorganised, they sought counsel. ‘Padyatra’ was the time tested method. Mahatma Gandhi had undertaken many Padyatras to know the Indian people better as the Dandi Yatra is a glorious page of our history. Even recently, Dr. Rajshekhar Reddy took a Padyatra to defeat the might of Chandra Babu Naidu in Andhra Pradesh.
Well, they are going to the people and will undertake as many Padyatras as possible, as decided by the Uttarakhand Samyukta Sangharsh Samiti. Led by Dr. Shamsher Singh Bisht, President of Uttarakhand Lok Vahini, Kamla Pant and Dr. Uma Bhatt of Uttarakhand Mahila Manch and veteran journalist Harish Chandola, the first Padyatra started on 5th December 2004 from Gairsain. Well known poet and cultural activist Girish Tewari ‘Girda’ and Editor of “PAHAR” Dr. Shekhar Pathak were there among others to see them off. Congress M.L.A. Pradeep Tamta accompanied the first Padyatris for a while. The last pair of hunger strikers, Chandrakala Chamoli and Padma Gupta were with these Padyatris in a jeep. On the way these two were forcibly taken away by the Police in Gholteer, near Karnaprayag and were put in a hospital. The youngest among the Padyatris was 11 years old Aditya Pande, who did not mind walking 15 to 20 Kms per day. Everywhere the Padyatris were accorded a warm welcome. The Padyatris sung songs, raised slogans, distributed their pamphlets titled ‘Gairsain ka matlab sabke chehre par muskan aaye’ (Gairsain means a smile on every face) and ‘Sirf bhavnayen hee nahin hain Gairsain aandolan ke peeche’ (There are not only emotions behind the Gairsain movement) and sold the Pahar booklet “Rajdhani Ka Prasna” (The question of the capital) on their way. They addressed quick meetings wherever they saw a few shops. Their boarding and lodging was taken care of by those who symphathised with their cause, they did not have to pay for it. Oh yes, they were presented with little purses whenever they requested the audience after a roadside meeting. With this money they were able to pay for the rent and fuel of the jeep following them, with a sound system and their luggage and literature.
Walking almost 200 Kms. through Jangalchatti, Adibadri, Simli, Karnaprayag, Rudraprayag, Srinagar, Kirtinagar, Maletha, Pachhmoli, Devprayag, Vyasi, Vashisht Gufa, Tapovan, Muni Ki Reti, Swargashram, Rishikesh, Raiwala, Bhaniawala and Doiwala, 16 tired but smiling Padyatris reached Jogiwala at the outskirts of Dehradun on the evening of 19th December. They included Dr. Shamsher Singh Bisht, Kamla Pant, Rajiv Lochan Sah, Jabbar Singh Powel, Mahesh Chandra Joshi, Pooran Chandra Tewari, Daya Krishna Kandpal, Manish Sundariyal, Dinesh Chandra Joshi, K.C.Joshi, Pushkar Singh Lodhiyal, Dan Singh Bisht, Soban Singh, Pushpa Chauhan, Neetu Badoni and Heera Bisht. Next day, on their final leg towards Vidhan Sabha Bhawan, they were joined by hundreds of local Samyukta Sangharsh Morcha activists. The police had put a big barricade to stop them at Rispana Bridge, but it could not hold the demonstrators for long. They broke loose and held a two hour long public meeting outside the Vidhan Sabha gate.
On 21st of December 2004 Uttarakhand Samyukta Sangharsh Morcha started a 5 day Upvaas on Rajpur Road, in front of the Rajya Sachivalay gate. There was a scuffle with the Police when they put up the tent there, but finally the Police backed down. Five persons, Kamla Pant, Rajiv Lochan Sah, Chandrakala Bisht, Satish Lakhera and Manish Sundariyal undertook the five day fast, while others accompanied them with 24 hours relay fasts. People in large numbers, from all sections of society came to the Upvaas Sthal to express their support. They listened to the activists, took their literature, became familiar with the concept of Gairsain and offered whatever money they could spare for this cause. One fact that was obvious during this Upvaas was that eighty percent of the residents of Dehradun are tired of the so called “Provisional Capital.” They have been deprived of their peaceful life. Dehradun has become a noisy and polluted town. Crime is on the increase. Only twenty percent of the populace is satisfied with the Capital’s present location. These are the people, who have successfully put themselves inside the scheme of things and are reaping the harvest of a new state in form of contracts and other businesses. During this Upvaas, the Uttarakhand Mahila Manch activists angered by some remarks of Justice Virendra Dixit, chairman of one man Rajdhani Sthal Chayan Ayog, published in Press, ‘gheraoed’ him and also stopped the Delhi bound Shatabdi Express for a while. Justice Dixit was unable to answer the demonstrators’ question that if he was honest in his intentions, then why did he not stop the State Government from spending lavishly in Dehradun and gave it an excuse for the future that after so much expenditure it would be unwise to remove the capital from there.
Meanwhile, Uttarakhand Kranti Dal also started a fast unto death in Dehradun Collectorate compound. The first hunger striker, Prithvi Chand Ramola, was forcibly removed and force-fed within two days. The others followed suit.
The first Padyatra was a morale boosting experience for the activists and within a fortnight Uttarakhand Samyukta Sangharsh Morcha started another one. They started from Gairsain on the 7th of January. This time the destination was Bageshwar, where they were to reach on the auspicious day of Makar Sankranti. Makar Sankranti is observed as the famous Uttarayani Fair in Bageshwar. This day has a political importance too. On the Uttarayani of 1921, the registers of Coolie Begar, i.e., forced labour were set afloat in the confluence of Saryu and Gomti by the Kumaon Parishad activists under the leadership of Pt. Badri Dutt Pande and hence a disgraceful custom was put to an end. Since that day, it has become customary, first for the Congress and after Independence for other political parties too, to hold their rallies in Bageshwar on every Uttarayani. It was an appropriate time for Uttarakhand activists to address the masses. So in a manner, similar to the previous Padyatra, the group of Uttarakhand Samyukta Sangharsh Morcha activists reached Bageshwar on the afternoon of 13th January 2004 via Panduwakhal, Chaukhutia, Dwarahaat, Binta, Someshwar, Kausani and Garur,. The group included Dr. Shamsher Singh Bisht, Kamla Pant, Rajiv Lochan Sah, Pushpa Chauhan, Mahesh Chandra Joshi, Daya Krishna Kandpal, Pooran Chandra Tewari, Bhaskar Upreti, Ramesh Pargain, Manish Sundariyal, Deepak Maithani, Laxman Giri Goswami, Dinesh Chandra Joshi, Soban Singh, Kalawati Goswami, Chandrakala Chamoli, Devki Farswan, Savitri Silswal and Pawna Semwal. Dr. Uma Bhatt and Satish Lakhera had to drop out midway for personal reasons. The slogan shouting group was given a warm reception by Bageshwar District Bar Association, where they addressed a meeting. In the evening they were offered the Bageshwar Mela Samiti Stage meant for cultural programmes. The voice of Dr. Shamsher Singh Bisht, elaborating the concept of Gairsain, was carried far and wide through the loud speakers scattered all over the town. The activist even had the songs of Girda, Narendra Singh Negi and Zahoor Alam for the audience. Later they marched through the streets of Bageshwar with their songs, slogans and pamphlets. In comparison, the performance of the other political parties like the BJP and the Congress in the historic ‘Bagar’ was lack lustre and poorly attended.
Padyatras have now been suspended for a while, keeping the adverse winter weather in mind. They will soon start again. The Uttarakhand Samyukta Sangharsh Morcha has decided on some treks. One will be in the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve area of Chamoli district, where the villagers have been deprived of their customary rights in the forests. Another Padyatra will be taken through the catchment of Bhagirathi and Bhilangana rivers in Tehri district, where entire stretches of the rivers have been sold to the outside companies without taking the local populace in confidence. Yet another Yatra, Sangharsh Morcha plans from Almora to Dharchula near the Nepal border.
After all these Padyatras, with all doubts and confusions removed from the minds of the people and persons with zeal and courage identified, Uttarakhand Samyukta Sangharsh Morcha intends to hold a meeting on the 23rd of April 2005, the 75th anniversary of the Peshawar incident, when Veer Chandra Singh Garhwali refused to fire on unarmed Pathans and instead opted for life imprisonment. In this convention, the strategy for the next round of Uttarakhand movement will be decided.
Meanwhile angered by the apathy of the state MLAs, who totally ignored the ongoing agitation about Gairsain in the entire winter session of Vidhan Sabha and preferred to get their allowances enhanced instead, Kamla Pant, convener of Uttarakhand Samyukta Sangharsh Morcha and Satish Lakhera, convener of its Gairsen unit staged a protest in the House on 20th January, the last day of the session by slogan shouting. They were immediately arrested but were let free later in the evening.
So, the struggle for Gairsain goes on.