Uttarakhand’s development over 21 years since inception hit by BJP making its CMs play musical chairs

Uttarakhand’s three major problems -- unemployment, migration from villages and loss of agricultural land -- remain unaddressed even two decades after it was carved out from Uttar Pradesh

Pushkar Singh Dhami, 3rd CM of Uttarakhand picked by BJP top leadership within one year
Pushkar Singh Dhami, 3rd CM of Uttarakhand picked by BJP top leadership within one year

Amitabh Srivastava

Exactly 21 years ago, the aspirations of lakhs of people residing in the hills of the Himalayas in western UP took a concrete shape when Nityanand Swamy took oath as the first Chief Minister of Uttarakhand, also known as Devbhoomi.

Dehradun, traditionally known as a city of 'green hedges and grey beards' was declared as the 'Interim' capital because that was the only city in the new state with strong rail, road and air connectivity.

After so many years, Dehradun remains the 'Interim' capital because of the sentiment of the hill people that the permanent capital should be at Gairsain, situated almost midway between Garhwal and Kumaon.

Since then, many of the state’s Chief Ministers have been declaring their intent to shift the summer capital or the winter capital to Gairsain sporadically.

Meanwhile, the three major problems of the state -- unemployment, migration from the villages (with as many as 764 village declared 'ghost villages') and loss of agricultural land and subsequent drop in agriculture produce -- remain unaddressed.

Having watched Uttarakhand since its birth, actually from 1998, two years before its birth from close quarters, as the first correspondent of Hindustan Times, I feel today that there might have been some miscalculation in the mahurat of the swearing-in of the new government on the night of November 9/10, 2001.

Incidentally, that day, immediately after Nityanand Swamy had left the stage after the oath taking ceremony, a group of youths had climbed the stage and broken furniture and other objects while shouting slogans. We then thought they were members of the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal who felt that their sacrifices had been ignored or those who wanted Gairsain to be the capital.

But as later developments showed, they were supporters of a faction in the BJP led by Bhagat Singh Koshyari and Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank who were opposed to the appointment of Swamy.

They finally had their way when in less than an year, in October 2001, BJP MLAs held a meeting in Dehradun removing Swamy and electing Koshyari as the new CM.

The party went on to lose elections under his leadership while Koshyari continued to pay obeisance to the VHP and supporting their view that generating 'power' from the Ganges would take away its power and its purity.

This game of ‘musical chairs’ continues till today, with the BJP’s top leadership in Delhi changing three of its CMs within a space on one year. The current CM, Pushkar Singh Dhami, was appointed only in July this year, and went on to court controversy due to the changes made by him in the bureaucracy, especially the appointment of an IPS officer, Abhinav Kumar, as his Additional Principal Secretary. This is the first of its kind after the birth of the state and political observers are waiting to see what signals it sends to the people in the run up to assembly elections due to be held in February.

One must admit that the leaders of Devbhoomi are so honest that they do not hesitate to publicly level corruption charges against their own party leaders!

Incidentally, ND Tewari of the Congress is the only CM to have completed his five year term in the state over the last 21 years. Swamy lasted 354 days, Koshyari 123 days, Khanduri 839 days, Nishank 808 days, Khanduri (again)

185 days, Vijay Bahuguna 690 days, Harish Rawat 785 days and again 311 days, Trivendra Singh Rawat 1450 days and Tirath Singh Rawat 116 days.

A senior BJP (converted) leader I met recently in Delhi said on condition of anonymity that Uttarakhand never got any leader with a vision with the exception of ND Tewari. Which implies, in effect, that among Nityanand Swamy, Nishank, Koshyari, Khanduri, Tirath Singh Rawat, Trivendra Rawat and Pushkar Singh Rawat, none did much for the state.

Under the circumstances, with the politicians grappling with the problems of the hill state like the five blind men tackling the elephant, the bureaucracy has taken control of the state, whose first Chief Minister referred to his Chief Secretary RS Tolia as "Tolia Saheb".

Commenting on the situation in the state, Shivanand Chamoli, one of the founders of Uttarakhand Kranti Dal, said, "We were unlucky that we got third rate bureaucrats and third rate leaders."

Anoop Nautiyal, a Dehradun based social worker and founder of SDC Foundation, who briefly dabbled in the politics of AAP during the last elections says, "Politics has reached a very dangerous stage here today where the performance of a leader or what the media writes about the problems of the people do not matter at all as long as they have their bonds with Delhi intact.

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