The Himachal Pradesh government has set about trying to split its largest district into four,an idea that has found as many opponents within the ruling party as it has found supporters.
Kangra,whose population constitutes more than a fifth of the states 68.56 lakh,is steeped in history,apart from holding the key to power with 16 Assembly seats. It is mentioned in the Mahabharata as the kingdom of Trigarta,its history is closely tied with Rajput dynasties of the hills,it is the birthplace of Param Vir Chakra winner Major Somnath Sharma,and it includes Dharamsala,known worldwide for its Dalai Lama connection.
It is also the domain of BJP leader Shanta Kumar. Many see the proposed split as a strategy by Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal in election year to sideline his party colleague. There has been no mass movement but Dhumals loyalists have gone about stressing the need for a split.
Under the plan,the smallest of the four new districts would retain the name Kangra. The other three will be Palampur,Dehra and Nurpur,names of existing subdivisions that will be expanded. Palampur,Shanta Kumars home,will be upgraded from a subdivision with a population of 3.81 lakh to a district with 4.10 lakh,but his present zone of influence a district measuring 5,739sq km with eight subdivisions and over 15 lakh people will end up with less than 3.60 lakh.
The demand for new districts is growing in Kangra, Dhumal says. If the people want new districts,we will go with the popular aspiration. Our experience has been that small administrative units are more effective for development.
The BJPs core committee discussed the idea at a recent meeting in Shimla,with the demand having been made by some legislators at party and public forums. A committee has been formed to work out the modalities for creating the new districts.
Those in support include former MP Kirpal Parmar and minister Ravinder Ravi. BJP national general secretary J P Nadda has agreed it would be a good strategy for the polls. Ravi has gone public asking the government to take a decision before the elections. And Independent MLA Rakesh Pathania demonstrated outside the Deputy Commissioners office last week in Dharamsala,the district headquarters,demanding creation of Nurpur district.
Those against the move include Shanta Kumar loyalist Krishan Kapoor,who has threatened to launch a movement. Shanta Kumar himself says,No one so far has asked for my views on the creation of new districts. I will neither impose myself nor comment at this stage. Only if am asked will I give my views.
Former Congress chief minister Virbhadra Singh says,Dhumal wants to split Kangra because he fears its political clout with 16 Assembly seats,as compared to his own Hamirpur district with five. Kangra is not simply the name of a district but has a history. If Nurpur,Palampur and Dehra are made districts,what is left?
The pre-election move comes from a government that has done no exercises at ground level during the four-and-a-half years that it has been in power. Creation of new districts is an expensive proposition as it involves huge recurring and non-recurring costs, says K C Sharma,a retired IAS officer who had served as commissioner of Kangra division. It should be seen from a broader prospective,whether the state under a financial crunch can really afford it.
Dhumal insists that a split will not cost much.
Former Kangra deputy commissioner S N Joshi,who is keen on the arts,cites Kangras legacy ancient miniature (Kangra) art,Kangra tea,monuments. He says,As far as I know,people are against a division as it will end the identity of this district,whose creation dates back to 1847.
Joshi calls Kangra an administratively compact district. Except for the Bara-Bhangal belt,there is no area that cannot be reached in a few hours. I have travelled the entire district during my tenure as DC. Its not difficult to return to Dharamsala by evening,even after travelling to the remotest parts, he says,pressing for administrative reforms rather than a division.
During his previous tenure as chief minister from 1998 to 2003,Dhumal had given at least five subdivisions an administrative upgrade by posting an officer of additional deputy commissioner rank in each. These subdivisions included two in Kangra Nurpur and Palampur beside Rohru,and Sundernagar in Mandi. The move,made with an eye on the 2003 Assembly elections,did not pay off; the next Congress government under Virbhadra reversed the decision.
Over the past two decades,Dharamsala has seen huge investments made and infrastructure created,including a second Assembly complex and the Chief Ministers winter secretariat complex. If the district is split,Dharamsala will be part of the new,smaller Kangra.