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A Tale Of Two Centuries: Himachal Pradesh's Development Journey And Future Imperatives – IMPRI Impact And Policy Research Institute

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A Tale of Two Centuries: Himachal Pradesh's Development Journey and Future Imperatives

Tikender Panwar

For centuries, the region now known as Himachal Pradesh, nestled in the Himalayas, and its people were subjects of diverse princely states, ethnographic migrations, and colonial rule under the British.

As we approached Independence, the people of the state were mutating into citizens of independent India along with their counterparts in the Indian geographical region, seeking to decide their future. Thus, the state was formed on April 15, 1948, with the amalgamation of 30 odd princely states in 1948.

Reflecting on its journey from 1948 to attaining full statehood in 1971 to the present day, Himachal Pradesh, unleashing productive forces, has made significant strides in development. However, it continues to grapple with immense challenges. A cultural renaissance, a climate-resilient development model and inclusive democratic governance are imperative for securing a brighter future for its residents.

Movements leading to Himachal Pradesh’s formation

The developmental trajectory of Himachal Pradesh can be delineated into three periods: post-Independence to 1966; 1966 onwards, statehood in 1971; and governance and planning paradigm shift since the 1990s.

The pre-1948 princely state was ruled by autocratic rulers, faced abject poverty, agriculture was primitive, ownership of land was limited to a few, relations of production were feudal, with tenants, sharecroppers, also called Bethu, hardly was there any security to land tenure or to the share of produce. There was hardly any cultural renaissance, with little or no schools, health facilities and poor communication.

The state passed through many somersaults from the ‘C’ category state in the 1950s to being downgraded into a UT in the mid-50s. Finally, the 1966 Punjab Reorganisation Act carved out the possibility of Himachal Pradesh and full statehood in 1971 with the merger of new Himachal comprising Kangra and Chamba districts.

The PrajaMandal movement, which was for the merger of princely states, was led by the INC and in 1946 merged into a united Himalayan Hill States Region Council. The politics in the state was driven by more consensus till 1966, and not dominance though Congress was quite outdistanced from the rest because the question of survival of the state was quintessential. Can we revisit or build such a political environment again?

PrajaMandal and peasant movements, led by the Kisan Sabha, articulated land reforms and legislative interventions that yielded positive results. Out of the 4,22,145 non-occupancy tenants, 3,79,676 became landowners and were conferred property rights. The state was the sole service provider, and it is a fact that by the late 80s, every village was electrified and massive stimulus was given to the social sector and its infrastructure. Education, health, horticulture and tourism became the major drivers of development.

Post-1966 saw not just a quantitative leap but also a qualitative one. With the merger of new areas, there was a new socio-economic and cultural amalgamation in the state. However, a paradoxical situation continues and remains an important area to address as we enter a new year of development. Whereas rapid strides of socio-economic and political changes took place, the question of social equality remains a distant low. It is here where a cultural renaissance is required. However, age-old religious and cultural ethos reinforce traditional hierarchies characterised by endogamy, hereditary sub-divisions and exclusiveness. The state still must taste the nectar of cultural renaissance.

The last period, post-90s of treating the state as a potential for resource generation and managing its finances has come to a dead end. Climate change-induced disasters are more frequent, still the current discourse on risk-informed development is too far. The unsustainability of the development model is quite inherent. In this developmental model, even governance is being centralised and consolidated in a few hands which is detrimental to both the state and its people.

As we celebrate April 15, there are reasons to cherish what we have achieved, but also more to worry and that is what needs to be taken care of.

Securing a bright future

An inclusive democratic governance, a climate-resilient development model and a cultural renaissance are imperative for securing a bright future for the state’s residents.

Tikender Panwar is a former Deputy Mayor of Shimla.

The article was first published in The Tribune as Himachal Day: Cherish the achievements, prepare for challenges likely to confront us on April 15, 2024.

Disclaimer: All views expressed in the article belong solely to the author and not necessarily to the organisation.

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Acknowledgment: This article was posted by Aasthaba Jadeja, a visiting researcher at IMPRI.

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