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Between the battle lines in Uttarakhand, the Kumaon versus Garhwal subtext

In two regions that constitute state, rivalries etched deep in history play out in Congress rebellion and current elections.

Uttarakhand, Uttarakhand elections, Uttarakhand polls, kumaon, garhwal, harish rawat, kumaon garhwal divide, kumaon garhwal division, congress, Nainital, dehradun elections, Govind Ballabh Pant, indian express news, india news, elections updates Nainital is in Kumaon, whose leaders have dominated politics. Source: Ashutosh Bhardwaj

When Uttarakhand Chief Minister Harish Rawat dropped his hill constituency of Dharchula and decided to contest from two seats in the plains, Haridwar Rural and Kichha, it helped him achieve a political objective. He was placing a foot in two regions, enabling him to address two sub-regional identities — Garhwal and Kumaon.

The divide between the two regions is so stark that it nearly cost the Kumaoni chief minister his chair last year. It was a rebellion by Garhwali leaders that led to defection from the Congress. And it is something that has been playing out in Uttarakhand since long before it became a state.

“This divide has a historical, cultural and political context. Even 16 years after the state’s formation, it is still very much present, whether people openly accept it or not. It is not going to disappear,” says social scientist Prof Annapurna Nautiyal of HNB University in Pauri Garhwal.

Who’s from where

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Kumaon consists of six districts with Nainital as zonal headquarters, Garhwal of seven with Pauri Garhwal as headquarters. Dehradun, the capital, is part of Garhwal, which with 41 constituencies is larger than Kumaon with 29. Yet it is Kumaoni leaders who have mostly dominated politics here, even before Uttarakhand became a state.

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Uttar Pradesh’s first chief minister, Govind Ballabh Pant, was from Kumaon. Later, N D Tiwari became the UP CM on three occasions, and the only Uttarakhand CM to complete his five-year tenure. When the first assembly was formed in 2002, the CM (Tiwari), the PCC chief (Harish Rawat) and the Speaker (Yashpal) Arya were all from Kumaon.

Among Garhwal leaders, the most prominent was former UP CM H N Bahuguna. He had, however, moved out earlier, to Allahabad.

“The Congress leadership has largely been from Kumaon area. People from Garhwal have often said that they are discriminated against,” says Nautiyal. “When the leadership gets shifted to Garhwal, people from Kumaon cry about discrimination.”


The state secretariat has had a long lineage of Kumaoni officers, including two chief secretaries (R S Tolia and N S Napalchyal) and two DGPs (J S Pandey and Subhash Joshi). Garhwal, on the other hand, has sent top national officers including NSA Ajit Doval, Army chief Bipin Rawat and DGMO A K Bhatt.

Culture & history

Every year, people of Kumaon celebrate a Khatadva festival to commemorate a legend according to which a Kumaoni king called Khatad Singh had defeated a Garhwali ruler. The divide grew during British rule. While much of Garhwal was ruled by native kings until the 20th century, Kumaon became the centre of British activities and modern education. In 1889, Kumaon became a commissionerate that included parts of Garhwal too.

Garhwal became a separate commissionerate in 1967. It got its first university in 1973, after a movement for education.


“The movement for a separate commissionerate and university reinforced the sub-regional identity of two regions,” says Shekhar Pathak, a Nainital-based academician and historian.

It eventually created more divisions, adds Pathak, with the surfacing of sub-identities such as “Tehri Garhwal” and “Pauri Garhwal.” Garhwal University, which was based in Pauri, eventually got a centre in Tehri too.

By then, Kumaon had become the cultural capital of the region that is now Uttarakhand state. Prominent writers such as Mahadevi Verma, Sumitra Nandan Pant and Manohar Shyam Joshi are from Kumaon. And Jim Corbett’s Man-eaters of Kumaon brought this region on a global plane.

Though there are frequent social exchanges such as inter-marriages, the divide plays out among residents everywhere. A Garhwali girl working at a cafe on Dehradun’s Rajpur Road describes how she believes Kumaonis are different. “We are free. We don’t have purdah,” she says, but “when I stayed with some Kumaoni girls in Delhi, they were always doing religious rituals.”

It is Garhwal that has the prominent religious sites — Haridwar and Rishikesh, besides the Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath dhams. “Garhwal has only dhams. We have Nainital, Almora and Ranikhet,” says a retired woman professor in Ranikhet.

Elections & beyond


Though politicians don’t express their rivalries explicitly, the divide between the identities does show in current politics. For instance, the core teams of N D Tiwari and CM Rawat have been from Kumaon, while the advisers of Garhwal-based BJP CMs B C Khanduri and Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank have been from Garhwal.

“The bias clearly exists, but politicians hesitate to raise this issue openly as they have to project themselves as leaders of a united Uttarakhand,” says Nautiyal.


Last year’s Congress defection, a defining moment in the state’s political history, was a reflection of this divide. The rebellion was effected and led by Garhwal leaders against CM Rawat, who is of Kumaon and whom the rebels found “arrogant”.

Of the 10 MLAs who defected, Rekha Arya and Shailendra Mohan Singhal are the only two not of Garhwal, with the other eight including Vijay Bahuguna and Harak Singh Rawat. Amrita Rawat and Bahuguna had won from seats in Kumaon but they, too, hail from Garhwal.


At present, a very visible rivalry is playing out within the Congress, between Rawat and Uttarakhand PCC chief Kishore Upadhyaya.

Upadhyaya, who is from Garhwal, was close to Rawat but when a Rajya Sabha seat from the state fell vacant last year, the CM preferred to send a Kumaoni, Pradeep Tamta, to the Upper House. And now, during ticket distribution, Upadhyaya has not got the ticket from Tehri, where he had won twice, but was pushed to a difficult constituency, reportedly at the instance of Rawat.

First published on: 09-02-2017 at 02:58:12 am
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