Business News/ Opinion / Online-views/  The politics of forgotten states

If you look at the headlines of newspapers and television news, you will realize that 70% of the media discourse is devoted to Uttar Pradesh and 25% to Punjab. States such as Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur never feature in mainstream politics and the media.

Who says smaller states don’t face all-round injustice in the country?

Let me begin with Uttarakhand which is close to my heart. It seems the state is living out a contradiction. Entrepreneurs and job-seekers want to encourage tourism in the state. It has the natural resources to attract tourists. But the facilities are abysmal. When tourists visit, they return home complaining of a lack of facilities. On top of it, they have to pay through their nose for accommodation, eating out and sightseeing. A tourism industry insider says Uttarakhand’s three-star hotels charge higher tariffs from tourists than many five-star hotels in cities such as Bangkok. 

The lack of facilities is apparent the moment one crosses the Uttarakhand border. Governments have come and gone but a four-lane highway from Delhi to Dehradun or Nainital remains a dream. While roaming through the mountains and lowlands of Kumaon, I discovered that as soon as one talks about tourism, people begin complaining about tough regulations related to the industry and tourism-related regulatory bodies. I asked many people if tourism itself dries up, then who will come to Uttarakhand? The only way to prevent this is to ensure that the state allocates adequate funds for tourism, but that is not happening. For instance, hundreds of trees between Haridwar and Dehradun were cut with the promise that an even greater number of saplings will be planted. The area was ostensibly cleared to build a four-lane highway. The trees were cut but the highway is nowhere in sight. 

It is true that the common man, to uphold whose rights Uttarakhand was created, is deprived on all counts. Entire villages are emptying out. There are no roads, no electricity, no water and no sign of employment. A large chunk of the hill population is sustained by the ‘money-order economy’. Owing to the paucity of local jobs, the youngsters are keen to join the Army and paramilitary forces. But everybody isn’t fortunate enough to wear the coveted uniform. Under the pressure of unemployment, they have to make ends meet working in neighbouring states. The ‘money-order economy’ can help fill your stomach, but it also encourages the migration of the masses.

It is often alleged that regional parties have established a ‘loot raj’ in many states of India and that only national parties can provide clean administration. Uttarakhand has given a resounding response to this flawed logic. Here the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party have been in power in rotation but nothing changed except for chief ministers, who were shuffled like a pack of cards. 

The last government appointed Bhuvan Chandra Khanduri as chief minister. Halfway through his tenure, he was removed and was replaced by Ramesh Pokhariyal ‘Nishank’ but on the eve of elections, Khanduri was brought back to power. Owing to this tragicomic game of musical chairs, the Congress sensed an opportunity to assume power and grabbed it. First Vijay Bahuguna was appointed chief minister and soon he was replaced by Harish Rawat. The manner in which these leaders shifted political loyalties made it clear that they were only concerned with securing their own seats. 

Clearly, they were going with the orders of the high command. But in the process, the common man was treated like a political orphan.

Let us now talk about Manipur. Just like Uttarakhand, this state, too, is blessed with extraordinary natural beauty. But the conditions are even worse. The reason: separatist violence and insurgency.

Many years ago, doing a recce of its inhospitable terrain, I had to face a number of challenges. The locals addressed us as ‘Indians’ and viewed the armed forces with distrust. The governments in Manipur have been victims of their own tribal complexes and the whims of the centre. As a result, the people of the state have been caught between the government and separatists. Fear, hunger and insurgency have driven the young to drugs and substance abuse. The young need trust more than they need guns. But it is easier said than done.

Insurgency is an organized industry in Manipur. Government agencies, prominent citizens of the state and politicians of all hues have a stake in it.

I won’t elaborate on Goa. Compared to these two states, it faces fewer problems, but the credit for that goes to its history and culture and not to its state governments.

Leaders making emotional speeches about Punjab often refer to it as a sensitive border state. Why then do they ignore the other three states that are also located on international borders? Clearly, Delhi doesn’t bother about smaller states because they don’t send too many MPs to Parliament.

These states are indispensable parts of the Indian Republic. Being on the border, they are also our natural guardians. Ignoring them can prove to be a perilous proposition.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan.

His Twitter handle is @shekharkahin.

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Updated: 06 Feb 2017, 01:06 AM IST
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