Himachal Needs A Regional Party

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 1980’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.

What’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.

I’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 country’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 – ‘you scratch my back, I scratch your’.

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.

As Editor, Ravinder Makhaik leads a team of media professionals at Hill Post. Spanning a career of over two decades in mass communication, as a Documentary Filmmaker, TV journalist, Print Media journalist and with Online & Social Media, he brings with him a vast experience. He lives in Shimla.

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6 Comments

  1. The article has been written with presumption that Hill people are `simple’. My experience is not the same. People of Himachal especially from Shivalik Hills are no more attched to `land’ because agriculture has not paying enough to meet the rising aspirations/needs. Secondly `other’ economic opportunities have become lot such as government jobs/jobs in industries.
    People of this area, would like to get `cash’ by selling land and make investments elsewhere.
    People initiate agitation against the acquision of land initially but once the compensation is paid `handsomely’ they sell their land.
    When Ambuja cement factory was to acquire land, the local Mahila Mandals decided to go in for agitation and not allow the Factory to have their land. This awkening came due to local NGO took them to Barmana to show what damage a cement factory can cause.
    Women made various memorandums against the acquisition. To our utter surprise we found that, menfolk (technically owners of the land) had already signed the agreemnt/landsale deeds and pocketed the money.
    Same experince has occured when people were agitating against national Park in banjar vally – once the packge of compensation enhanced, the agitation melted like snow.
    Action Aid organised large number of meetings in Chamba to initiate agitation against land aquisition for cement plants – but after every meeting, the conclusion was how much more compensation can be negotiated.
    We are all worried about the damage that these factories and Hydropower projects are causing not only on short term basis, but mostly permanant and that is why I personally and with other NGOs have tried to organise people, but failed. Women in general agree to `bad’ consequances but mostly are helpless.
    In jagjit nagar and around kasauli, large chunks of land -grasslands- are sold to Delhiwalas for their resort and now women are unable to feed their cattle on one hand and on the other hand, these Kothiwalas have kept `outsiders’ as Chowkidar who, women think are threat to their adolescent daughters.
    Himachal Vikas Neeti – a group of prominant environmentalist- are trying for last so many years to get political sanctions to their demand from people, but have failed, simply because the `economic growth’ has alianted people from their land and ecology.
    I wonder in such a situation, whether regional party is the answer.
    Uttarakhand has long history of social movements -since 1905- which Himachal hasn’t and thus expecting what an Uttarakhandi can do, can also be done by Himachali is unrealistic.
    I hope we all need to look for answer elsewhere.

  2. says: promod

    The degradation of Himalayas has always been a concern and as per this article, the problem seems to be growing out of proportion. But forming political parties trifle the issue because political parties seek power that entails corruption! There can not be charitable political party.

    Awareness among the people and an NGO could work better in such a situation. Organization like Greenpeace (http://www.greenpeace.org/india/) could be of great help in guidance for such matters, to begin with.

    Needless to mention that Late Shri Sundar Lal Bahuguna could not do much convincing to block the Tihri Dam Project! Yet, learning from his experience, people can fine tune their strategy for further tasks of saving the environment.

    Successful NGO’s become part of the state planning committees where they could dictate the terms though, depending upon the quantum of public support.

  3. says: pradeep Sharma

    Stronghold of two party system is very good for democracy but in Himachal it gives disadvantage. State leaders of both parties are very week they are always defanded on their central High command. All cement lobbyand hydropower company get projects by influance from central leaders.
    Pepal of himachal is very simple but very strong if they decide they can teach both parities and now time is very near so Himachal needs a very strong regional party.

  4. says: NITYIN

    Politicians are expert in screwing things! A regional party would be a saviour of Himachal, I have serious doubts. For one, funding will be dependent on these business houses and they will sell the state’s assets with more vigour! Secondly, where is the human resource for the regional party. The left out leaders of both the parties do not cut any ice among voters. As you pointed correctly, there is no leader worth the stature who can take together the people of lower and upper Himachal together.

    Moreover the experiment of regional parties governing the states through out the country has been unsuccessful as these parties have messed up governance every where.

    I do agree with the points raised in your article about the need of a regional party but the mean would defend the cause ultimately!

  5. says: Vishal Singh

    I strongly agree with Nityin that having a regional party will not solve this problem and it will add to the unstable government system in India. But we need to show these parties that they should give us honest and matured candidates to choose. This is need of nation now. We really need good leaders now. We need to show national parties that they have to give us good options to choose. We will not vote for the people who have criminal records or no educational backgroung. We should rotate politicians. If father is a politician, next time wife or son will contest the elections and we will vote for him/her as well. What is going on? Are they Rajas of the state? Whose mistake is this? And please never think for regional parties, they add to bad politics and these parties are opportunistic. They don’t allow a stable govt. at centre. I am happy that Himachal has two party system.

  6. says: Rajneesh

    The Views Are Excellent, Step By Step The Writer Has Tried To Raise Concerns That Are All Meaningful.

    But the problem is that our nation is getting oversized with population and ever increasing needs of power, energy etc etc. Creating employemt is the need of all givernments without systematic development.

    We lack far behind Europe and developed nations like Norway because these countries have much higher level of education and intelligence with even the ordinary citizens. Our people too are so much lazy that they never ever bother for whats happeing right/wrong because basically they dont even understand the issues well and dont bother much because of their level of understanding.

    I regional party will also fail utterly because “people will be basically same” A responsible public can chose responsible people…You may float a good party with fresh vision and many good things…but who will educate and inform our fellow Himachalis about the difference between good policies and bad ones…its a very bad vicious circle in our nation..that the system has become rotten to that extent that only Disctatorship seems last hope where government, public servants and people are forced to abide by established rules strictly.

    If you still want to experiment with this novel idea then consider how this new regional party will fight elections? From where the funds will come?? Like these parties have establishments in every nook and corner of our life influecing right from an ordinary villager to high class officer..all are in their grips, practically..psycholgically…our masses are not so much aware to stand by something better or visionary..!

    “Himachal Krantikari Morcha” Bna Do..And Appoint me for writing excting Mind stirring articles…In Netaon ki to …Hawa Nikal Doonga…really..I have too much of Spice with me,,, 😉

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