Unrest in Hardwar

Print edition : September 15, 2001

The movement demanding Hardwar's separation from Uttaranchal and reunion with Uttar Pradesh intensifies, but the Uttaranchal government shows no signs of buckling under pressure.

PURNIMA S. TRIPATHI in Dehra Dun and Delhi

UTTARANCHAL was born 10 months ago, but its birth pangs are still being experienced by the people of the hill State. Hardwar, one of the most important Hindu pilgrim centres, has suddenly turned into a festering wound for the State government. The demand to separate Hardwar from Uttaranchal and reunite it with Uttar Pradesh gained considerable strength in August.

Uttaranchal Chief Minister Nityanand Swami.-ANU PUSHKARNA

The Hardwar Bachao Andolan movement, which had been largely peaceful, turned violent on August 28 when the agitationists blocked the National Highway connecting Delhi and Dehra Dun for the ninth day. The Uttaranchal police opened fire on the protesters, mainly farmers, killing one person and injuring an unspecified number, bringing back memories of the Muzaffar Nagar firing of October 2, 1994, on Uttarakhand agitationists who were on their way to New Delhi to stage a dharna. If any single event deserves credit for the creation of Uttaranchal, it was the 1994 event, which saw Uttar Pradesh policemen running amok. Although the Hardwar incident is different in the sense that there has been no allegation of rape or molestation (women have so far not participated in the agitation) by the police, it bears an uncanny similarity to the Muzaffar Nagar incident.

The demand for the separation of Hardwar has surely caught the popular imagination but what is causing concern is the fact that the movement has passed into the hands of Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Mahendra Singh Tikait, who has a penchant for launching road blockades for an indefinite period; he even resorts to violent means to press his demands. His aggressive tactics have already forced the police to open fire. Although the agitation has become subdued in the wake of the police firing and the intervention of Rashtriya Lok Dal leader and Union Agriculture Minister Ajit Singh, Tikait, in his inimitable style, has warned the government that if Hardwar is not delinked from Uttaranchal, the area would turn into another Kashmir. Addressing farmers at Mangalore Mandi, the scene of the police action, Tikait said: "Can a movement be crushed by using force? The problem can only be solved by re-uniting Hardwar with Uttar Pradesh. When we do not want to live with them, will they keep us there by force?" He said that the movement would continue irrespective of the government's repressive action. To make matters worse, the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) and the Bahujan Samaj Party, have lent support to the struggle. The S.P. president Mulayam Singh Yadav recently declared that the movement for separating Hardwar would continue until the Centre conceded the demand. "Hardwar has been handled in a very unfair manner. There was no move to include Hardwar in Uttaranchal initially. The resolution we passed and the one passed by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government in the U.P. Assembly, made no mention of Hardwar. But the district was surreptitiously included in Uttaranchal at the eleventh hour when Parliament was debating the issue. We will fight against this injustice," he told Frontline.

In fact, the inclusion of Hardwar in Uttaranchal was opposed by the National Democratic Alliance's ally, the Loktantrik Congress, in Parliament when the Bill for the creation of the State was adopted in November 2000. Loktantrik Congress member of the Lok Sabha Chandra Vijay Singh spoke against it during the debate.

At the core of this opposition is the fear that big farmers in the region, who form a substantial vote bank, would lose huge chunks of land if and when the Uttaranchal government chooses to implement the Land Ceiling Act. Another fear is related to commerce. The traders are up in arms because they have to go through double taxation to transport and sell their goods in the markets in the plains.

Political support to the movement has its genesis in the politics of western Uttar Pradesh. The issue has got tremendous emotive power for the farmers in the adjoining areas of Meerut, Muzaffar Nagar, Agra and Bareilly. For politicians trying to woo the numerically strong farming community, who influence the outcome of any election in western U.P., this provides an opportunity to project themselves as the protectors of farmers. This explains the rush of interest in Hardwar shown by Ajit Singh too. Hoping to emerge as the farmers' leader, Ajit Singh lost no time in reaching the scene of police firing and expressing solidarity with the agitationists, unmindful of the fact that he had only recently joined the NDA Ministry. The same motive explains the interest exhibited by the S.P. and the BSP.

The Uttaranchal government, however, is giving no indication of buckling under pressure. Chief Minister Nityanand Swami has served a stern warning that the issue was settled once and for all and anybody trying to fish in troubled waters will be dealt with sternly. "For the time being the movement has died down. There is no agitation now. But I would like to declare that Hardwar is an integral part of Uttaranchal and there is no dispute about it. No demand for the separation of Hardwar will be entertained and anybody creating trouble will be suitably dealt with," he told Frontline. He said the government had so far shown "extreme restraint even in the face of provocation". If good sense did not prevail on the trouble-mongers then lathi dande aur goli bhi chalegi (we will not hesitate to use lathis and bullets), he said.

These firm words surely indicate that there is trouble in store. The timing of the agitation has left no one in doubt that the motive of the leaders of the agitation is political and that they have an eye on the Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal elections. The agitation, which has been confined to dharna and jail bharo actions for the moment, is sure to intensify as the elections approach. It remains to be seen whether the Mangalore Mandi firing will do for Hardwar what the Muzaffar Nagar police action did for Uttaranchal.

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