by Harish Chandola
In: R.R. Nautiyal, A. Nautiyal. (eds.) Uttarakhand in turmoil. New Delhi : MD Pub., 1996.
Harish Chandola is a well known journalist of Uttarakhand. In this chapter, Chandolaji highlights a very different path than business-as-usual for Uttarakhand, one that unites and empowers its people with local control and participatory democracy.
The dormant Uttarakhand movement has come to life again after its students completed their examinations in August. The effort was to not let them lose another year. On the first two days of September the whole hill region remained closed: no shops, schools or offices opened and no transport moved. The movement was revived on August 23, when groups of women and students went around persuading government and other offices to close, in support of the popular demand for separate hill state. A programme of steps for the intensification of the movement is being worked out by a committee of common struggle, led by students.
The movement had gone into decline in December because the tiny, fragile body of the hills had received many wounds in the suppression unleashed by the Uttar Pradesh government to put down the wave of anger that had arisen following the killing of some 20 hill people and rape of their women near Muzaffarnagar on October 2, when they were proceeding to Delhi to voice their demand there. Curfew was clamped over the hills and notorious, brutal police forces were brought in from other states, including Punjab, to enforce it, which killed innocent young men, arrested thousands, destroyed properly and established a reign of terror. This violence by the state shocked the people into a period of silence. Then, political party leaders who had jumped into this spontaneous mass movement to capture its leadership, abandoned it because they found that the coming into being of a hill state was a distant dream and capturing power in it still more remote. They considered it more profitable to prepare for the coming parliamentary elections.
It took the hill people time to lick their wounds. They had lost a year, during which their young stopped going to schools to cry for a hill state, work that goes on in the name of development came to a halt because government employees went on a strike, traders’ earnings dropped to nothing as markets remained closed and field and cattle were neglected because farmers held rallies almost daily. This year’s first decision was not to let the students lose another year and keep things quite until the examinations were over. The problem now is how to continue the movement and also enable the young people to study. One move is to let them study for three or four days a week and then ask them to devote the rest to the struggle.
Though, the Centre is initiating talks on the issue of creation of a hill state but it is not clear what is in its mind and whether if no satisfactory decision is provided will the Uttar Pradesh government again use force to suppress the movement.
The term of the government which is to move legislation in Parliament to set up an Uttarakhand state is coming to an end. In May there will be a new Parliament. It is early to speculate who will obtain a majority in the Lok Sabha and form the new government and who will become the next Prime Minister.
It is, therefore, unlikely that the hill region will form a separate unit until a new government comes into being in Delhi.
This intervening period in the hills is, therefore, for introspection, for formulating strategies and for joining social, economic and cultural issues with the political struggle for a hill state. And above all, for giving serious thought to the question of deciding on what kind of a state should Uttarakhand be. Should it be a replica of Uttar Pradesh from which its people are struggling to break?
First of all, what has been the face of an Indian state? The coming into being of politicians, to become ministers and occupy other positions of privilege, creation of posts of officials to devise ways of maintaining authority, emergence of contractors to build roads and facilities in the name of development, and of policemen to protect the three. But this system of raising a ruling elite of politicians, officials, contractors, and policemen has not been successful in running a state smoothly. It has created and promoted groups of self-seekers who on obtaining power have not hesitated to use terror to protect their interests.
It has torn our social fabric apart. The Constitution, with all its amendments, has not been able to save the situation. But for its fundamental rights and directive principles, the Constitution itself created a society of privileges. In it we borrowed from constitutions of Western democracies, their practices and support structures.
Our constitution-makers, busy choosing the best from abroad, did not have the time to examine how Indians managed their life before and what were their present requirements. The structure thus woven, the Indian people were told, would ensure their well being. Theoretically it empowered the people but did not enable them to exercise power. In course of time this structure began collapsing. Nobody thought of fashioning some other, simpler and stronger structure which would not give rise to so many conflicts and be as burdensome as today’s.
In the adopted structure we took to the politics of representation, as practiced in the West. The Indian people were never asked if that would be good for them. They were simply told to elect representatives to state assemblies and Parliament who would choose leaders to run the country. These people were taken from villages and towns to Delhi, Lucknow, etc., to run their villages and homes from the top. The system of election created group conflicts, dividing the society on caste and communal lines. This politics of representation ended whatever remained of a participatory system in Indian society.
Elected representatives began living in Delhi and state capitals, where they were given good houses on nominal rent, generous salaries and allowances and amenities and benefits, which at once raised their living standards several times higher than that of their electors. (You may know generally how much the government spends on an MLA or MP but do you also know that the yearly free traveling allowance of a UP MLA is Rs 65,000 and that an MP can distribute largess to the tune of Rs 3 crores in his constituency?)
Then it began being said that the thinking of these representatives was of a higher order than that of the people who chose them. Busy adopting a higher lifestyle, the representatives were left with little time for their people. Addressing meetings and occasionally accepting petitions became their only links with the electors. Some years ago, these representatives were given fearsome bodyguards, bearing deadly arms, thus making them even more unapproachable. After that, only their agents or business partners could get to them. The people, out in the cold, were left to shouting “murdabad” from a distance.
In this Western type of democracy it was necessary to have parties — a ruling one and others in the opposition. They got locked in a struggle to capture power and in the process, succeeded in dividing the society from top to bottom. If a problem arose in a village or town, the Congress offered one solution and other parties a second and a third. With inducements, these parties raised armies of supporters and fielded them in the fight for power. The result was that murder became an inherent element of our politics.
This borrowed democracy lent respectability to arrogance and selfishness, making them values necessary for progress. The people were thus indirectly persuaded to abandon their old values of humility, cooperation, trust, and mutual concern. We now have a society which has no faith in anything and is advancing towards anarchy. If this Western system is best, why is it that its leaders have been unable to impose it on the republics of the former Yugoslavia and Caucasus, after the fall of communism? Why are they not, with all their arms and military alliances like NATO, unable to put down wars of nationalism raging there? Regarding the participation of Uttarakhand people in anything, today, if a person from this hill region, borrowing a thousand rupees for the journey, goes to these big cities to relate his village or area’s miseries to authorities there, who is going to listen to him? Let alone see a minister, he will not even be able to enter the guarded citadels of his elected representatives.
But if the state unit was small, one would neither have to borrow a big sum to go to Gairsain or Nainital, nor find the task of seeing someone in authority there forbidding. There the administrators and leaders would also be hill people, whose own problems would not be different. The unit for a participatory democracy should therefore not be bigger than a district. Otherwise the people would not be able to participate in the management of their life.
Capitals and mega-cities impose a heavy burden on people around. Those living in them seek to impose their habits of living, eating, thinking, and culture on others. Our mega-cities and capitals try to adopt trends of Western capitals, or aspire to copy them, in the name of progress.
Look at the food one eats. Today all Uttarakhand people want to eat mill-polished rice. Last year a scientist in an American Journal sang the praises of Amaranth, saying it was the most nourishing grain. Now Amaranth (marsa or chaulai, or ramdana) grows easily on hill terraces all over. But its cultivation has been declining, because unlike polished rice or wheat, it is not popular in cities. In trying to copy that food, hill people are giving up the cultivation of their other nourishing grains, like cheena ( Panicum miliaceum ), kodo ( Paspahum ), sama ( Echinochloa frumentacea ), and jhangora (a kind of sorghum), etc.
Now let us have a look at customs. Every hill festivity used to be heralded with the reverberating sounds of large copper drums. But now these people are taking to brass bands, especially in marriages, to the tune of which they dance “bhangra”. For “bhangra”, they think, they need to consume some liquor. People pay these city-brought brass bands about Rs 5000 for about two hours, to take the bridegroom’s party to the bridal place, dancing.
But if the village tailors ( Oazi ) who traditionally beat the big hill drums for festivities ask for Rs 500 for the three days that it takes from the ceremonial bath of the bride to her departure, they call it robbery. Ugly brass bands are leading to the ouster of the noble hill drum and “pandav” dances. Influenced by cities, the hill people are abandoning their culture and taking to degrading practices.
WHAT KIND OF UTTARAKHAND?
So, what kind of a Uttarakhand do they want? One which will make it possible for all to participate in deciding their way of life, not depending on legislators and leaders to deform it. The BJP has asked people to elect its nominees to Parliament and says that with a majority there it will be able to adopt legislation granting “Uttaranchal”. But the party forgets that like Swaraj, Uttarakhand is the birthright of its people. It already exists in the hearts of every Uttarakhandi. If the BJP is concerned about the need of creating a hill state, why does it not fight for it? Or will it come to grab leadership after the people renew the movement?
The hill people will not beg the BJP or any other party. They will get and look after what belongs to them. Do the political parties think of the people as beggars and of themselves as alms-givers? They must change this attitude, otherwise they will not be able to govern the country properly. The BJP does not like the name Uttarakhand. Well, it is free to grant it “Uttaranchal” whenever it wants. In these hills it will always be Uttarakhand.
The present state structure is an intimidating entity and imposes a heavy burden on the hill people (they will never forget the Muzaffarnagar rape and killings). In a participatory system they will only support what they can and will not want to bear the heavy burden of the office of governor and unnecessary officials.
They will want administrative and planning units to be small so that they do not have to go far to unknown places for the solution of their problems, or suffer the humiliation of waiting endlessly outside the houses of officials or legislators there.
- The present system of planning is the source of biggest corruption. First, the local people do not participate in it. It is done in Delhi by officials who are not accountable. The needs of the hill people never get reflected in it. Large funds are allocated for development work in the plans. Then, with those funds, if a bridge, road, school, hospital, office or any project is to be built, commissions are sought and given to officials, and through them to ministers. And often funds allocated to the hill are transferred to other regions on the plea that those could not be utilized in the mountains.
There should therefore be planning units in every hill district composed of eminent people in their field, free of the government.
- Five years is too long a period for utilizing allocations. Planning should not be for more than two years and the funds allotted must be utilized in that time.
- In fact the period of an elected government should not be for more than two years. It will then make it easier for the people to get rid of a government that did not work, and was oppressive and corrupt.
- People do not want an Uttarakhand of political rivalries, because these rivalries divide society. They would want to solve their problems in a cooperative manner. They would not want anyone to say that his or her party would want a problem to be solved according to the wishes of their leaders in Delhi or Lucknow.
- They want Uttarakhand to be symbol of their self-respect. If they will have self-respect they will be able to meet all challenges, obtain necessary education, create work, and assure their well-being and progress. They will not want to be dependent on others. They will not want Uttarakhand to be a beggar state.
Its young people say this is the time for them to think, discuss, and decide on the kind of a society they would like to create.
The present century is coming to an end and the one lesson they have learnt from it is not to organize life by imitating others.