More Lows Than Highs
The Congress-led ruling coalition, headed by Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna, completed one year in office on March 13 in Uttarakhand. But the dreams and hopes of the people of the state, who expected some major development changes for betterment of the state, remain grounded as nothing concrete has been done by the state government in its first year
It has been a year since the ‘common man’ voted for the Congress government as against the ruling BJP government in the 2012 Assembly polls, paving the way for Vijay Bahuguna-led government to fulfill its expectations. However, given the present situation and developments in the past one year, the first birthday of the government is not something that they should be joyous about. What is even more baffling is the present scenario clearly reflecting the ongoing infighting in the Congress party. With everyone, from grassroots workers to the top notch, in the party going their own way, there is not much hope left for the common man.
It may be recalled that the seeds of revolt were sown at the very beginning when following a thin margin victory over the arch rival BJP, the Congress formed the state government in coalition with Bahujan Samaj Party, Uttarakhand Kranti Dal and some independent candidates. Crowning of Vijay Bahuguna, the then MP of Tehri Garhwal, as the state’s Chief Minister by the party high command drew a lot of flak from within the party. The biggest setback came when Union Minster Harish Rawat along with some party legislators openly revolted against the decision. The initial two months were wasted in coaxing and adjusting the revolting legislators and Harish Rawat, resulting in acceptance of the high command’s decision. Even though the revolt was nipped in the bud, it left a lot of fissures within the party.
With his eyes firmly set on the 2014 elections, the Congress ‘crown prince’ and national vice president Rahul Gandhi arrived in the state in order to motivate the party’s rank and file. However, the trip wasn’t as eventful as the Gandhi scion might have expected. Whatever ‘issues’ were kept away from the eyes of the party high command was thrown out in front of Rahul Gandhi, clearly reflecting how bad the situation is within the party. His visit made it clear that the national vice president was not happy the way things were shaping up in the state under the Congress rule. The Gandhi scion also expressed resentment against the Chief Minister’s decision of launching his son Saket Bahuguna as Congress candidate for Tehri Lok Sabha by-election. Rahul Gandhi categorically announced that from then onwards only those who have worked for at least five years within the party would be given a ticket for contesting elections. The unhappiness and lack of trust by the higher command could be gauged from the fact that while interacting with the party workers, Rahul asked the party top brass including Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna, state chief Yashpal Arya and other functionaries to leave the venue.
They say an able leader leads the flock carefully. The leader, Vijay Bahuguna, has himself not been able to tread carefully, what to say about his pack. The only high point in the first year of the Chief Minister has been his victory from Sitarganj by a margin of 39,000 votes. While still basking in the glory, the CM was jolted out following the massive and rather shameful defeat of his son Saket Bahuguna in Tehri Lok Sabha by-election held in October 2012. Trying to catapult his son into active politics, Bahuguna managed to get ticket for his son for the seat, which he himself had represented before donning the cap of CM. The outright rejection of Congress nominee, and more so CM’s son, was more of a personal defeat than that of the party for Vijay Bahuguna.
With a view to encashing the sentiments of those residing in the hills, the Chief Minister played another card by holding a cabinet meeting at Gairsain in Chamoli district in November 2012. Gairsain has remained in limelight ever since the demand for separate state of Uttarakhand was raised. There has been a demand to make Gairsain the capital of Uttarakhand in place of Dehradun. Following the thumping response for holding the cabinet meeting, the CM announced the construction of a new Vidhan Sabha building at Gairsain, the foundation stone for the same has been laid in January 2013.
Power sector, which has always remained a forte for the successive government, has also been overlooked by the present government. Though Bahuguna promised that he would start the stalled hydroelectric projects, a year has passed and no headway has been made. The matter is still lying pending with the union government.
The government has also faltered on the development front, as it has failed to use the budget judiciously. At the time of wrinting, with merely 16 days left for the end of the fiscal year, the government has spent mere 40 per cent of the allocated budget towards development. There was no improvement in the condition of roads and building infrastructure in various sectors, particularly tourism. The state government made grand plans to develop Tehri lake as an international tourist destination, but its implementation has yet to be seen.
In order to boost the industrial growth in the state, the Chief Minister started an industrial estate at Sitarganj. However, the same has also been stalled following the opposition from BJP regarding the sale of land at Sitarganj and Haridwar to private builders. As far as ministers are concerned, most of the ministers, except two, made foreign trips with their favourites in the first year of the Congress state government.
Further, the government also faltered in its duty towards the people of the state. Its inability to provide for rescue and relief operations during the monsoon season in 2012, especially in the Uttarkashi and Rudraprayag districts, which faced massive destruction, also received a lot of flak. It appeared that the bureaucracy was simply out of CM’s control.
The state government scheme to give unemployment allowance to the unemployed has not been implemented effectively yet. The state government has also set up a minorities’ development ministry but there is nothing on the ground for the welfare of the minorities, except being merely vocal.
In the wake of the present scenario and the failure of the Congress-led state government to deliver the goods, as was promised by it, the opposition led by BJP has demanded the stepping down of the government.
By Parwinder Sandhu from Dehradun