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Uttarakhand's Story of Statehood

The movement in the hills of Uttar Pradesh for a separate State of Uttarakhand is the biggest movement in the history of the region, even bigger than the famous Tilari agitation, which was launched in 1930 in the riyasat of Tehri Garhwal for people's rights over forests and forest produce...

The demand for a separate State of Uttarakhand and creation of local political outfits like the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal, the Uttarakhand Jan Sangharsh Vahini, the Uttarakhand Mukti Morcha, the Uttarakhand Party, the Uttarakhand Jan Morcha, the Uttarakhand Raksha Manch, the Uttarakhand Shanti Vahini, and dozens of action Committees is the expression of the demands of a neglected people.

The genesis of the ongoing agitation is remarkable in many ways. It took off as a protest against the implementation of reservation for OBCs. Eventually, it resulted first, in the demand for including the entire Uttarakhand region in the list of the OBCs and then, in the demand for a separate hill State...

The question of Uttarakhand State is directly associated with the issue of the management of the Himalayan region. Failure in managing the Himalayan eco-system will lead to a catastrophe. An expert group of the Planning Commission recommended strongly creation of an apex body such as the Himalayan Development Authority (HDA) to address the major issues and to evolve a policy framework for effective management. The formation of a separate State of Uttarakhand will be a step in the direction of proper management of the Himalayas.

The Uttarakhand movement needs to be seen in the light of the historically independent identity of the region. The region was able to maintain its political, economic, and cultural identity from the earliest times to the late eighteenth century. The Malla occupation and Rohila invasion did not have a lasting impression on the life of its people and these incidents were merely passing phases of local history.

Today, socio-economic problems, large-scale unemployment, and the disillusionment with the State and Central Governments have given a new dimension to the question of Uttarakhandi identity. The people of Garhwal and Kumaon have also realised that they do not have different political ends to pursue or, for that matter different identities, to adopt, since they are a single people in all respects. The rise of Garhwal and Kumaon as two independent principalities has become irrelevant for them and a thing of the past. The only salvation, if there is one, lies in this identity.

One cannot ignore the fact that a new kind of socio-political alignment has emerged in the ongoing movement. Even during earlier times, such alignments emerged after every major political event, be it the Rohila war, the Gorkha occupation, or British rule. After each of these events, history was re-invented to legitimise the newly acquired socio-political status of certain people who emerged dominant in the changed political circumstances.

This will also happen in the near future when a separate State is formed. But, this time, it will be the turn of the common man. And, the same current is flowing throughout Uttarakhand as the whole region is united in a cultural bond. Otherwise, the reaction to the brutal massacres in Khatima and Mussoorie would not have been equally intense throughout the region.

Uttarakhand's story since Independence has been one of persistent exploitation of its forests and mineral wealth and neglect of its people. The neglect of regional aspirations led to the emergence of this movement as early as 1952 when P. C. Joshi of the undivided Communist Party of India raised this demand. Even Pandit Nehru envisaged division of UP, with complete statehood for Uttarakhand. But G. B. Pant, who hailed from the same region, opposed the idea and that was the end of the matter as far as the national polity was concerned. Nehru, at the Shrinagar Congress Session, advocated the idea of a separate administrative set up for the region.

The attitude of the Central Government is about to lead to the situation going out of control. The people are convinced that the Government is not at all serious about their demand. The sentiments of the local people need to be addressed properly, otherwise the Government would have to face a very piquant situation.

The region has more than three lakh ex-soldiers and ex-paramilitary personnel. Most women of the region know how to handle rifles. The Government got a taste of what might be in the offing when ex-soldiers took out well-attended rallies in the region wearing their uniforms.

Source: Suresh Nautiyal, The Observer (New Delhi), September 29, 1994.