The initial calls for a separate hill state date back to the early 19th century, although Uttarakhand did not become a state until 2000. We follow the movement’s path and the driving forces behind it. Here’s the struggle for the foundation of Uttarakhand.
Uttarakhand, formed from the hilly portions of undivided Uttar Pradesh, became India’s 27th state on November 9, 2000. The founding of the state comprised a long socio-political struggle—the earliest demands date back to the early nineteenth century, while Uttarakhand did not become a separate entity until the beginning of the twenty-first century.
Today, the day is observed annually as Uttarakhand State Foundation Day or Uttarakhand Divas.
The Uttarakhand Ratna, one of the two highest civilian honors in the state, was established in 2016 by the then-chief minister Harish Rawat.
In addition to Uttarakhand, two more states—Chhattisgarh on November 1 and Jharkhand on November 15—were established in November 2000. The former was created from Madhya Pradesh, while the latter was created from Bihar.
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In his 1999 article “Beyond an Autonomous State: Background and Preliminary Analysis of Uttarakhand Movement,” renowned Uttarakhand historian Shekhar Pathak notes that after the East India Company seized the Kumaon Hills in 1815, calls for special privileges and benefits for the area and its inhabitants arose. The individual behind these aspirations, Harsh Dev Joshi, passed away before they could acquire traction.
Following this, local movements and public discussions persisted for greater autonomy and special privileges for the Himalayan regions of Garhwal and Kumaon, as well as the Dehradun valley—all three were controlled under the administrative entity of United Provinces (UP) during colonial period.
The demand for Uttarakhand’s statehood was raised during a special session of the Indian National Congress in Srinagar in 1938, which was a pivotal moment in the history of the campaign. Jawaharlal Nehru, who would go on to become India’s first prime minister, supported the demand for autonomy made by hill area residents to make judgments based on their individual circumstances.
This signaled a widespread acceptance of the fact that the lifestyles, traditions, and cultures of the highlands were distinct from those of the plains. But in India after independence, Uttarakhand remained a part of Uttar Pradesh.
The Communist Party of India (CPI) became the first political party to endorse and launch statehood demands for Uttarakhand following Independence. According to Pathak, PC Joshi, the party’s secretary at the time and a native of Kumaon, brought up the question of autonomy and self-governance for the hill districts of UP. In one of his articles, Pathak recalls him as saying: “The Paharis (mountain people) are not only unhappy but angry. The demand for the autonomous region is our way out, the way of self-help.”
Joshi also makes reference to Nehru’s recognition of Uttarakhand’s requirement for a distinct identity. He said in the same article, “We draw strength from the fact that the master architect of independent India not only passionately loved the Himalayas, but shared our restlessness against our unbearable poverty.”
In 1966-67, the CPI began pushing for an autonomous hill state, which included the creation of a document outlining a proposed three-tier governance system. This, however, had no political influence in the 1967 elections.
The issue of statehood for Uttarakhand was considered among many political parties as a backdrop to the reorganization of Indian states in the decades after Independence. While other organizations (such as the Socialist Party and the Hindu Mahasabha) felt the necessity to organize states based on language, the Congress maintained that reorganization should take into account aspects like as unity, national security, linguistic and cultural affinities. This did not deter local leaders like Badri Datt Pande, Pratap Singh, and Indra Singh Nayal from rallying for the Uttarakhand cause.
Uttarakhand Kranti Dal
The establishment of the first political party in the area, the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (Uttarakhand Revolutionary Party), on July26,1979, was arguably the strongest catalyst for the statehood movement. Bipin Chandra Tripathi, Indramani Badoni, Kashi Singh Airy (the current party chairman), and Professor Devi Datt Pant, former Vice-Chancellor of Kumaon University, founded UKD.
The UKD was in charge of taking the argument for statehood to “every door in the region,” claims Professor SP Sati, who teaches environmental science at Veer Chandra Singh Garhwali Uttarakhand University of Horticulture & Forestry, Bharsar Pauri Garhwal. Sati, a member-convenor of the Uttarakhand Sanyukt Sangharsh Samiti, was politically engaged and incarcerated by the then-UP government during the Uttarakhand Movement.
A UKD delegation saw Rajiv Gandhi in August 1986 after already seeing Indira Gandhi in May 1982. During this time, the party also planned sizable rallies all over the state. Pathak claims that on November 23, 1987, a sizable rally was held in Delhi, and a memo was delivered to the President.
According to Sati, the agitation significantly grew under UKD, which also had some electoral representation and a political presence in the undivided state of UP. However, Sati continues, UKD was happy to remain a revolutionary group and was unable to expand its activities into those of a significant political party. In contrast to other similar movements in the nation where a regional political party formed as the voice of the people (such the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and the Telangana Rashtra Samithi), no such party arose out of Uttarakhand, despite UKD showing promise and appeal, according to him.
UKD also experienced other issues. Pathak claims that “leaders and workers joined and deserted it at various points of time.” He continues by pointing out that there was ongoing rivalry between the party’s leadership and cadres, which resulted in factionalism, an issue the party is still dealing with today.
The Uttarakhand movement’s most important decade in its existence turned out to be the 1990s. Despite first denouncing the movement as divisive, the Bharatiya Janata Party started endorsing it in 1991. Other factors included the Ram Mandir agitations, the collapse of the historically dominating Congress, and the lack of a significant influence by the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). This backing also materialized into a major presence for the party in the hill state.
The CPI continued to back the campaign, with General Secretary Indrajit Gupta introducing a bill in Parliament in 1993 to grant Uttarakhand statehood. According to Pathak, practically every major party endorsed the initiative with the exception of the CPM and Congress; nevertheless, local workers and leaders from both of these parties allied with Uttarakhand.
Pathak uses the example of Congress district presidents and block pramukhs who, in direct defiance of their party’s official policy, sent resolutions to the governor of Uttar Pradesh and the president of India in support of the initiative.
The SP, led by Mulayam Singh Yadav, took several detours in Uttarakhand. Yadav was adamantly opposed to the formation of a new state during his first tenure as Chief Minister (1989-91). However, during his second term (1993-95), his administration passed a resolution in support of the formation of Uttarakhand and even formed a high-level ministerial committee to explore the topic.
But starting in 1994, Yadav allegedly developed a “prejudice” against the movement and aggressively tried to undermine it with “misinformation.” In addition, he proclaimed 27% of government positions and educational seats reserved for members of Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in 1994. Together with the already-existing reservation for members of the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs), this brought the overall quota for employment and education in UP to around 50%.
A massive anti-reservation agitation erupted in the hill region, which has historically been dominated by higher castes, resulting in violent skirmishes between demonstrators and police, including shooting events in Khatima, Mussoorie, and Muzaffarnagar. The reservation conflict only fueled the long-standing yearning for a separate Uttarakhand.
During ceremonies for Independence Day at Red Fort in 1996, the then-PM HD Deve Gowda declared the creation of “Uttaranchal,” later renamed as Uttarakhand (which was also its traditional name). The Uttaranchal Bill was presented to the UP government by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee administration in 1998, and the state Assembly later passed it with 26 amendments. On November 9, 2000, the new state of “Uttaranchal” was created after this Bill was approved by the President and passed by Parliament.