Uttarakhand Kranti Dal at the crossroads

Uttarakhand Kranti Dal at the crossroads

An in-depth analysis on the affairs of Uttarakhand Kranti Dal. With Assembly polls slated for 2017, will it be direct fight between Congress and BJP, or the UKD emerge as a potent third force

By Sumit Pande


his July, Uttarakhand Kranti Dal or the UKD, formed under the chairmanship of Dr D D Pant, the then vice-chancellor of the Kumaun University, completed 36 years of its existence.

It was precisely the year, All Assam Students Union or AASU was borne out of a simmering public discontent against the influx of Bangladeshi migrants in the north-eastern state. AASU later metamorphosed itself into a full-fledged political party to win elections under the leadership of P K Mahanta. It was also the same period when Shibu Soren was mobilising tribals, trade-unionists and others to consolidate Jharkhand Mukti Morcha in south-Bihar, a party he had formed in early-seventies.

UKD's leader and former MLA Kashi Singh Airy

UKD’s leader and former MLA Kashi Singh Airy

A few years later, down south, another matinee star, N T Rama Rao was to pulverise a well entrenched Congress in Andhra Pradesh by tapping into a deep running kamma sub-nationalism varnished over by a heady mix of his star appeal and Telegu-pride.

One can continue in the same vein to show how regional and sub-regional identities have manifested themselves through vehicles of political mobilisation within the larger framework of multi-party federal polity in post-independence India. Some of the abovementioned regional outfits have survived the test of time. They won power in their hey-days, and have since successfully maintained their relevance in provincial politics vis-a-vis national parties. The current political landscape in the country is strewn with many such successful experiments- from West Bengal and Odisha to Maharashtra and Jammu and Kashmir.

In Uttarakhand however, that was not to be. Why and how regional political identity has failed to take roots in the hill state is an interesting case study unto itself.

Scholars who have studied the socio-economic and political landscape of the twin divisions of Kumaun and Garhwal as part of un-divided Uttar Pradesh provide an interesting peek into the alienation experienced by the region in the first three decades post independence. Believe it or not- but the area was not covered by a single development scheme both by the centre and the state of UP in the First Five Year Plan. After the 1962 China War, the sudden spurt in growth activities aimed primarily at securing borders made the situation worse.

Government acquired land, built roads, felled trees as skilled and semi-skilled workers travelled up the hills with private contractors. The ‘development activity’ coinciding with the Third Five Year Plan was primarily confined to work taken up for strategic fortification of the borders. It did not benefit the local population by any stretch. The alienation was perhaps more accentuated and complete with the promulgation of the New Forest Policy of 1976 which encouraged extraction of forest produce by big players in the market at the cost of the local entrepreneurs.

UKD's flag

UKD’s flag

So the situation was just ripe for a player to step in to fill in the political vacuum. The genesis of Uttarakhand Kranti Dal in 1979 was thus an impending event waiting to happen.

In early eighties, for an insurgent outfit like UKD with limited resources to take on a well entrenched Congress of the yore under Indira and later Rajiv Gandhi was quite an achievement.

Jaswant Singh Bisht was first party MLA in the UP assembly. The young and redoubtable Kashi Singh Airy followed suit winning consecutive terms from Didihaat.

Since then the UKD, despite being the first political entity to have formally taken up the demand for the formation of a separate hill state as part of its political agenda has remained on the fringes of the state politics. All this while much water has flown down Bhagirathi and Alaknanda; and Uttarakhand as hill state become a reality.

The marginalisation of UKD can be traced to some of the argument posited by scholars who aver that state polity exhibits an inherent centripetal tendency which gravitates it towards the political centre and thus towards national parties. The reasons for this are both social and religious.

Firstly as a territorial segment of politically significant Uttar Pradesh its integration with the national politics was reinforced as a part of large Hindi speaking state.2 The argument is underscored by the fact that leaders from this region which had less than 10% representation in the un-divided UP towered over both state and national politics. From Govind Ballabh Pant to N D Tiwari, the list is quite long.

Paradoxically, while the region faced economic alienation in the initial years, a parallel cultural integration at the sub-conscious level was always on.

Interestingly, Pant as the first chief minister of UP contested and won elections from Bareilly in the plains. Conversely, Chandra Bhanu Gupta, the veteran Congress CM represented Ranikhet in the assembly. Hemvanti Nandan Bahuguna- shifted base to Allahabad quite early.

Some even credit him with the genesis of ‘iftaar politics’ in the country.

Secondly, integration of the hill region with the national mainstream is also on account of the annual travel by lacs of pilgrims to Hindu religious places in the hills. The larger national identity and affinity to political centre gets reinforced by the characteristic demography of the state overwhelmed by upper caste Hindus.

A countrywide survey of the rural household released in 2009 pegs the population of Socially and Educationally Backward communities (OBC) in Uttarakhand as negligible. This also explains the instant recoil at and protests against the 1994 decision of the then Mulayam Singh Yadav government to implement 27 % OBC reservation in the erstwhile UP which later crystallized into an agitation for a separate state. In this chicken and egg puzzle, was the demand for a separate hill state in 1994-1995 a manifestation of a dormant sub-regional political identity? Or was it conceived as a mere bypass to an executive decision which had highly agitated an upper-caste Hindu majority fearing loss of job opportunities.

Diwakar Bhatt, leader of UKD's breakaway section

Diwakar Bhatt, leader of UKD’s breakaway section

It was quite natural then that the state polity took a right turn in the decade dominated by mandal-kamandal politics. Thus and thus, and in every election since its inception, Uttarakhand follows the larger narrative prevailing at the national level leaving very little space for regional parties like UKD to manoeuvre a separate regional identity.

For the last 15 years, the two national parties have settled down to a cosy arrangement taking turns to govern the state. The current equilibrium suits the current political dispensation cutting across party line. But does it auger well for the state?

Sumit Pande is Political Editor at CNN-IBN.

He has been a Research Fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, University of Oxford.

He is an avid follower of Indian political spectrum, with deep focus on North India. His Twitter handle is — SumitpSumit.

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