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Uttarakhand’s Bane

The Congress high command’s choice of ND Tiwari as Uttarakhand’s Chief Minister seems like another decision based on political expedience that belies the serious problems afflicting the political class in Uttarakhand. Beyond the ridiculous fact that for both the BJP and Congress, the centre ultimately decides the CM post, the choice of ND Tiwari, veteran Congress leader, came as a shock to party workers and voters alike who expected Harish Rawat for the top post. Rawat is credited for saving Congress from extinction and reviving it to fight and win the first state assembly elections. Although Rawat is not personally popular throughout the state, he has been a loyal and dedicated Congress party worker for many years. ND Tiwari on the other hand has been four times CM of Uttar Pradesh, yet like other “great” leaders from the hills who entered national politics (GB Pant, HN Bahuguna, MM Joshi, KC Pant), largely abandoned his native hills for more fertile political pastures in the plains. Moreover, Tiwari never participated in the movement for a separate state and actually opposed its creation while in office. In the next few months, h will have to work doubly hard to regain the trust of the people, especially beyond his traditional Nainital and Udham Singh Nagar constituencies.

Furthermore, Tiwari’s comments at the press conference announcing his nomination were less than encouraging. Rather, he talked about the Tenth Planning Commission and shaping the economy of the state, as if there was no larger consideration, no passion or elation over the historic verdict against the status quo. Even some populist rhetorical flourishes would have done, such as a loud and resounding “Jai Uttarakhand” or other such inspiring messages instead of quibbling over economic policies. Indeed, from first impressions, the senior politician reflected the same bureaucratic mentality and lack of attachment to Uttarakhand that frustrated Uttarakhandis in Nityanand Swami. Other recent comments have buttressed this feeling that he will approach the CM position as more of a challenging assignment than a vehicle to rousing the state and its identity. Unfortunately, because of the deep division in Congress between Rawat and Satpal Maharaj, the godman from Pauri Garhwal, ND Tiwari has been called to step once more unto the breech. Indeed, history is not without a dark sense of humour as Rawat and Maharaj’s jousting paralleled that of the various CM aspirants in the BJP that eventually toppled Nityanand Swami. Therefore, for the sake of the next five crucial years, Rawat and other party leaders will need to adjust their ambitions to share the burden of governance and fulfil popular demands. It might be a bitter pill to swallow, but the long-suffering people of the hills cannot brook any more political infighting.

Without a resounding mandate from his own party, Tiwari will have to hammer out a consensus among elected officials and apply his much-vaunted administrative experience to steer the state out of a deep economic crisis and haggle with UP for a better deal from the division of assets. He will also need to institute a real panchayati raj with teeth, enforce environmental laws while respecting the rights of local communities, review current controversial development projects and liquor regulations, and try to carry through with the most salient points of the Congress Party platform. (i.e., empowering women, changing the name of the state, considering a new capital, and stimulating economic development) Moreover, he cannot dither, but move quickly or suffer the same fate of the BJP who wasted a whole year with little to show from their ‘Uttaranchal’. Tiwari though can still engender enormous goodwill by simply remaining an accountable, hands-on leader who governs democratically and with creativity.

Unfortunately, Uttarakhand’s bane, as demonstrated by these repeated crises, goes deep — the entire political class in the region is held in very low esteem by the people and for good reason. They have consistently put their own careers ahead of serving the greater good of Uttarakhand as witnessed by the intense factionalism that had gripped the BJP, Congress, and even the smaller regional parties during the run up to elections. Distribution of tickets should have been the least of their problems. The most important issue, building a new state with vision, imagination, and dedication, seems to have escaped them all, and no one projected any passion and love for the people and their mountains in any discernable way. In fact, it was this dearth of compassion and creativity and excess of venality and callowness that prompted Uttarakhand activists to keep traditional politicians out of their Sangarsh Samitis. Tellingly, all the major parties ignored women in the selection of their candidates resulting in a tiny handful representing the backbone of Uttarakhand society and fire of the Uttarakhand Andolan in the state assembly. Yet considering that 43% of electorate voted for small and independent parties, there is room to grow for a third force in the region beyond the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal that suffers a huge credibility problem after having sabotaged moves to form such a grand alliance this election. In the next five years, the foundation of such a regional party, bringing together women’s groups, UKD, Janwadi Party, Jan Vikas Party, BSP, remnants of the SP, CPI, CPM, and other popular organisations can be established to challenge both the BJP and Congress. A bold move would be for this third force to project mostly women candidates and break the political monopoly that men enjoy in the state. Moreover, it should open up the political discourse to challenge the very structure of politics that marginalises people while purporting to represent them.

Sadly, all this has taken a great toll on the people of Uttarakhand and all but destroyed their trust and faith in the bankrupt political process. Tragically the toll has also been personal, with the suicide of the UKD president’s wife, Indu Bhatt, and the bitter disappointment of the Congress president, Harish Rawat. As such, Uttarakhand’s problems will never be solved by politics as usual, but will need a patriotic revolution, just like the rest of the country, to break the divide-and-rule tactics and iron triangle of corruption, nepotism, and egoism by our political class. The fact that the vote for the Congress was more a vote against the status quo should put the politicians on notice — the hill people’s patience is wearing thin. In fact, the struggle for a new Uttarakhand must take centre stage again, this time above and beyond simple statehood, to real people’s democracy and real people’s rule.