Uttarakhand – How politics may shape up after Congress’ comeback

Reactions of the political parties and their supporters to the news of Harish Rawat winning the trust vote was on the expected lines; certainly a reason enough to not analyze it any further.

As the Uttarakhand political saga continues to unfold, political and legal experts will do a threadbare analysis of the entire drama from every possible angle; of course their own political affiliations will colour this analysis.

Being a resident of the state with a stake in its governance and development, I thought it best to analyse the reasons of the crisis and to find answers to the various questions this turmoil has thrown into the open.

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Whether political fallout of the Uttarakhand political crisis will extend into national polity will be known in next few weeks and months; but it is certain that politics of Uttarakhand will now be on the boil through the summers, extending well into the monsoons and winters. Last time Uttarakhand (then part of UP) made it this big in the national media for political reasons was in 1981, when HN Bahuguna took on the might of Indira Gandhi in famous Garhwal LS by-elections

What caused turmoil in Uttarakhand? Congress and way forward

Politics of smaller states is less about goals and more about doles (to cronies and associates). Congress, owing to its long legacy of being the primary ruling party of India has not only mastered this art to perfection but has largely been successful in transferring it from one generation to another, as also from one government to the other.

Harish Rawat, a seasoned Congress leader, was expected to follow the above mentioned unwritten Congress code; but his actions proved otherwise. In his bid to gain control of both the government and the party, he cornered majority of posts for his loyalists and family members. His wife, son and daughter were appointed as officer bearers of PCC, and also Karan Mehra his brother in law. His protégé Kishore Upadhya got the PCC chief post.

Rawat also appointed Ranjit Rawat, his other brother in law, as his Industrial Advisor, a post which was specifically created for him. Ranjit’s clout, became the talk of the town as he was virtually the No 2 in the cabinet. Congress cronies and cadres, so used to their share of the government (not governance) pie helplessly watched a Rawat aide eating into their share. It was this helplessness that led to the Congress rebellion and threw the Harish Rawat government into a turmoil.

Now that Rawat has won the trust vote and rebels are already out, he has more portfolios and positions to distribute to his loyalists. A shrewd politician that Rawat is, will leverage this opportunity to strengthen his grip on the party and government. But his reinstatement would mean that he cannot play the martyr card any more; besides series of stings have already dented his image. Already under CBI enquiry in the sting case, Rawat won’t find his going easy; a divided BJP remains his only hope.

Another distinct hope for Rawat is AAP. I foresee a possibility of Congress facilitating the entry of AAP in Uttarakhand. This move will indirectly help Congress as AAP — known to paint both Congress and BJP as one and same — will stop swing voter from going towards BJP side. Rawat knows that fractured polity (following AAP’s entry) means advantage Congress in an evenly contested battle.

BJP a divided house and road to 2017

BJP in Uttarakhand is a divided house with several factions working at cross purposes with each other. But for the role played by Ramesh Pokhriyal in 2012, BJP would have been the ruling party today. Failure to take action against Pokhriyal for his role in defeat of Khanduri in 2012 has been one of the primary reason for rampant factionalism in the party. So deep is the factionalism that at any given point in time, BJP has close to 7 to 10 contenders for Chief Minister’s post.

Party’s recently appointed President has always been accused of working as a friendly opposition to Harish Rawat, a fact that was ignored completely by the party leadership while appointing him.

In a BJP set up, Organization Secretary plays the most important role. However, Sanjay Gupta, party’s Organisation Secretary for the state is not only incompetent but a compromised personality as well. His name keeps cropping up in one unsavoury controversy or the other. His continuance in a crucial year defies all logic. Induction of Satpal Maharaj has further complicated the ongoing power struggle of the party with the addition of another CM contender.

One of the primary reason for disarray in BJP is that every leader worth some salt wants to operate from Delhi, yet remain a key figure in the state polity. Grassroots connect of such party leaders is limited to meeting and cultivating a coterie. Party has also failed in spelling out a clear vision for the state; thus achieving power seems to be an end and not the means to an end.

It seems that party leadership at Centre saw in Congress rebellion an opportunity to unite its factions together to put up a spirited face in 2017. Whether this political move was worth the political capital expended- only time alone will tell.

With state BJP doing everything to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, road to 2017 is now paved with more stones and thorns. To win 2017, BJP will not only need a complete overhaul of the party, but it also has to spell out its vision for the state and sell it to the voter via a young and an honest face.

Absence of integrated model of development; arbitrary governance and powerful bureaucracy

Polity in Uttarakhand, relatively younger state, is still in its infancy. However, at the same time, current leadership of both the political parties have a legacy in erstwhile Uttar Pradesh. The old guard of both the parties have inherited a work culture peculiar to parent state where babus-neta nexus is an accepted norm. Babus also find it easier to work with leaders soaked in UP work culture.

Besides, lack of opportunities for new and young political leadership means that state still has no integrated vision/model of development. Absence of such integrated model for the state has led to arbitrary governance, a situation that tends to make babudom powerful without any accountability whatsoever. The fact that Uttarakhand throws out the incumbent govt in every election also supports this view.

Another reason for bureaucracy gaining an upper hand over the Uttarakhand polity is the lack of visionary leadership. In the absence of such leadership, bureaucracy tends to become a part of a ruling class and not the agent of change, that politics promises to the citizens.

Hill disconnect of the state

Demand for Uttarakhand had its genesis in the fact that the region’s (today’s Uttarakhand) geographical, linguistic and cultural identity was completely different from Uttar Pradesh. Besides, capital of the state was far from the region and state policy planners had no idea of the hardships faced by the public in the hills. Hence, region was deprived of the fruits of development, not that Uttar Pradesh was a developed state by any means.

If one were to analyze the present situation, nothing much has changed for the hilly regions. What Lucknow was to public during pre-state formation days, Dehradun is today to hills. All the state planners plan for hills while sitting in Dehradun. State of infra — health, road, water, education — in hilly regions is in a complete disarray with the result that migration has become a major problem today.

Last delimitation exercise led to reduction in the representation of hilly districts in the state legislature and will go down further by next delimitation exercise. As mentioned earlier, lack of integrated model of development is one of the biggest reason for underdeveloped state of infra in the hill districts with the result that migration is on the rise. Pauri and Almora are the only two districts in the entire country that have seen negative population growth in the 2001-2011 period and migration is the only cause for the same.

Uttarakhand: key issues for the electorate

1. Uttarakhand, even after 15 years of formation, has no common development agenda. Also, the development template for the hill regions has to be different from one employed for the non-hilly terrain of the state. Any political party promising this will manage to establish an instant connect with the electorate.

2. Continuance of Dehradun as the state capital, a temporary solution at inception, is defeating the purpose for which Uttarakhand was created. It is important that state capital is shifted in the hills, preferably Gairsain. A time bound plan for movement of capital be prepared and executed.

3. Corruption (in higher places), as evident from the series of sting operations following imposition of President’s rule, remains one of the burning issues in Uttarakhand. Anyone promising / taking visible action against corrupt babus / netas of the state would strike a direct chord with the electorate.

4. State should pass a law putting a freeze on any change in the representation between hills and plains post future delimitation.

5.. Water shortage in hills is another issue that needs immediate redressal. It is an irony that the state which feeds the rivers of the Gangetic plain, is home to villages facing acute water shortage.

6. Division of properties with Uttar Pradesh is another long pending issue that require immediate attention. Any promise to solve it would bring electoral dividends.

7. Lack of road, rail, health and education infrastructure in the state remains one of the major pain points for the state population.

8. Lack of employment opportunities in the hills is the single biggest reason for migration out of hills. Promotion of tourism can help deal with the unemployment problem to a great extent. Unfortunately, the state has no integrated tourism policy till date. A potential solution for the state lies in replicating the success of Sikkim and Himachal model.

9. Collapse of agriculture is another problem facing the state. A time bound agriculture promotion policy with emphasis on organic cultivation (on the lines of Sikkim model) is another opportunity waiting to be tapped.

In short, Uttarakhand needs a tectonic shift in its governance model and onus to do that lies with the state polity. Whichever formation will project itself as the “change-agents” for the state and its population, will walk with the coveted trophy – the right to occupy Dehradun’s Circuit House in 2017.

 (The author is the founder of the adventure tourism venture, Nature Connect Outdoors based in Uttarakhand. Alok has a keen interest in politics and economic development.)

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