Monday, May 5, 2014

Whither the Uttarakhandis?

My former state of Uttarakhand, where I have fond memories of my time as an undergraduate student in Roorkee, goes to the polls in Phase 8 with a deeply-rattled local Congress taking on an energized BJP. The state, which was created in 2001 by the NDA Government, was rattled by floods last year whose effects are still felt.

The tragedy of the State however, is that it has failed to live up to the high expectations on which it was created. In 2001, after years of fighting against rule from Lucknow which effectively sidelined the interests of the hills, the State of Uttarakhand was carved out of the hills of UP so that the people of the hills could govern themselves. Sadly, nothing has changed, with the people of the hills of Garhwal having to move to the plains of Haridwar, and those of Kumaon to Uddham Singh Nagar, to escape the abject poverty of the region.

Will these elections change anything for Uttarakhand? If the track record in the older hill states in Himachal Pradesh, J&K and the Northeast are anything to go by, no, they will not. The fact remains that because of its low population, Uttarakhand is nothing more than a token fight for the two big parties. What the hills need the most is road connectivity, which does not come cheap in the hills and requires out-of-turn attention. Then, the state itself needs greater industrialization. While tourism is a major industry here, much more needs to be done to improve the experience for tourists so that they come in larger numbers. Finally, rail connectivity, which is quite limited beyond Dehra Dun, is necessary. These are issues for the Central Government to look at.

Narendra Modi addressed some well-attended rallies in the state, including one in Roorkee that saw many students from IIT participating (possibly against the rules?). There, he hit out at the 'maa-bete ki sarkaar' in Delhi and the 'pati-patni ki sarkaar in Dehra Dun.' After its humiliating defeat in the last Assembly election, the BJP will have to work had to win Uttarakhand. But at the end of the day, does it even matter in the hills of Chamoli, an area where there is, for all practical purposes, no government? 

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