When the rot sets in to something, it is followed by a stink that spreads fast. This is precisely what is happening in Uttarakhand where the rot that had set in for several years is now blowing up. The state which is amongst the youngest in the Indian union continues to witness unrest as skeletons come tumbling out one after the other.

In the last two months there have been at least four such issues that have come to light that point out how rotten things stand. The latest in the series is the murder of Ankita Bhandari allegedly by Pulkit Arya and his two friends.

Pulkit Arya is the son of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Vinod Arya who enjoyed a ministerial rank in the government led by Trivendra Singh Rawat. Vinod's other son Ankit Arya had also enjoyed a ministerial rank in the present government.

Both the father and son have now been expelled by the party after public outrage. The anger was reflected when the accused was thrashed by the people. Protests were also held across the state.

The 19-year-old victim who was employed at a resort had reportedly refused to provide 'special services' to the clients at the behest of the hotel owner Pulkit. The spat led to her being beaten up and thrown into Chilla Canal.

This episode has followed the huge employment scandal that involved two former Speakers of the state assembly coming from both the Congress and the BJP. The massive protests witnessed across the state had subsided only when the present Speaker Ritu Khanduri announced cancellation of 228 adhoc appointments besides suspension of secretary of the state assembly following a probe.

Then in the first week of September there was the episode of a so-called 'honour killing' that went under reported. Dalit political activist Jagdish Chandra was murdered allegedly for marrying an 'upper caste' girl. He had contested the Assembly polls twice on the Uttarakhand Parivartan Party (UPP) ticket. His murder was also folloed by public outrage.

And just before this, was the episode of local women in Helang being subject to misbehaviour by the personnel of law and order enforcing agencies. This had also led to state wide protests wherein the issue of denial of land and forest rights had echoed.

What is common in all these episodes is the failure of the establishment to provide employment and livelihood avenues, besides ensuring the basic rights of the people. The question that confronts when one looks at Uttarakhand is what went wrong and where, in this hill state, that could have been a model for governance across the country given its geography, demography and social set up.

Veteran political observer SMA Kazmi who has been documenting the developments in the state from its inception pointed out that symptoms of failures are now visible as a full blown malady.

"Politicians who are not fit to go beyond Panchayat levels, have managed to become ministers and even chief ministers. Even mere MLAs with hardly any stature were made chief ministers. The corrupt bureaucracy that came from the parent state of Uttar Pradesh along with the Police have been more keen on land deals, promoting haphazard tourism and allowing hydro power projects that went against the interests of the people. The model of governance has been that of piecemeal with no political stability, " he said.

The Dehradun based observer further explained, "there has been an employment crisis right from the beginning. Even the case of Ankita is that of underemployment that is being faced by lakhs of youth in the state. There has been no serious effort to address this problem. The approach of the government has always been to divert attention or to shift blame.

"Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami ordered demolition of the resort where she worked only to draw flak for destroying the evidence in the case. Since then there have been efforts at shifting blame. In the recent past there have been attempts to raise issues like verification of Madrasas, demographic change etc. to divert attention whenever the government is on the back foot."

In the case of appointments made by the previous Speakers, the people are pointing to the fact that these recruitments had to be cancelled. This shows that there had been corruption in the process.

Social and political activist Yusuf Tewari who is based in Almora told The Citizen, "one needs to understand that the agitation for statehood had stemmed from the national narrative around reservation. The advent of Hindutva politics led to creation of smaller states like Uttarakhand where ideology prevailed over practical aspects like economy.

"In the process the narrow minded approach towards things gained dominance in terms of communal, caste and regional sentiments besides the issue of gender. But at the same time there was a rise in awareness about rights among the Dalits and minorities. This has resulted in confrontation on many occasions."

Referring to the murder of the Dalit political activist, he said that casteism has continued to prevail in the region. He pointed out that Jagdish's murder is a reminder to the infamous Kafalta massacre of 1980 where 14 Dalits who were a part of a marriage procession were killed. What had reportedly triggered the violence was a Dalit bridegroom daring to go in a palanquin through an upper caste locality. It was only in 1997 that the legal battle culminated with the Supreme Court awarding life sentences to 16 accused.

"There was also this case on Bageshwar in 2016 where a Dalit was killed for touching a gristmill where flour was being made from wheat. Even today when there is government emphasis on employing widows and women from marginalised sections as Bhojan Matas for preparing mid day meals there are instances of upper caste children not eating meals cooked by them," he added.

According to political activist Bhuvan Pathak who belongs to Garud in Bageshwar, "on one side it is the dishonest political leadership that indulged in practices like selling jobs and on the other there have been corrupt bureaucrats who have been making money from government plans and schemes whose benefits never reach the people.

"We have ministers who have never bothered to look beyond their own constituencies. In a small state they have tried to extract whatever they could in the five years that their governments have been in power. Then in any case hills have always been a target of corporate loot whether it is for their water, forest, tourism and even human resources."

He added that a troublesome trend is the arrogance of the politicians who have been doing wrong all these years with impunity. "This has been more visible in the last decade but things have touched a new low since the government repeated in 2022. The arrogance is noticeable not only in politicians but in political workers as well.

"The most disturbing aspect is that you do not recognize opposition whether it is your rival political party, civil society organisations or other groups. You just try to make a laughing stock of them or try to paint them black with terminology like 'urban naxals', 'andolan jeevis' etc. through social media thereby initiating a new political culture.

Political observers and activists point out that there was never an attempt to prepare a blueprint for development of the state or to generate employment. They said that it was only ND Tewari with his greater political exposure who made some efforts at generating employment when he went about setting up industrial areas under State Industrial Development Corporation of Uttarakhand Limited (SIDCUL). He introduced provisions like employment of at least 70 % locals in the industries that came up.

But at the same time the industries flouted these norms as they never wanted local labour and instead preferred migrants from states like Bihar and Jharkhand who could be 'easily suppressed'. Besides, the wages paid in a large number of these industrial units were low and this again turned out to be a case of underemployment.

The public anger has eventually started spilling out on the roads.

For now the Pushkar Singh Dhami government has its hands full as it has a lot of fire fighting to do. Dhami has been coming out with statements calling for instant action by officials in matters pertaining to law and order. He has also been calling for immediate action against encroachments on forest and other land for setting up hotels and resorts besides religious purposes. But he will have to walk the talk.