Stranglehold of a two party system has led to political lethargy in Himachal where interests of the state are trampled under for vested interests whose power centers lie elsewhere.
No visible protests are seen, be it against the powerful cement lobby, land mafia, hydropower companies or other interests that are increasingly encroaching upon rights of simple hill people.
State leaders (no aspersions cast on their intentions) affiliated to national parties are constrained to work independently for there is a central High Command, with a power nucleus whose interests are governed by brute democratic majority to the disadvantage of a fringe hill people.
Take the case of Cement:
We just have two major big cement units operating in Barmana and Dharlaghat.
And those who have traveled on the roads along these plants since the early 1980â€™s say, road travel on the route has gone from good to bad and bad to worse.
Yet the governments headed by either party (Congress or BJP) only tries to outdo each other in allotting cement units to industrial houses, without bothering to take into account the damage done to state infrastructure, environment and the social fabric.
The damage being done far outweighs all the false sense of development that is harped upon repeatedly.
A landed peasantry gets uprooted in order to make way for these large cement units, lowly paid jobs of truckers spending much time away from families are created, mining and pollution renders nearby lands fallow, scenic beauty of the landscape is scarred turning the place into a tourism and travel liability and the area becomes a hotbed for attracting AIDS.
What sins are committed in the name of development.
Consider this, one of the best limestone mines needed for cement are reported to be in Uttrakhand. But there are no cement units in either Uttrakhand nor in Jammu and Kashmir.
One reason cement companies have not been able to penetrate these regions is because the people in these lands are strongly tied under regional parties, which is not the case in Himachal.
Whatâ€™s more the governments and courts by enforcing ban on green felling of forests for decades together, a renewable resource, or making the prices of timber unaffordable to poor people, inadvertently create a local market for cement units.
It also kills the local wood craft artisans and adds to the problems of raging unemployment.
Iâ€™m not for denuding the forests but sustainable development does warrant judicious use of forest wealth.
No national party, alternately ruling the state will acknowledge these parameters of development because the levers of power operate from outside the state.
And the state which lacks a regional party cannot defend the rights of its people on some of these issues
In the last decade, I have heard none other than senior congressman Sukh Ram strongly oppose cement industry in the state assembly.
More need to join in to assert our rights on our environment.
Take the case of Hydropower:
The mighty Sutlej has been flowing for millenniums or ever since the Himalayas started shaping up.
Now because the oversized government cannot meet its rising expenditures, it slices up the river and hands it to private and government companies for power generation.
From a river flowing in harmony with the landscape, it has become one of flowing gold where each megawatt of power is eyed as an potential goose that lays the golden egg.
Look at the case of Pandoh dam diverting the River Beas, decades ago.
Mandi, the town of temples is devoid of the life and freshness the river provided to a religious life that must have existed when it had ghats where the religious offered their daily prayers.
From being a over ground river, state lawmakers have written the fate of Satluj to make it a river that would have to flow underground for most of its journey upto Kol Dam in Indian lands.
Norway is the largest producer of hydropower in Europe but it consciously has decided not to tap at least 30 percent of its existing potential because of environmental concerns.
We have no such provisions in our policy.
One can walk into the state, self identify a hydro project and to hell with environmental concerns, peoples water rights and all else.
Take the case of land mafia:
No government of the day is even boldly willing to acknowledge the presence of a land mafia.
Thousands of benami property deals made on power of attorney, or affidavits are reported in the media but no serious data is ever disclosed or an inquiry constituted to get to the truth.
As the countryâ€™s economy grows and as global warming impacts livelihoods, the newer rich class buy up properties and farmlands in hills (some do so conveniently with the consent of the government and some without it).
Simple hill folks are bought out easily and banished from their traditional lifestyles forever.
If Himachal is to be defended for the people who have maintained the sanctity of the Himalayas, then it has to be by people who judiciously realize what is good and what is bad for those who have inhabited these lands over centuries.
Case for Regional Party:
Surely more than words are needed to support and fund a political outfit.
Experiments have been tried earlier but it was Himachal Vikas Congress (maybe not a very good example) which demonstrated how a regional outfit could hold the balance of power in a highly polarized political system.
Should a regional outfit get center stage (it will not get outright majority but only a controlling stake), brakes to policy detrimental to states interests could be applied.
After all a regional party is not answerable to any central High Command whose interests at times trample upon the interest of the people living here.
Living in isolated valleys, where political power is still feudal in nature, to form a regional party would need cutting across the divide of lower and upper areas.
Somebody needs to put a spike in this wheel of alternate power sharing arrangement, where the game is played out as â€“ â€˜you scratch my back, I scratch yourâ€™.
Unless the status quo is not threatened, no movement forward can be envisioned.
If the Himalayas cannot be defended by Himalayan People, nobody else will.