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Seeking an Alternative for Uttarakhand

The dream of Uttarakhand hangs by a thread and will very much be decided by the 2012 state election. Already the BJP and Congress have cornered various media outlets to serve as their mouthpiece, while relying on the powers of their national brands to overpower any local dissidence or opposition. No doubt, enormous moneys will be spent, as any hapless candidate running on an independent or third party ticket can tell you.

The national focus on corruption will have an interesting impact on the elections as both the BJP and Congress are implicated. Indeed, the national parties have tried and failed to govern the state properly, allowing corruption to reach all time highs and to seep into every corner of the state. While at the national level, the corruption issue is frustrating Congress, the BJP state government must be held accountable for having an even worse record in governance. The writ of the mafia and both the national and local contractor lobby dominates and even includes cabinet ministers, allowing for unprecedented depredations against the mountains, valleys, rivers, and forests of the region. The population of the hills is also in free fall, while infrastructure is barely keeping up with the burgeoning new population centres in the plains districts. However, eclipsing all this is the sheer vanity and incompetence of the political class in Uttarakhand who seem to enjoy playing musical chairs while making tall claims and false promises, not realizing that marathon stone laying and propaganda in the newspapers can only go so far in covering up their inability to govern effectively. Adding insult to injury has been the predilection of the BJP government for subordinating the local identity and interests of Uttarakhand to their party’s priorities, whether it be recognizing Sanskrit instead of Garhwali, Kumaoni, and Jaunsari as official languages, or naming institutions after their ideological mentors from outside the state.

Voting for an alternative would be worthwhile even if only to prevent the complete monopoly of power enjoyed by the two parties and the elite factions they represent. In addition to big money corruption, this monopoly has eviscerated the reason for the state, enthroning national priorities and national political power. Even the Anna Hazare anti-corruption bandwagon represents a national wave that may overshadow the specifically destructive nature of corruption in Uttarakhand that no Lokpal Bill can resolve.

Whether UKD(P), the remaining rump of the original UKD, can swallow its pride and forge an alternative alliance with the upstart Uttarakhand Parivartan Party (UPP) or the Uttarakhand Raksha Morcha (URM) remains to be seen, but time is of the essence. The poll has been scheduled much sooner than anticipated, and the UKD(P) has yet to emerge from its bruising battle with the Diwakar Bhatt faction that controls two out of their three seats and the (corrupt) levers of power in government. To avoid a complete wipe out, they must realize that their best hopes lie in working with new forces like the UPP and URM, both of whom have demonstrated ample energy and a clean image over the last few months and years of organizing. An even more daring move would be to vote for the BSP, but anti-incumbency in BSP-run UP may make this unpalatable for most.

The Left parties have declared fifteen seats that they will jointly contest in a sign that unity is being forged in at least a few corners. Indeed, many of their candidates have been principled grassroots workers for many years. Unlike the major parties, their efforts have been entirely selfless and without any prospect of monetary gain at all. In essence, they represent the least corrupt of all the political factions in Uttarakhand and the one’s most likely to voice the people’s concerns without deference to vested interests.

The worst outcome would be a repeat of the 2002 and 2007 elections, where the BJP and Congress traded places in seat distribution. New forces must emerge, or the Uttarakhand dream will remain a dream for another generation, perhaps forever.