Glancing Back, Looking Ahead


(Published in Garhwal Post on January 1, 2012)

As LCD screens and mobile phones get chocked up with good wishes for the ‘Happy New Year’ from all over,  one is forced to allow one-self a break and reflect a bit on what one has been through, read or heard. What was 2011 like for the world at large, the country and nearer home, the state, one’s friend’s circle – and most importantly for the immediate family-members  and, last but not the least –  for himself or herself ? One can now at best be a bit philosophical about all that has transpired, gone. However, the life being but a continuum, one cannot help simultaneously to think about the next day, week ahead and the year. Planning beyond a year – sorry, not so soon. What is the tearing hurry ?

Planning for Next Five Years

In fact, it is time for those who are responsible for planning for the development of the state and the welfare of its people, to reflect seriously and plan for the next five years, for 2012 to 2017, to be more precise. Right now, those who are supposed to be looking ahead are busy planning for the next five years, as the Twelfth Five Year Plan begins on the dot, on the 1st April 2012 – Elections or no Elections. Elections for those five States, including Uttarakhand where their Assemblies have completed their five year term. One would certainly would like to know whether those, in our State particularly, who are responsible for this serious task, are at it or not ? Going by what one knows personally, or what one has heard or read in the papers or channels, this activity seems to be the farthest from the minds of our planners, appointed or elected ! To reiterate, this has been the biggest failure of this new State, all regimes included –having not taken our planning machinery seriously, not building a set up, what is commonly known in our country as the Planning Commission. We can ill afford to continue to neglect it, and if the state as a whole has to make a serious New Year Resolution, it should be to give it a modern, forward –looking, competent and non-partisan Planning Commission.

Mind you, Planning Commission is not about cribbing for additional staff, timely budget only – but about having the best, most-experienced and committed individuals, keeping their sights at the global, regional and national trends, securing maximum resources for the progress of the state, innovative practices, strong advocacy for the State, as a new resurgent Uttarakhand. Mercifully, here is a State which boasts of some of the brightest scientists, economists, educationists and so on – so it is not as if, we do not have the grey-matter to do, what we have to do. Only one has to start looking beyond one’s nose, [petty-politics, in a non-partisan way. Is any party, individual bothered about it ? We as electorates are going to ask about it, hold those responsible for neglecting such an important activity, and quibbling about one morsel of entitlement here, one there. This should be the first major task for the new government, which ever government gets formed. By the way, one does not have wait for the new government to be in set for this, this is to be undertaken urgently, and no Code of Conduct bars it, it is the normal work of the government of the day.

Assertion  of  State-hood :

Whatever one was able to make of such a huge national-wide waste of time, watching a charade of a debate, disguised as parliamentary and democratic supremacy, over every thing else this country stands for, if it really does – one thing happily got emphasised. For a change the issue of India being a federal polity, an aspect almost totally forgotten in the heydays of a single –party rule, came to the front. And, with it came the realisation, especially for the two major parties of this country, that they can kiss good-bye to ruling by remote-control. The States are asserting themselves, and rightly so. Sooner we realise that here is a polity which has to give room to marginal sections of the society, the women, the minorities, the Scheduled Castes and the Tribes and so on, the better for the health of the country. Communalism, Caste-ism and regionalism – will not take you far; good –governance will. In the farcical debate, the masks of being one-up on ‘corruption’ was effectively removed, by both sides. While a Tharoor undid the Uttarakhand Lok Ayukt, Paschimbang ( West Bengal ) representative made it clear that they want one standard of anti-corruption ombudsman for the States like West Bengal and Gujarat, and quite another for the Centre. Corruption, has to be dealt differently, in the States and the Centre, that is what they wished to convey to the people of this country – and, there were no takers, of this quaint logic. To say the least, the debaters and the parties successfully managed to lower-down further the over all estimation, whatever was left of it, in which our politicians and political parties are held in this country today. Be that as it may, the ultimate winner appeared to be the States, as an integral part of the polity we have given to ourselves. The States have to re-assert themselves, in a positive sense, that is. This brings the issue of regional politics and regional parties, to the fore. Here one is sorry to observe, there is not much to look forward to. Going by the track record so far, one could just wish that which ever major party comes to power, they must have a clear majority, a mandate to complete full five year term. Political stability, is the mool-mantra, of development. Uttarakhand has been rather lucky so far in this respect. We have had governments which ran their full-terms. None of the two major parties of the State can possibly have this excuse, for not having performed as they were expected to be..    

Coequal sovereignty, if there be any such principle in political science, has got to be re-visited in this country, especially from the point of view of asserting the coequal right of States enshrined in the Constitution of India. Relations between the Centre and the States on the one hand, and between one State and the other, are issues which have not been looked at with the seriousness as they deserve. There is Centre-State Council and there are Articles in our Constitution but they have been allowed to remain dormant. In extreme cases matters get taken to the Supreme Court, where they generally remain pending, till the problem resolves itself. What does it mean to Uttarakhand, as a State, and where should it take this issue of State supremacy and its inherent rights, once it is a member of the Council of States, enjoying the same rights and priviledges as any other State, old or new ? Should its claims, pending against its parent State, remain unresolved even after a decade, for instance is one issue that it should very effectively pose before the Centre, the latter being the last arbiter. That makes for the second biggest issue, before the new Government, when it takes office, after the third General Elections of 2012 to the Assembly is over. It is about time that Uttarakhand asserted its rights and privileges as a sovereign State of the Republic.

How many issues remain unresolved ?  A ‘provisional’ state Capital even after a decade, division of assets – are issues on which the Centre should take a call,  or refer the matter for juridical resolution. Where the Centre has to be told, with Mamta-like assertiveness, as a sovereign State, to hold back and withdraw and reverse its decisions on the cancelled Hydro-power projects, notifications on the so-called Eco-sensitive Zones ( 135 Kms ), and eschew the mentality of riding rough-shod over State sensibilities. Council of States, have sent a loud message, on the last day of 2011, which is best remembered as The Lesson of 2011, namely the States should not be taken for granted any more.

Regional and International  :
Maturing as a State it is also time that Uttarakhand starts looking beyond it nose and find its moorings  in the comity of States, a logical progression. It has been rightly said –  ‘ Growing old is mandatory, Growing –  up is optional !  ‘.

Looking around one finds that the new year is also the year when the Earth Summit is going to be observed in June 2012 at Rio, celebrating the two decades of Sustainable Mountain Development, 20 years of the Mountain Agenda ! Does any one remember the Mountain Agenda, any more ?  Arguably, it was the relative backwardness of the  eight hill-districts of that giant of a State, Uttar Pradesh, that the people wished to say good-bye to and the State was formed. Whether our politicians like it or not, given the demographic stone-mill they have wittingly or unwittingly showed their necks into, the Mountain Agenda is now going to stare them in the face, and they would not be able to duck the issue at the ensuing battle at the hustings ! However, it is not the uncomfortable Mountain Agenda of the Uttarakhand politics one is alluding to, it is the universal Mountain Agenda, that they are being reminded of. It is rather unfortunate that the model-of-a –Hill State, Himachal Pradesh, has never bothered to make the Mountain Agenda an issue which ought to be posed to the Centre. To be fair to the present regime of Himachal Pradesh, it did convene a Conference of Himalayan Chief Minister in Shimla, in 2009 and the then Chief Minister of Uttarakhand, Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘ Nishank ’, did promise an encore –  in Uttarakhand, next year. But that was, typically of the man, was not to be. However, where politics fail, people try to take over. Thanks to the callous neglect of the ‘Mountain Agenda’ by our politicians, both at the Centre and in the Himalayan States, an initiative took birth, the Indian Mountain Initiative, through the efforts of the civil society-the Track  II, as it were. This Indian Mountain Initiative ( IMI ) also strengthens the individual and collective role of States, a bit differently, the 12 Indian Mountain States. So, in this 20th Anniversary year of the ‘Mountain Agenda’, when the entire world is going to reflect seriously about sustainable mountain development, and in which the resurgent Asian countries like China and India, are going to take a lead, an assertive lead, Uttarakhand must join hands with other 11 Indian Mountain States, and persuade both India and the world at large, about the need to pay more attention to the issues which are bedevilling the Indian Mountain States, their degrading environ, chronic and endemic poverty one observes in the least developed countries, a good number of them land-locked mountain countries. Thus inter-twining the assertive role of Indian States in the Indian scheme of things, and Indian Mountain States in the regional and world arena, seems to be third priority which awaits any government which takes over, after the Assembly elections are over.   

In the ‘heat and dust’ of electioneering, mountains fortunately do not allow even this excuse at this time of the year, hopefully our leaders-to-be will find time to reflect on such non-mundane issues, is all that this writer can hope for. Let us all look forward to a resurgent Uttarakhand being led and governed by a better government, better individuals in 2012.

R S Tolia

Late Dr. R.S. Tolia, Ph.D., was former Chief Secretary ( 2003-05 ) and Chief Information Commissioner ( 2005-10) of Uttarakhand. He also served in various voluntary positions after retirement and devoted his time for Mountain Development Agenda.

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