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Uttarakhand’s smouldering underbelly

The weekend before the last became newsy for all the wrong reasons. First Balasaheb Keshav Thackeray passed away in Mumbai and before that news could settle, the infamous Chadha brothers were involved in shootout which finished the two scions of an infamous empire. Several thousand tonnes of news print has already been spent on publishing reports about the various trades which Ponty Chadha had come to control.

The news channels are not the ones to be out done either. They have screamed out loud on the possible conspiracy theories which could have led to the murder of the Chadha brothers. These days trial by media has become a necessary spectacle. The role of a particular player is pre-judged as protagonist and he is taken to task. So is the case of Sukhdev Singh Namdhari.

With Chadha brothers gone, the newspapers and channels had to look for a ‘foul person’ with some standing and none other than Sukhdev Namdhari fitted the bill better. It has had its desired effect too, with Namdhari being arrested by the Delhi police, but on what charges? He is alleged to have trespassed into the property which led to the bloody shootout, in which he too is alleged to have participated.

If the reconstruction of the event by police is to be believed these charges will not hold against the former chairman of the Uttrakhand Minorities Commission.

However, the presence of Sukhdev Singh Namdhari has brought to the national centrestage the patronage which the leaders of Uttarakhand from both mainstream parties – Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) - extend to not very desirable political operators. Namdhari is the state satrap of the Chadha empire. On arrival from West Punjab, following the partition, the Chadha family had first pitched tents near Ramnagar in Nainital district. It was later that they shifted base to neighbouring Moradabad district.

The family, however, never lost interest in their first port of call and it only got more attractive after the separate state of Uttarakhand was carved out at the turn of the millennium. Chadha initially used Namdhari to venture into the mining business in Uttarakhand. Namdhari is involved in mining related business with trucks transporting the quarried material and one of his sons having stake in BBSB Stone Crushers Pvt Ltd. Both legal and illegal mining are big businesses in Uttarakhand where the forest department had to divert about 3,903 hectare forest land for different mining activities from creation of Uttarakhand in 2000 to 2010.

As many as 14 cases were lodged against the sacked Uttarakhand Minority Commission chief in the past. These cases varied from murder to bullying his rivals into submission to establish his monopoly in mining business. Most of these cases registered against Namdhari in Rudrapur and Bajpur areas of Udham Singh Nagar district were disposed of within a year after they were lodged due to his connections. In some cases he was acquitted by the courts and in several others the police filed closure reports. Namdhari’s acquittal in criminal cases by the lower courts was seldom challenged by the police in higher courts.

His appointment as the chairman of the State Minorities Commission in 2010, during the term of the then chief minister Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ of the BJP, had caught other contenders to the post unaware as Namdhari was seen mostly as a businessman and small time politician in Udham Singh Nagar district. Ponty Chadha was the connecting link as he was close to Nishank administration. Chadha during Nishank’s tenure was investing into the construction of hydro power projects in Uttarakhand. He is said to have secured at least six projects, allotments of which were subsequently cancelled following court rulings. These rulings however came about four months after Namdhari was appointed chairman of the State Minorities Commission.

Though Namdhari’s BJP lineage is established, his penetrations in the current Vijay Bahuguna-led Congress government is a lesser known fact. On being appointed chief minister, Bahuguna chose Sitarganj seat in terai region as his passport to enter state assembly. Sitarganj and Bajpur, where Namdhari has his toehold, are neighbouring seats in Udham Singh Nagar district. Bajpur is currently represented by state Congress president Yashpal Arya.

Bahuguna was quick to target his predecessors stating that they had appointed Namdhari to the important post despite his criminal record. However, when he was asked that despite the criminal record why was Namdhari retained by the Congress government; Bahuguna said that he wanted the BJP appointees to complete their term of office lest it invited criticism for practicing politics of revenge.

This is only half-truth. Namdhari played a crucial role in ensuring resounding victory for Bahuguna during the by-election from Sitarganj. Some even point out that he played a crucial role organising defection and resignation of BJP MLA from Sitarganj Kiran Mandal to facilitate Bahuguna’s entry into the state legislature.

The anxiety which has been shown by the present Bahuguna government in revving the nature-endangering and controversy ridden hydro-power projects in the state somewhere indicates that the desire is not propelled by saintly intents alone. Bahuguna’s visits to New Delhi is remarkable for the time he spends with the power minister in getting the projects going which has otherwise invited ire of one and all.

Namdhari is just the symptom of the malaise which has taken the Himalayan state into its grip. Uttarakhand’s underbelly is bursting at its seem and bleeding people. The end most foul which the Chadha brothers met should caution the ministers of Uttarakhand to find ways and means to counter unholy nexus of state’s exploitation.

Sidharth Mishra is with Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and consulting editor, Millennium Post
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