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Monkeys, pigs, bears are poll planks!

Anita Katyal
Tribune News Service, January 17, 2007

New Delhi, January 16 If today’s discussions on Uttarakhand’s election manifesto are anything to go by, monkeys are all set to find a special mention in the final document. And it is not just these primates, but pigs and bears will also figure prominently in the manifesto currently under preparation for the forthcoming Assembly poll. This is certainly no monkey business. Nor is it a lesson in zoology. And it is definitely not a prayer for the revered animal.

On the other hand, Lord Hanuman’s descendants have come in for intense discussions but for very different reasons. Both monkeys and pigs have unleashed a proverbial reign of terror in the hills of Uttarakhand, rampaging through farms, destroying crops and frightening people. The big bhallu or the junglee bears are not far behind in stalking the hill people.

The issue figured prominently when the election manifesto committee, headed by Mr Harish Rawat, met here at the AICC headquarters today to fine-tune the document. It was proposed that a special chapter be devoted to how the Congress would deal with this problem if it was voted back to power.

“Whenever we go on tour, people are always petitioning us about the menace created by monkeys and pigs,” says exasperated Harish Rawat, president of the Uttarakhand Pradesh Congress Committee (UPCC), adding, “You can well understand why monkeys and pigs merit a separate chapter in our manifesto.”

Mr Rawat said people living in cities could not grasp the gravity of the problem. Increasing deforestation and the destruction of shrubbery, he explained, had deprived monkeys of their sustenance. As a result, they had begun venturing further to farmlands to look for food. Poor farmers were a desperate lot as their painstakingly cultivated crops were often destroyed by monkeys and pigs.

Members of the manifesto committee had, therefore, suggested that they make a special mention of improving the tree cover with particular emphasis on growing shrubs and berries that the monkeys feed on. Giving details of the problem, Mr Rawat narrated how he was forced to take refuge on a treetop when he was chased by a wild pig on his own farm.

However, this menace is not unique to Uttarakhand alone. Mr G.S. Bali, Himachal Pradesh’s Tourism Minister, who was in Delhi today, commiserated with Mr Rawat but was quick to assure him that his own state also faced the same problem. “We just don’t know how to deal with it,” he said, adding that in their case, armies of monkeys had also invaded urban areas like Shimla.