A little more than six years is not a very long time in the history of a state. Going by that logic, Uttrakhand — formed in November 2000 — is still very young. Yet, six years and three months is enough time for the state’s highly literate community to feel bitter and wonder if the struggle for a separate state was actually worth the fight.
For a political analyst, the Uttrakhand Assembly election on February 21 will be another interesting face-off between two parties: the ruling Congress and the BJP. Taken together with results of the Assembly polls in Punjab, the Uttrakhand results will have an impact on the national fortunes of both parties. On the ground, however, there is a discernible sense of disappointment on the faces of people in the small towns and villages as they get ready to go to the polls.
People’s statehood dream has gone sour
Nearly 14 years ago, the Uttrakhand belt started fighting for a separate state. What started as a youth movement demanding OBC reservations soon snowballed into one of India’s biggest statehood movements.
“The movement was people-centric and issues-based. Initially, both the Congress and the BJP were opposed to the idea of a separate state… but it soon became clear to all political parties that they had to support the movement,” says Zahoor Alam, a theatre personality in Nainital, who is also the vice chairman of the Uttrakhand Sahitya Sanskriti and the state Kala Parishad.
According to Alam, the common man feels cheated because ‘emotional issues’ have been ignored: like, for instance, the fact that Uttrakhand does not have a fixed capital. Dehru Dun is still referred to as being the ‘temporary capital’.
Leadership crisis and too many Red Beacons
The last five years under chief minister ND Tiwari has taught the local population to deal with a phenomenon called the “state minister rank effect”. During his tenure, Tiwari bestowed the rank of a state minister to nearly 300 political appointees in various state bodies. The rank of a state minister gave a local leader a government vehicle and its seal of authority — the red beacon on the roof.
It is felt that the red beacon effect will cost the Congress dearly. “The move was a bad one. A very wrong message went out to the public, who wanted to know who paid for the vehicle and why couldn’t that money be spent on development. There were rumours that it costs Rs 1 crore to maintain a vehicle,” says Puran Pandey, a resident of Ranikhet.
When the Congress was announcing the candidates’ list for the current election, a number of state-minister rank-holders rebelled against the party because they were not being given a ticket. Now, many are fighting as Independent candidates.
In as many as 15 Assembly seats (out of the 70), Congress candidates are up against their former party colleagues. “There is a thin chance of any rebel candidate winning a seat, but they will definitely eat into the votes of the Congress party,” says Ashok Bhatt, a resident of Dwarahat.
Unemployment going up by 30,000 per annum. Last October, the Home Guards came to the town of Haldwani to recruit 800 youngsters. Nearly 10,000 youngsters lined up, many armed with post-graduation degrees. For three days, there was a near-stampede at the recruiting venue. In December, a similar scene played out in Almora when recruitments for the Police Armed Constabulary were going on. “Everyone wants a job. They don’t care what kind of job as long as they can be employed,” says Himanshu Giri, a resident of Almora.
Every year, the number of registered unemployed youth in Uttrakhand goes up by 30,000. Locals point out that the number of registered unemployed youth is just an indicative figure. “The state is able to quantify unemployment based on the applications received at various employment exchanges. There are a lot of youngsters who do not register themselves with these exchanges as they are not interested in a government job,” says Nirmal Rautela, a science graduate, who recently got employed in a lakeside in Nainital.
In 2006, only 50 people got jobs in Nainital, where, government records reveal, the number of unemployed youth is close to 23,000. In Haldwani, of the 21,000 registered unemployed, only 30 were able to get jobs in 2006.
Overall, the state had 4.6 lakh unemployed youth at the end of December 2006. It is estimated that, by 2020, the number will go up to 10 lakh.
Incidentally, 2020 is also the target set by the Centre to turn Uttrakhand to a fully developed state.