When a Muslim embarks on the sacred Hindu Char Dham yatra, eyebrows are bound to be raised. More so when the pilgrim is no lesser individual and governor of a state. “When I started for the famous four shrines—Badrinath , Kedarnath Yamunotri, Gangotri, popularly known as Dev Bhumi (abode of Gods)—some mediapersons asked me ‘what will you do there as you are a Muslim?’ I told them apart from paying my obeisance, I will feel the hardships being faced by the tourists and pilgrims as I was going there by road not by helicopter,” says the new Governor of Uttarakhand, Aziz Qureshi, speaking to The Sunday Standard.
It is true that the 72-year-old Qureshi, a veteran Congress leader considered close to party president Sonia Gandhi, was reluctant to accept his new assignment in Uttarakhand while his name was almost finalised for Bihar. His appointment in Bihar was twice cancelled following pressure from an UPA constituent.
The fifth governor of Uttarakhand, Qureshi had been a minister in Madhya Pradesh before. He was active in the national politics too; his inputs on politics in the Hindi belt were valued by the party high command.
Qureshi says he is aware of the constraints faced by the people of Uttarakhand as he has visited the state before. “As a first step, I decided to visit the famous shrines of the state, meet the tourists and pilgrims and try my best to address their age-old problems,” says the governor, adding that it was this reason why he visited these famous pilgrimages by road unlike his predecessors.
At several places during his journey to the four religious places, Qureshi abandoned his security and met the pilgrims alone to get their feedback on problems. “Later when the pilgrims came to know that they had shared their problems with the Governor of the state, they were thrilled and hopeful that their grievances would be redressed soon,” says Qureshi.
“I would not hesitate to say that the tourists and pilgrims in the state are facing two major problems—medical and toilet. If you visit the shrines, you will hardly find a doctor attending to thousands of visitors; the doctors have very limited support of medical equipment and medicines. There are grossly insufficient washrooms and bathrooms too,” says the governor, adding that the old and the incapacitated pilgrims falling sick or even dying during their yatras at high altitudes is also a cause for concern. Throwing light on the frequent road accidents reported in the state, Qureshi said cars and buses falling into deep gorges are becoming a frequent feature. The governor says he has written to the Central Government to intervene and assist the tiny Himalayan state.
To a question whether his visit would rub the state’s Congress government the wrong way, Qureshi says: “Not at all, the chief minister is very happy and has very cordial relations with me.” Talking about his plans for the state, the governor says that he would like to see the doctors and teachers joining in the remote areas of the hills. It has been a decade since the state came into existence but still a lot needs to be done in this beautiful state which has the potential to become one of the best destinations of the country.