We, the Government
By HUGH & COLLEEN GANTZER
This column is addressed, primarily, to Mr SS Negi, Vice Chairman of the Migration Commission. According to a report in a national daily: “The commission is now brainstorming on ways to provide employment to village residents to keep them from going back to cities.”
We are delighted to learn that the returnees are being treated as an asset. They are, presumably, much younger, better informed, and far more eager to seek pragmatic solutions to the problems of their villages than their older and more conservative relatives who stayed behind. We wrote about the pioneering effects of such returnees in our last column. If properly handled, and encouraged, the returnees could change the entire socio-economic structure of Uttarakhand.
History has revealed that, as knowledge percolates down to the most deprived sections of society, social Evolution grows. Revolutions are messy affairs and they give birth to new, and overbearing, dominant classes. The Russian Revolution created Josef Stalin’s slave-labour camps, and political big-wigs with their own luxury hunting villas in the forests and even their own traffic lanes. The overthrow of the Middle-Eastern-West-Asian monarchs created despots of insatiable greed and cruelty. One of them even believed that he was the reincarnation of an ancient emperor and almost destroyed his country trying to re-create that mythical era. Hitler, the black-haired, brown-eyed Austrian, was convinced that he could restore the mythical Age of the blonde, blue-eyed Aryans.
We don’t need to mention present-day despots who live in their own delusionary worlds of spin-doctored, separate, realities. The recent video of two little boys, of different racial backgrounds, running to hug each other was heart-warming. It was spin-doctored to create the disgusting image of the black child fleeing in fear from the white! Does any honest fearless leader really need a troupe of lying spin-doctors?
The point is, Mr Negi, that Covid 19 is rapidly eroding the foundations of the arrogant top-down approach. The Age of Big Brother Knows All started withering when India-inspired Steve Jobs, and other computer savants, created global access to information by giving the world the smart phone. When universal knowledge and awareness of world events, in real time, are available to everyone, there is hardly any room for bluffing, is there? Covid 19’s reverse migration has, suddenly, enriched the skill sets of many of our villages as well as their ability and urge to join the mainstream of progress.
So, what should the Migration Commission do?
It should try the very successful Swiss approach. Switzerland is known for its scenic beauty, its financial heft, its watches, its chocolates and its cheeses. We’ve visited Switzerland very often on the invitation of Swiss Tourism and Swissair. But every visit had to be approved by one or more of its Cantons: its virtually independent panchayats. Its speciality cheeses are produced in its Cantons’ meadows, the equivalent of our bughyals. But it imports all the sugar and cocoa for it chocolates, all the steel for its watches, and adds value. Its financial clout is because of the trust of foreign investors. Its scenic beauty is as much as ours in Uttarakhand though our Himalayas are much higher than theirs.
So, why aren’t we as successful as Switzerland? Very simply, because we have always been subject to a top-down government. Our decision makers have always had to look over their shoulders for instructions. This can change, now that well informed villagers have returned. We should encourage the formation of cooperative societies in our villages, independent of the panchayats. They should tell us to what extent they will cooperate with Dehradun to assist them to improve their lives.
You will recall, Mr Negi, that Uttarakhand led India in the Chipko movement. This was not a Delhi-Lucknow-Dehradun centric activity. It was born in our villages. There is no reason why Dehradun should not encourage a new gaon-focused evolution. Though our more arrogant netas might resent this apparent erosion of their authority, they should remember that their clout is not a divine gift bestowed on them. There are other roads to prosperity!
Or, as we like to express it in this column, it will be action By, For and Of, We, the Government. That is exactly what participative democracy is all about.
(Hugh & Colleen Gantzer hold the National Lifetime Achievement Award for Tourism among other National and International awards. Their credits include over 52 half-hour documentaries on national TV under their joint names, 26 published books in 6 genres, and over 1,500 first-person articles, about every Indian state, UT and 34 other countries. Hugh was a Commander in the Indian Navy and the Judge Advocate, Southern Naval Command. Colleen is the only travel writer who is a member of the Travel Agents Association of India.)