Manali: Panchayat polls have ripped apart families in ancient Malana village, the oldest known democracy, which was known for it strong community life, which was governed by its own small parliament and maintained law and order until about two decades ago. With the Himachal government bringing the highland village of Malana into the mainstream and having injected its version of electoral system into the village life, the harmonious families are today divided into two camps.
There are a total of 811 voters in Malana who will vote in the upcoming HP Assembly election to be held later this year. Earlier, in panachayat polls two persons, representing BJP and Congress, contested the panchayat election for the post of village pradhan (president). Similarly, two persons did contest for post of up-pradhan (vice-president).
Malana has 5 wards and one ward member was elected unopposed and polling was conducted for remaining wards. Villagers who had nothing to do with politics and polling system were divided into two rival camps.
“Politics has proved fatal for our social life. The entire village is today divided into two political groupings whereas we not long ago live a united and integrated community like one family,” Hari Singh, a Malana resident recalls.
Now politicians visit our village and lure innocent villagers to follow their particular party for their personal gain. Most of us are illiterate. They take advantage of it for otherwise no political leader visits Malana. During last assembly elections, only one candidate visited our village,” says Hari Singh
Bhagi Ram and Shai Ram, representing BJP and Congress respectively, contested for panchayat pradhan elections and Raju Ram and Hari Ram contested for up-pradhan post. Half villagers supported BJP candidate and others supported the Congress candidate.
Political rift among villagers is dividing the people and there a growing number of dispute among neighbours because of their political alignments, something that was not there when the village held its own parliament that had a lower house and an upper house for elders. Their diktat was the law, all governed in the name of Jamlu Devta, the village deity.
Popular folklore holds that Malana villagers are descendants from the remnants of Alexander’s Greek soldiers who chose to stay back after his conquest in 326 BC.
In Malana’s heritage parliamentary system, all crucial decisions were taken by the upper and lower houses. Members of lower house were heads of the families while members of upper house were elected by the lower house.
With the authority of the village parliament having eroded, the villagers resent that even petty matters are now reaching the police station, only because Malana has been corrupted by politics.
The village is famous the world over for producing ‘Malana cream’, considered the best charas (marijuana) in the world. While growing cannabis was part of the traditional crops in much of Kullu valley, including Malana, it having been declared a contraband and its growing banned is resented by the villagers. From time to time they have been agitating to get marijuana cultivation legalized.
Much of the old Malana village was burnt down in a devastating fire in the winter of 2008
Sanjay Dutta, an engineer by qualification but is a journalist by choice.
He has worked for the premier new agency Press Trust of India and leading English daily Indian Express.
With more than a decade of experience, he has been highlighting issues related to environment, tourism and other aspects affecting mountain ecology.
Sanjay Dutta lives in a village close to Manali in Kullu valley of Himachal.