developmental hidtory of himachal

Whose Development Is It, Anyway?

The development that the people of the state know of has eschewed exploitation and annihilation at almost every level with the final consequence being the destruction of Himachal ecology.

This article is an effort to explore the many meanings which have sedimented around the key motif of Himachal Pradesh Assembly Election – the development.

It highlights the ignorance of the local and lived histories of the development entailed in the developmental discourse by the Congress and Bhartiya Janata Party and reiterated by the commercial mass media.

Himachal will go to polls on November 9, 2017. As the state gears up with massive rallies and prospective designs, one finds a key motif being reiterated throughout development.

No wonder that has been so and it would remain. What strikes out however, is the discursive and rhetorical unity that the politicians and mass media reporting share.

When Modi centralizes development as the main poll plank and his party implies the corrupt Congress government in the state by their ‘Hisaab Maange Himachal’ campaign, the constituency watch segments in the Tribune highlight how Prem Kumar Dhumal had laid the foundation stone for a water channel but no single brick was added during the Congress regime.

The problem between the big talk of the political elites, media that corroborates with them for stories of developmental projects, national parties and national interests is that the people, their lived experiences and the locality is ignored.

It is precisely with this concern that this article is written. The article tries to juxtapose the idea of development articulated by the politicians during the Himachal Pradesh election 2017 and reiterated by the mass media as against the local historical experience of development in the state of Himachal Pradesh.

If one goes beyond the binaries of Cong/BJP and development/under-development which is upheld in their political action and the columns of the news articles reporting on the H.P. elections, one sees a unified notion of ‘development’.

This notion is disseminated and ignores the local historical experience with ‘development’.

Himachal Pradesh has almost 90% of its population living in the rural areas. Out if which, 62% are employed in agriculture or horticulture which is responsible for generation of 16% of the total G.S.D.P.

It is also the home to many scheduled communities like the Gaddis, Gujjars, Bhots, and Lahaulas etc.These aberrational figures.

However, it does not capture the local historical experience of development. Rather it is a consequence of it.

The local history has not been pleasant as the media and the political elites imply, almost being antithetical to all the fervor and enthusiasm with which these projects are announced.

The development that the people of the state know of has eschewed exploitation and annihilation at almost every level with the final consequence being the destruction of Himachal ecology.

A recent study by Himdhara concluded how the developmental activities in the state have adversely hit the river basins of Satluj, Ravi, Beas, Chenab and Yamuna.

However, this is not all. From the first stages till the last, development means struggles and problems for the people of the state.

The forceful eviction and anti-encroachment drives by the Congress government last year, the delayed implementation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006 after a long drawn struggle, and the stunted rate of settling F.R.C.’s claims to lands remain in the local memory.

The late implementation was at the cost of diversion of lands for developmental projects against the interests of the locals.

In doing so, many provisions were bypassed. The Himachal Pradesh Power Corporation Ltd. had even appealed in the court saying,

The Gram Sabha is the deciding body/ authority to comply with the direction of the learned National Green Tribunal, Delhi but the Gram Sabha consists of unskilled local persons/ local residents.

On November 5, 2016, in a case where the N.G.T. had ordered the state government to comply and implement the F.R.A., 2006.

The locals were not only barred from their own homelands, but it also directly hit their livelihood and subsistence activities in the form of repression by the forest department by felling of trees, dismantling the houses and water/electricity connections along with inaccessibility to forest products.

In the local history, the denial of ancestral home and material basis of culture is one of the first meanings of development.

And that’s not all. With the construction of these projects comes the plight of unemployment. Companies prefer migrant workers in the construction of these projects as they are more skilled, less paid and have a lower tendency to unite and resist the unfair and exploitative terms.

Along with these migrant workers come further destruction of the natural habitat with clearing of forests and felling of trees. It leads to the detribalization in tribal areas.

As these projects go underway, some people find employment in the mines, factories and hydel project. However, the experience of unpaid labour, low wages, improper conditions of work and repression of resistance has further sedimented upon development.

Instances like the alleged murder of three workers during their struggle against the N.H.P.C. and Hindustan Construction Company in Chamba, Karcham-Wangtoo and Shongtong-Karcham also added up to the local experience which lead to construction of development as an anti-people agenda.

The image of the development in the local history is one which is informed by exploitation in the present and annihilation of the past.

The local historical conception of development is, thus, antithetical to the national conception of the development, which the companies and the politicians want to inject into the scene.

Here, the discursive and conceptual unity of the media and the political elites of the state in terms of their conception of ‘development’ is quite striking.

The promises of development by Cong and B.J.P. and the accusations against each other are something that the media has vowed to investigate with token representation of the locals only as corroborators.

They fit only as long as they can serve as the ‘proofs’ to the stories of development where the political elites are represented as the protagonists.

Reading the news articles ‘against the grain’ helps us in bringing out those voices in their own context. We will find many instances where the voices of the locals, their frustration against the Cong-B.J.P. governments, unifying them as two sides of the same coin, highlight the cronyism prevalent and have the full consciousness of their local historical conception of development.

In my opinion, what we need to do is the abandonment of the developmental discourse and a suspecting eye towards all who reiterate and reify the innocent and progressive idea of development as against the local history of development.

After all, our national movement was against a power which legitimized its exploitation on the basis of ‘civilizing mission, progress and development’!

By Yugank Mishra/A research associate at the Institute of Perception Studies, New Delhi and a research scholar pursuing M.Phil. in History from Ambedkar University, Delhi.

Disclaimer: Views expressed in the article are entirely of the author, and do not necessarily reflect opinion of Himachal Watcher

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