As Uttarakhand’s Foundation Day approaches, a look at what Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat has achieved in the last 30 months, and what targets he has set for the remainder of his term.
Uttarakhand chief ministers from Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have kept the "border state" status bold and clear in their political narrative. Trivendra Singh Rawat is no exception.
In his work and policies, Rawat keeps two aspects of Uttarakhand on priority. One, of Uttarakhand being border state and the other, of Uttarakhand being "sainya bahulya kshetra" (soldier-majority region).
"Uttarakhand ek sainya bahulya rajya hai, aur Garhwal aur Kumaon sainya bahulya kshetra hain. The well being of the soldier and the Indian Army is the utmost concern of people living here. Moreover, people living in the upper regions are the support of the Indian armed forces. I am doing everything possible to ensure that the people remain rooted to their homes and they are provided everything to keep the villages thriving," he told Swarajya earlier this year.
It is not surprising, hence, that Rawat's responses to concern about his state and his statements on the government's steps being taken towards curbing out-migration has the mention of the "border state" intertwined.
In April, Rawat had told Swarajya that aspects of life and livelihood that might appear minute to outsiders play a massive role in strengthening the possibility of reducing out-migration step by step.
The first step towards effectively dealing with the problem of out-migration came from the state government itself in 2017 when it constituted the rural development and migration commission on returning to power.
The commission has studied many vital issues relating to life and people in the state surrounding out-migration.
Rawat's focus is on curbing the out-migration of institutions — such as agriculture, education and health, and not curbing the out-migration of people alone. He knows that the nerve of keeping these institutions and aspects within the state is tourism and tourism-related activities.
Then, under Rawat, the cementing of Garhwal and Kumaon regions as 'one' — has found a place in BJP's electoral politics and narrative.
Rawat shifted the cabinet meeting held this month to Almora after Tehri and Pauri, in careful messaging.
Rawat's predecessors have been less successful than him in demolishing the imaginary divide between Kumaon and Garhwal.
BJP leaders addressed the well being of "Paanch Pandavs" — Nainital, Udhamsingh Nagar, Tehri Garhwal, Pauri Garhwal and Haridwar under the "double engine sarkaar (BJP in state and Centre). Rawat is looking at the state in the same spirit.
These aspects bring Uttarakhand under Rawat right under Modi's nose. It is advantageous to the state; to Rawat's own position as the "sahi kaptaan" (non corrupt leader of the state), and to the BJP in a "double engine waali sarkaar" (BJP in state and NDA at Centre).
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's attention to developmental efforts in the state, including the all-weather road project, Kedarnath reconstruction, the cooperative development scheme and Rishikesh-Karnprayag rail project is well known.
According to reports, the Centre has recently approved Rs 1,400 crore ($200 million) under Urban Infrastructure Development Scheme for Secondary Towns for 16 urban areas of Uttarakhand.
This will help Rawat in focussing on 24x7 drinking water supply, rainwater management, wastewater management, urban roads and other areas in six districts (their local urban bodies).
Even though having Modi at the Centre is an emboldening plus for the state government, it alone is not being seen as sufficient to uphold Rawat's performance in public perception.
In April this year, the state voted on national issues. For Uttarakhand, the cusp in national and state issues is thicker than usual.
Five months down the line, Rawat might need to increase the momentum of the constructive steps taken to meet the expectations of voters.
They want to see the Modi-Rawat team lay down more visible changes in education, health, employment and livelihoods, faster and in an effective manner.
Needed from Rawat is some shrewd edge to his image as a "straight forward CM" and a bit more gentleness as a "pahadi", even as he continues to address certain vulnerable areas.
The media and opposition have kept the pressure on Rawat over some of his unpopular statements and utterances.
Yet he seems to stand unwrinkled and going ahead steadily — his ears and eyes open to work in the state.
So far, he has been seen much more in the state than in Delhi.
And in the state, education and health, it was clear, are prime concerns on ground.
Stung by the rising dengue cases this season (over 4,000), the Uttarakhand government has a lot to reflect upon its health infrastructure, cleaning, monitoring and workforce.
From A ‘Small State’ To A Field Of Governance
For a hill state, which has been previously dismissed by sections of mainstream media as "a seat with only five Lok Sabha seats", power perceptions on the state have undoubtedly changed.
Rawat is pulling all possible stops to ensure that education remains, along with better health facilities and livelihoods, the key area for keeping people of the region securely rooted to the border state and its villages.
In October, it was reported that his government is planning to give 95 blocks in the state Kendriya Vidyalaya schools. Rawat sees the potential of developing Dehradun as a hub of higher education for the uplifting of lives in upper regions.
One aspect of Rawat's leadership which has become clear in the last 18 months is that he thinks changes at minute levels. These changes are focused on changing the lives of individuals and not giving a superficial facelift to the state.
He mentions farming — of lingda, akhrot, rajma. He mentions the thriving of forests, home stays, revival of local festivals, tourism, adventure sports, and the encouraging of a confluence of forestry and livelihood and agriculture-based livelihood.
Part of his focus for strengthening economic activity in the state is developing the growth centres at the 670 nyaya panchayats in the state which, he sees as capable branding and processing hubs for forest produce.
Rawat is pitching for localisation within the state in utilising the available resources that directly involve the people, the local flora diversity, and people's homes for improving their lives. The growth centres are not tourist hubs in themselves, but production centric hubs.
Ten thousand clusters for organic farming (the Centre has rolled out Rs 700 crore to the state for organic farming), where the produce from forests and agriculture will be branded and named after the growth centre, will help in implementation of localisation. The production of green fuel from pine needles, where projects have been awarded, is a project close to his heart.
Partners In Project
There are two main areas of confluence in Rawat's work and Union Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank's. One: education in Uttarakhand. The other: Haridwar.
The dharmsthali is Nishank's Lok Sabha constituency which will see the Kumbh in 2021.
Doiwala, which is part of Haridwar Lok Sabha constituency, is Rawat's own constituency for Vidhan Sabha that sent him to become the Chief Minister of the state.
If both Rawat and Nishank are able to work on these two areas, Rawat would be shaping the future of Uttarakhand, and assist Nishank in turning around the story of dharmasthali, the same way as Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has been able to with the help of Varanasi Member of Parliament Narendra Modi.
In tourism, Rawat's other arm is minister Satpal Maharaj, who went to collect the trophy for the Most Film-Friendly State at National Film Awards, beating 17 other contenders.
The momentum in this department could be much better to be somewhere near Rawat's own vision, efforts and commitment towards state metamorphosis via tourism. He needs to ensure that local festivals are revived and propagated in a deeper sense and deeper involvement from people.
Rawat is working on his vision for Uttarakhand in sincerity and is going beyond the cosmetic changes. He needs to spare some moments to view it in a detached manner — and check whether the work momentum and his aggression are enough to meet the high expectations of the people.
His "double engine sarkaar" has skin in Modi's vision for Uttarakhand — devbhoomi and a border state.
Keeping his armour intact against rivals and opposition, Rawat would do well to peel a few layers off his gentle exterior to play his vision and implementation on front foot.