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Journey of a Maverick Politician

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By Dr. Satish C. Aikant

Mera Jeevan Lakshya Uttarakhandiyat
By Harish Rawat
Noida: Paakhi Publications, 2023, Pages 654, Rs.200.

The book Mera Jeevan Lakshya Uttarakhandiyat is a compilation of articles written by Harish Rawat, fondly called Har Da by his friends and admirers, on a range of issues reflecting upon various aspects of our history, society, culture and politics and is, as veteran journalist and consulting editor of Amar Ujala Vinod Agnihotri notes in his foreword to the book, a virtual treasure trove of information on Uttarakhand.

The term ‘Uttarakhandiyat’ in the title may sound somewhat parochial and a limiting idea, but it is not really so, and the author deserves credit for conceiving it as a capacious concept that encompasses the co-existence of diverse systems of faith and belief, both orthodox and heterodox, the various customs, rituals, food habits, modes of worship, multiplicity of gods and goddesses from high canonical pantheon to village  folk devi devatatas. This rich diversity could stand for the microcosm of India weaving in its fabric the very idea of India and contributing to its secular image envisioned by our forefathers through millennia down to the leaders of our freedom movement.

For someone who rose from a village Block Pramukh to holding crucial portfolios in the central government to being at the helm of Uttarakhand as the Chief Minister it is an interesting political journey though not without its ups and downs. Rawat has been a five-time Member of Parliament, both from Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, earlier a student leader at Lucknow University, trade Union leader, and a leader of Indian Youth Congress and of Congress Seva Dal.

What impresses the reader most in this book is the candour with which the author expresses himself as the narrative takes shape. The very first chapter sets the tone for how the events unfold. Rawat laments the fact that ever since its creation  Uttarakhand has had to live with the stigma of corruption sticking to it. The state did not have a leader like Parmar of Himachal Pradesh to mould its destiny and set it on the right course of development. The successive governments did precious little to extricate the state from the vortex of corruption. Unfortunately, this wisdom in hindsight does not absolve Rawat of his own ineffective intervention despite his protestation that he tried his best to provide a clean and efficient administration to the state. This only goes on to show how deeply corruption has invaded our body politic. One ought to realise that corruption begins with elections where money and muscle power are in full play with blatant disregard for any moral scruples.

Rawat insists that when he took over as the Chief Minister of Uttarakhand, he tried his best to boost the economy of the state and augment its resources fighting against all odds. He firmly believes that it was the Centre which played a devious role in making his government fall. He gives a detailed account of the machinations that were at play.

Several articles in the book capture the minutiae of life led in the villages, the struggles of the poor amidst the levels of deprivations they suffer from but also the fortitude and resilience with which they face the challenges.  As the villagers are forced to migrate away from their native places in search of education and employment, their links with their villages become more and more tenuous disrupting their social life. The  ambit of family relationships is gradually shrinking. In many cases those left behind in the villages are old and infirm people condemned to lead a precarious existence. This is the tragedy of Uttarakhand’s hundreds of ‘ghost villages,’ their numbers increasing by the day. There have been no serious attempts at the government level to mitigate the situation even though Commissions have been set up to look into the problem. Pontificating from the comfort of Dehradun is going to be of little help. The obvious and effective measure, as Rawat suggests, is to provide the basic infrastructure of education, healthcare and livelihood means to the villagers in remote areas. The  focus has to be on the decentralization of administration to give enough powers to local bodies and make them stake holders in their own development.The increasingly global economic model that is being pursued tends to replace the caring, communicative, emotional network of relations that was once the hallmark of traditional village societies.

The question of the permanent capital for Uttarakhand remains a vexed issue. While the common sentiment has been in favour of Gairsain the political and bureaucratic classes are opposed to the idea. Harish Rawat does reiterate his desire to make Gairsain the state capital but no one really seriously believes that it will ever happen. There is a mad rush from all other places in Uttarakhand to settle in Dehradun. Rawat also informs us that the idea initially mooted was to make Uttarahand a union territory. That perhaps would have been the wiser thing to do as common people now feel.

Several articles of the book provide blueprints to revive the rural economy and village industries and promotion of arts and crafts. During his tenure as the Chief Minister Rawat had strongly rooted for cultivation of mandua, jhangora, marsa etc as healthy food alternatives.  His efforts now stand vindicated as the state and central governments have launched programmes for promotion of millets in a big way.

The author is passionately devoted to promoting the folk art of Kumaun which is intimately bound with the life cycles of people. The ‘Aipan’ or ‘Alpana’ is the most widespread form of art in the hills. The folk motifs, delicately painted geometric designs, decorate all available surfaces- doors, windows, walls, floors, ledges that occupy space and are central to the celebration of different festivals and performance of rituals in the hills. The oral literature of Uttarakhand has largely survived within the repository of the musical tradition. The old pastoral, agricultural songs, the Hurkiya Bols, are sung during the sowing of the paddy, a delicate task traditionally undertaken by women. Unfortunately the consequences of an ill-conceived tourism-based economy, with its concomitant commercialisation of values, are impacting negatively on people’s lives.  One needs to seek some balance if one believes in sustainable development. The reader can see that Rawat’s narrative is suffused with a pervasive sense of nostalgia for the traditional way of life.

The book presents various facets of the author’s personality fashioned from the time he was a simple village lad immersed in the culture and tradition of Kumaun to his growing up years of initiation into active political and social life. All through these years he has remained committed to the welfare of people and the future of Uttarakhand.

Rawat also writes in detail about the prominent political and social figures whose paths he has crossed. We get glimpses into the lives of Govind Ballabh Pant, Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna, Badri Dutt Pandey and others, sons of the soil, who have distinguished themselves in the national politics. He writes very candidly about his relationship with Narayan Dutt Tewari, one of the tallest figures in India’s and Uttarakhand’s politics. He has had great admiration for the man but then at some stage their relationship soured. He writes about his devotion to the Congress Party and in particular to the Gandhi family, as would be expected.  It should be commended that he has shown his unflinching loyalty to the Gandhis and the Congress when many from the party have drifted away seeking greener pastures.

Rawat has an inimitable style of writing in Hindi which is lucid as it is colloquial and urbane by turns. This book should be read not only by the admirers of Harish Rawat but also by his detractors. The latter will immensely benefit, even if inadvertently, by the insights provided by the author.

Rawat is fond of often wandering through the wilderness of Garhwal and Kumaun hills but that should by no means suggest that he is in political wilderness. One hopes that he will once again be in a commanding position in Uttarakhand’s politics so that he may realise his dreams about the future of Uttarakhand.  The state does require visionary leadership.

(The reviewer is former Professor  and Head of  the Department
of English, H.N.B.  Garhwal  University
)