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Uttarakhand Lok Vahini: Shamsher Singh Bisht to contest from Almora

Shamsher BishtGarhwal Post, February 3, 2007

Shamsher Singh Bisht, a veteran activist and social movement leader of Uttarakhand, has decided to stand for election from Almora, filing his nomination papers on Wednesday. He will represent the Uttarakhand Lok Vahini with the support of the UKD and CPI.

Dr. Shamsher Singh Bisht began his long political life by becoming president of Almora Degree College Student Union in 1972. Even then, aspirants used to book entire cinema halls for the students, yet Bisht only spent 50 rupees on his winning campaign. At the time, he also became an activist with the Vishwavidyalay Andolan with Swami Manmathan (legendary founder of the Sri Bhuvaneshwari Mahila Ashram) and others. Kumaun and Garhwal universities came into existence only because of this movement, although the demand was quite old.

In 1974, along with recent Padma Shri recipient Shekhar Pathak, the late Kunwar Prasoon and Pratap Shikhar, Bisht undertook the first Askot Arakot Padyatra which changed his entire perspective and his life. Instead of studying at the famous Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi where he had enrolled, he came back to Almora and started working with local youth. He inspired an entire generation, especially with his rural background and orientation. With active participation in the Van Andolan with Shekhar Pathak, Bipin Tripathi and others, he was among the founders of the Parvatiya Yuva Morcha, which later became the Uttarakhand Sangharsh Vahini. This outfit was at the forefront of many movements in Uttarakhand for the next decade, in which apart from the Van Andolan, the Nasha Nahin Rozgar Do Andolan had very far reaching effects. The distance created between Kumaun and Garhwal by the politicians from the preindependence days was removed by the Vahini, when in February 1978, the first ever call for a Uttarakhand Bandh was given during the Van Andolan and was very successful. In the 1990s, the USV mobilized mass support for the separate state movement, but even now, has continued to struggle for the people’s rights under the new state of Uttaranchal, finally renamed Uttarakhand. Bisht has been at the forefront, throwing his firebrand oratory behind various popular struggles against the privatization of rivers and in support of Gairsain.

Politicians like Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna and K C Pant tried to lure Dr. Bisht into Congress, but he refused though his colleagues like Harish Rawat and Bachi Singh Rawat who preferred electoral politics are now considered heavyweights. In today’s Uttarakhand Vidhan Sabha, 45 MLAs out of 70 admit to being a part of the Vahini once.

Uttarakhand Lok Vahini picks up where the Sangharsh Vahini left off, bringing the struggle of the last three decades into the electoral area. if successful, this new experiment of Gandhian mobilization in party politics might point the way for how social movements can finally get into the electoral ring, as opposed to standing on the sidelines while decrying government policies.