After reading the latest edition of the Garhwal Post (May 14-20, 2006), as well as some academic papers on the political economy and movement politics of Northern India, I have come to realize something about the type of journalism it exemplifies.
This was made clear in the recent editorial that criticized voters in West Bengal and Kerala for returning the Left to power (http://www.garhwalpost.com/14-may-06/editorial.html). Rather than seeing this as a clear expression of popular will against both the centre and its neoliberal reforms, the Post saw this as a dark sign of run away populism. It’s interesting that the Post would adopt this position while all the while indulging in its own populist posturing by repeatedly slamming the Tiwari government, which if anything, has been the standard bearer of such reforms in Uttaranchal. Instead, they have given a lot of print space to the BJP whose policies and record in government are virtually identical to Congress, except with darker communal overtones and even less flexibility and tolerance for the rights of citizens.
Thus the inability to see the Left as a credible alternative seems strange (but not surprising), as it presents the voter with a Hobson’s choice of the evil of two lessers, while dismissing out of hand the clear alternative of the Uttarakhand movement and its progressive allies. It also distorts the record of the Left in its two bastions. Indeed, of all the states that have experimented with decentralization, West Bengal and Kerala are cited even by the World Bank as India’s few success stories. Due to their advanced political culture and adequate safeguards and representation for weaker sections of society, the two states have gone much further in bringing all its citizens into the mainstream. Unfortunately, due to the unbroken power of elite sectors, landlordism has maintained its grip elsewhere and has retarded growth in the BIMARU states. With the emergence of caste-based politics in the Northern plains, politics has become even more of a Hobbesian struggle, with each group seeking political office to benefit their caste group.
A clear alternative in India and Uttarakhand is the Left. While far from perfect, they are the one political formation in India working for progressive politics and social justice in India on the basis of ideas rather than personalities or vote bank politics. In Uttaranchal, the Left’s voice which has a long and illustrious pedigree is even more vital, as the state rolls out the red carpet for industry and privatizes resources at an unprecedented rate, while turning a blind eye to the repercussions on local communities. Massive dispossession is taking place in the wake of dams, while land speculation (and the untrammeled writ of market forces) is driving even middle class residents to despair in the cities. Therefore, it’s perhaps time to at least consider following in the footsteps of Bhagat Singh and Chander Singh Garhwali, rather than close the doors to their authentic vision that remains unfulfilled to this day.