Protohistoric period, Himalayan Kingdom:

Yh Shambara Parvateshu Kshiwantam Chatvaarishyam Saradhyanvaavindatah

                          Ojayamanaam yo Ahim Jagahaana Daanum Shayanam Sa Janaasa Indrah                 (RV.2.12.11)

 A hymn from Rig Veda that refers to the forty year battle between the great Dasyu King Shambara – who supposedly had 99 fortresses across Himachal – and the Arya devatas led by Indra represented in the form of King Divodasa. Apart from the typical Deva-Asura battle that is portrayed here, what is of significance is that by the time this forty year war began, the Ahis (aborigines) and Danavas, variously referred to as Dasyus, Nishaads or Daasas in the Vedic tradition (basically, proto-Australoid Dravidians) had combined forces to resist the advancing Aryans of Divodaas. Thereby lies the story of an ancient amalgamation of not only cultures but also the wisdom of economics.

Previously, when the Aryan migration started to move deeper, a section of the original inhabitants of the Gangetic planes started to move northwards into the Himalayan hilly regions to preserve their way of life. This race of people (proto-Australoids) were basically warrior pastoralists and had to maintain a precarious existence in the hilly terrain under the leadership of Khasas (later day Kshatriyas) who were an offshoot of Aryans. Over the years they evolved to inculcate transhumance pastoralism in order to subsist; a tradition that has survived many millennia to the present day tribes of Gaddis who also seasonally migrate from low altitudes to high altitudes. This practice continued for a few generations until these groups encountered the sedentary agricultural communities or the aborigines of the region, variously known as Kols-Kiratas. This great ancient interaction produced mutual inter-dependence of shifting cultivation and animal husbandry that evolved into a mixed strategy of viable livelihood in the Himalayan terrain. To fully realise the wisdom of simplicity of this ancient economic model one must visit the beautiful Spiti valley in Himachal Pradesh.

Present day, fields of Himachal Pradesh:

There is a major visible transformation in the landscape of the hill state, if one is visiting the state, say, after 4 or 5 years – in the form of mushrooming greenhouses/polyhouses in small tracts of lands adjoining the grain cultivations. The state government has started Pt. Deen Dayal Kisan-Bhagwan Samridhi Yojna, wherein the state government gives 80% subsidy for setting up modern day polyhouses to promote protected cultivation in a state with large amounts of rain (and snow) and adverse weather conditions. The state government has earmarked 353 Crore rupees for this scheme and has already set up more than 12000 polyhouses in 100 hectares of cultivable land on the slopes of Himachal Pradesh. Most farmers have small land holdings in the hill state and this scheme has been a boon for them. The transformation is most visible in the lower- and mid-hills of Bilaspur, Kangra, Mandi, Hamirpur, Sirmaur and Solan, which remained largely barren during winters, and where farmers, including educated youths, have embraced this new precision farming technique. In just 3 years, some of the high yielding exotic vegetables like Broccoli, red and yellow capsicum, cucumber etc. have brought returns to the tune of 25-30 Crore rupees per annum.

This agricultural modernization scheme symbolizes everything that is good about the BJP, credit must really be given to the state government for its visionary agronomic policy. While the Sonia Gandhi school of economics is busy destroying India’s rural economy and playing havoc with inflationary economics by giant dole schemes like MNREGS, this subsidy scheme is doing the exact opposite, for it encourages entrepreneurship in the rural economy rather than promoting socialist doles, it increases per square meter agricultural yield by practising precision farming techniques thereby diminishing inflationary pressures, it has the potential to stimulate floricultural and horticultural exports. Most importantly, it has transformed agricultural methodologies in Himachal after more than 5 millennia when the transhumance pastoralists learned sedentary agriculture. There is a Narendra Modi connection to this polyhouse subsidy scheme too, for the idea of greenhouse and polyhouse farming subsidy to transform agriculture, originated in Gujarat – looks like everything that is good about India today has a NAMO stamp on it.

The next challenge for the hill state is to convert itself into the flower basket of India by kick-starting the floricultural revolution in Himachal Pradesh, which has the right kind of weather and climatic conditions to grow various flowers. Globally, flower trade is a 15 Billion $ industry (2010) and is expected to touch the figure of 18-20 Billion dollars by 2015 with a CAGR of 8%; India accounts for an abysmal 0.65% of the global flower trade and stands at number 23. As a contrast, in 2010, China traded more than 4.7 billion flowers in the international markets and accounted for more than 200 million $ in exports, even a much poorer country like Kenya earned close to 300 million $ in the international flower market. In 2002, the then NDA government had set an aggressive target of 1000 Crore rupees for India’s floricultural exports by 2010, but India was able to achieve only about 332 Crore rupees in 2008-09 and the UPA government revised the target to 375 Crores last year. That is the problem with this Manmohan Singh government, not only does it suffer from policy paralysis but also it has got its priorities wrong.

Major importing markets of floricultural products

*Data Sources: VBN, PT, BvGB (Netherlands)

Given the country’s  size and diverse geography and climate, India remains a potential giant in the floricultural field but infrastructural inadequacies coupled with lack of initiative from the growers has meant that the potential remains unrealized. Himachal has already taken the first step by inculcating precision farming techniques, now it has to concentrate on developing allied infrastructure like Cold storage facilities and adequate transportation management (it does have 3 operational airports) to facilitate floricultural exports. Professor Chandel in the agriculture university of Palampur says, “The two key factors in the international cut flower trade are volume and quality, we have failed in both these criterions as we neither have been able to build volumes nor are our quality levels consistent”. A typical example is of Retd. Col. Rana who had started polyhouse cultivating some three years ago in Solan, but is still concentrating on growing vegetables because he is weary of the domestic flower markets due to unpredictable price fluctuations and does not have the volumes to tap the international markets.

The one inherent problem with the Himachali floriculture industry is that it lacks scale to really be competent at the international markets – owing to the small land holdings. Take the case of the white Lily (Lilium Longiflorum) which is associated with Easter; every year during the Easter weekend close to 8 million Lilies (both bulbs as well as cut flowers and foliage) are traded in the east coast of the US alone and more than 25% of that quantity is imported from Holland, Columbia, Ecuador and other countries. The weather conditions in Himachal are best suited for growing Lilies, yet the export numbers from the hill state for the flower are nothing but zilch. To scale up the agronomy of Lilies, new business models based on community/cooperative polyhouse cultivation must be encouraged, that is the way forward for the state government to formulate policies. At least for this one reason the Prem Kumar Dhumal government deserves to be re-elected, so that Himachal can join the global flower markets.

Annual Flower Exports to US

*Annually imports account for 68% of fresh flowers sold by dollar volume in the United States (data source: USDA 2010).

Elections won’t be won just by a visionary floricultural initiative, the government must perform on various other governance parameters to stand a chance in the people’s court. The P.K. Dhumal government’s report card is a mixed bag of sorts and that gives Congress a fighting chance to repeat the hill state’s electoral history. Let us take the base criteria of BSPH –Bijlee, Sadak, Paani and healthcare – to measure the government’s performance;

  1. Surface transport: The road networks in the hill state have been historically decent – Vir Bhadra Singh needs to be given credit for this – and the present government has carried forward that legacy. What the state needs is rail connectivity (a central government subject), 65 years after the British exited from India, the hill state is still running on meter-gauge rail systems left behind by the raj, while China has connected Lhasa (the capital of Tibet which is at a much higher altitude) with high speed rail networks. This is a side-effect of the Bihar-Bengal monopoly over the rail ministry for almost 2 decades. Grade: Status quo to slightly positive – 2.5/5
  2. Power: Himachal is a significantly power surplus state and earns its second highest revenue stream from hydro-electric power. The present government has taken some decent initiatives but needs to improve its marketing skills to sell the surplus power – for instance, the average selling price per unit has fallen from 7.50 in 2010-11 to 3.75 in 2011-12, despite of the fact that the whole of north India was suffering from a huge power shortage and Uttar Pradesh had to shut down malls and commercial establishments. Alternative, renewable energy sources like wind have a great potential in the hill state but the state government’s initiatives in that direction have been lacklustre. Grade: Slightly positive – 3/5
  3. Water Resources: This could turn out to be the biggest crisis for the state. Despite abundant rainfall and various river streams that run through it, the state has failed to manage its water resources. Every town you visit, the one common complaint is lack of adequate water supply, so much so that many legislators are facing local level micro-anti-incumbency because of water problems. The state needs investments in water storage and supply facilities urgently and it is one account on which the BJP government has failed. Grade: Negative – 1/5
  4. Healthcare: PHCs have seen a great deal of improvement in the present regime; two significant developments are

                            1.Robust implementation of 108 ambulances which provide critical emergency care.

                            2.Free and improved care of the pregnant woman

The other aspect of the healthcare model in the state is that of veterinary health care due to the presence of a large number of cattle and sheep involved in the pastoral activities. The performance of the government on that count is not exemplary as there is some discontentment amongst the large work force of state veterinary doctors vis-à-vis the state government. Grade: Positive – 3.5/5

Among other criterion to judge the performance of the state, one significant segment that has seen some progress in the last few years is that of Industrialization. Baddi (Solan district) on the outskirts of Chandigarh has seen huge investments come into various sectors and is emerging as the medical & pharmaceutical hub of India – today there are 800 medical/pharma companies in Baddi, including giants like Cipla and Dabur – so much so that by 2015 almost 60% of Indian pharma industry would be concentrated in this industrial town. Baddi is also fast emerging as the new IT/services industry destination because of the initiatives of the BJP government like developing an IT park in 67 acres of land in Waknaghat with an investment of 500 Crore rupees. The state government has attracted 17253 Crore rupees of investment over the last 4 years, but one criticism about the state government’s industrial policy is that it has not been able to achieve significant levels of job creation for its populace, especially for the hill people. Grade: Positive – 4/5

The P.K. Dhumal led BJP government in the state of Himachal Pradesh has done a half decent job in most areas, yet it is not a standout performer by any means, for a great deal more could have been achieved which could have simply put the opposition Congress out of the electoral race in 2012 – like say in Gujarat. BJP can still go into the polls with a positive report card. Average Governance Quotient: 3/5

As we have seen in the previous two parts of this Himachal diary, apart from governance, there are a few other X factors in this bipolar battlefield of electoral chess game. One major factor that could influence the poll outcome is the lobby of a large number of government employees, who are going to play a crucial role again in 2012. Another major factor is the Congress party’s capacity to put up a credible alternative, especially former chief minister Vir Bhadra Singh’s ability to provide leadership in these testing times – he is being described as a wounded tiger by the local media and this could be his golden chance to strike back. Even though history is against Dhumal & BJP – due to the anti-incumbent nature of the state politics for close to three decades – one significant factor that cannot be underestimated in these polls is the anti-incumbency against the UPA government at the centre and the anti-Congress mood prevailing in the nation because of mega corruption scandals and economic mismanagement.

Price-rise and inflation are definitely decisive issues too, for Himachali families have tight budgetary allocations – like most villages and small towns in India. But there is a school of thought that believes that generally aam janata blames the state governments for inflation, although the blame squarely lies with economic mismanagement by the central government; it remains to be seen how the state BJP government manages to convince people about their relative innocence in committing inflationary crimes.

Another important tangible X factor that will have a huge impact on this year’s state polls is delimitation, which will probably effect both the parties but somehow one gets a sense from the ground that it would have a greater effect on BJP. Despite of the fact that the repercussions of delimitation are far lesser in the hill state than in states like UP, a vast number of constituencies have either totally disappeared or have substantially changed in nature. For instance, Kumarsain, the Vidya Stokes Constituency has been deleted from the electoral map of HP, much to the delight of Vir Bhadra Singh who had in 2007 put up an independent candidate (Pramod Sharma) as a Trojan to defeat Mrs Stokes (she eventually won by a narrow thousand vote margin and became the opposition leader in the assembly). Vir Bhadra has the capacity to hurt his opponents within the party by using his immense clout. On the other hand, in BJP, Dr Rajiv Bindal, a 3 time MLA from Solan, has lost his constituency because of reservation and there are many such cases all over the state cutting across party lines.

One principal case study from the BJP, that not only highlights delimitation but also brings out the fault-lines within the party to the fore along with a local level anti-incumbency twist, is that of Thakur Ravinder Singh Ravi – de-facto deputy chief minister and number two in the Dhumal cabinet. Ravi, a camp follower of P.K. Dhumal, has been representing Thural for 5 consecutive terms, a constituency that no longer exists in the post-delimitation era. His first choice for the 2012 polls is Jawalamukhi because a large number of Panchayats belonging to Thural are now part of the former. The problem is that Jawalamukhi is the pocket-borough of Ramesh Chand an out and out Shanta Kumar man, who is absolutely reluctant to give up on his seat and instead wants to push Ravi to the newly carved out assembly segment of Dehra. To add twist to the tale, local BJP karyakartas in both Jawalamukhi and the erstwhile Thural narrate people’s water woes and believe that a change in face (or delimitation, for that matter) is not such a bad idea after all. In many ways the resolution of this Ravi v/s Ramesh face-off would tell us how much the Shanta-Dhumal truce, brought about last month in Chandigarh, is actually working on the ground and what chances does the BJP stand in the upcoming polls.

…To be concluded

Epilogue: History has a parallel existence in this time-warped state of Himachal Pradesh, if one wants to see a place where history is not just a written document but a living everyday truth, then this is the place one must visit. Traditions are not just a few generations old, not even a few centuries old, instead they are being carried forward for thousands of years. Old men in the village sitting around an angeethi on a rainy evening tell you tales of Raja Katoch or Raja Shambhara as if it all happened yesterday. Visiting the bazaars in the long sloped lanes of Kasauli or Bhavarna one realizes that they have been there, undisturbed, just like that, forever; traders have had their establishments since centuries… in fact, anything that is a few hundred years in age is considered to be young in the backdrop of the Himalayas. But Himachal Pradesh has most often been on the wrong side of the history. Muslim rulers had tried to conquer it for hundreds of years; during 18th and 19th century, the Gorkhas were hell bent on capturing this Himalayan abode from the north-east, from the southwest Ranjit Singh tried to expand Sikhism, from above north the Muslims of Kashmir and beyond tried to leave their indelible mark on this hill state. Despite of this huge onslaught from all the sides, the fact that Himachal has remained overwhelmingly Hindu is a remarkable achievement. The British too chose Shimla as their summer capital but were unable to spread their faith or culture among the local populace. It has got something to with the stubborn, never-give-up nature of these rugged hill people that they have managed to persist with their way of life for thousands of years. Even in the ancient (pre-historic) times, on two specific instances, Himachal was on the wrong side of the history. What are those two (pre) historic events? (Hint: The two great Hindu epics).