The malcontent Congress leader, Harish Rawat, is reported to have said that the storm in the state unit of the party has abated and the rest remains in “Chief Minister Bahuguna’s hands”. In other words, Bahuguna is expected to eat further crow before he can hope to overcome his homebred challenges. And the challenges are many – not least in the choice of the party’s candidate for Speaker, getting this candidate elected, winning the vote of confidence, and eventually finding a seat within six months to contest from. All of this requires sacrifice from party members, as well those extending support at a time when it is every man for himself. Already, the exclusion of Dinesh Dhanai from the Cabinet has opened a fresh wound that is likely to fester.
Political observers are rightly questioning the quality of governance likely under such trying circumstances. It will require steely determination, as well as clear cut and time bound priorities. This is not the time for learning or assessment – if there is a political and developmental philosophy, let the CM show it now. He has to hit the ground running, and not just while making the round of Delhi with a begging bowl – something that has unfortunately been the fate of every incumbent in his office.
The priorities will have to be clearly articulated and soon. The party manifesto is there, of course, but it is more an exercise in obfuscation and an attempt to please all, rather than a document of purpose that intends to achieve goals limited to carefully chosen sectors.
The biggest challenge will be enforcing the writ of the law and authority of government – both aspects that have taken a beating in the increasingly corrupt functioning of the state. Laws are being violated in every aspect of public life, even as the twisted interpretation in their implementation is encouraging contempt for the law. The moral authority of the state and establishment has to be won back and quickly. Without this, no other reform or initiative is going to work.
Of course, this would require a total revamp of the primary enforcing agency – the police. This top-heavy organisation is, at present, functioning as though the state constitutes two divisions with an IG running each. Policy direction, the required moral clarity and sophistication that ought to flow from the higher ranks, are entirely missing. The lack of political will and policy in this regard are also a major factor for the decline. The politicians running the show, so far, have clearly lacked an understanding of how law and order is essential to good governance. In fact, if anything, there has been a vested interest in keeping the conditions lax, so that the nexus with criminal elements remains untouched. It is by now a cliché, but the hopes of the Uttarakhandis that honest hill folk would bring clean governance once a separate state was formed have been almost totally betrayed. Instead of establishing a law-abiding culture, there has been positive enthusiasm in adopting the carpet-bagger instinct associated more with the Gurgaon fly-by-night culture.
At the heart of any development vision for Uttarakhand would also be infrastructure, in particular, the road network. The hill state is cripplingly dependent on its roads for tourism, industry, essential supplies, etc. In the past five years, if anything, this has seen the greatest decline, for whatever reasons. The focus has been on spending money on ‘easy’ projects that bring in quick commissions, instead of adopting an ambitious policy of applying engineering solutions to the most intractable regions. High-quality projects have the concomitant effect of releasing creative energy that spills over in other areas for the betterment of all.
Let the new government be ambitious in its objectives and pursue them with iron-willed determination. The three months of the last Khanduri regime were an example of what can be achieved if there is a will- even if that was more in the political sphere than in concrete, grassroots development.