The issues of Uttarakhand region were highly complex to be effectively addressed by the then Uttar Pradesh State Government. The state government could not address the concerns of this mountain region. The people of Uttarakhand were demoralized and totally unsatisfied with the way this region was being governed & neglected. While the majority of the earning members were serving in the armed forces and were stationed outside the region. Garhwal and Kumaon had probably the highest per capita of population serving in the armed forces in India and won many gallantry awards and decorations since World War I, there was hardly any developmental opportunities coming in the region. Hence, it came to be called only a ‘Money-Order Economy.
The political leaders from the Himalayan region commanded tremendous clout in New Delhi. Even though theywere highly respected by the people, the political leader could not deliver progress in the region. The divisive politics hindered a unified demand for an independent hill state. Having his roots in Garhwal, Satpal Maharaj knew that such a task require a paradigm shift in ideology and intent. According to him the foremost aim would be to create a momentum in collective consciousness for creating Uttarakhand state andhe would need to assemble a network of committed people and identify the agenda for development.
Beginning from early 1990’s Uttarakhand movement began gathering momentum. Its mission attracted young and old, one could see children and elder expressing their solidarity. Concerned about the future of their children, even women began to participate as the days passed. There were villages where women protestors outnumbered men. People from all walks of life, retired defence personnel, students, academics and farmers, all came forward to make this noble mission a reality. Satpal Maharaj along with senior leaders of Uttarakhand Kranti Dal Late. Shri Indramani Badoni were most instrumental in petitioning the demand for independent state. Earlier however, both the state government of Uttar Pradesh and the Central Government refused to acknowledge this mass movement and tried to down play it.
Unfortunately, this movement took an ugly turn on the Gandhi Jayanti Celebration day on October 2, 1994. The Uttarakhand Movement protestors decided to gather in New Delhi to participate in a rally organised to make their voices, their demands in the national capital. While some buses halted en route to Rampur at Muzzafarnagar in the early hours, there was this unprovoked firing by the police at early hours and many of them were killed while asleep.
One English magazine wrote, “the pre dawn hours of 2 October were a nightmare for the Garhwali activists, most of them still asleep in their seats. Hell broke loose at 5.30 a.m, the police, members of Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) chased Garhwalis towards the sugarcane fields, using tear gas and batons, shooting randomly and molesting women. A kilometre stretch of the road was spattered with blood and broken glass.”
Satpal Maharaj was shocked at the silence of the ruling party at the centre. He immediately decided to give his resignation from the Congress Party. Satpal Maharaj along with Shri Indramani Badoni the chief of Uttarakhand Rajya Sanyukt Sangharsh Samiti, decided to dedicate themselves in organising rallies called ‘Himalaya Garjana’(Himalayas Awaken) and give the Uttarakhand State Movement a new dimension & direction.
As a tribute to those who lost their lives at the carnage committed by irresponsible police action, Satpal Maharaj decided to organise a Shraddhanjali Padayatra on the first martyr Day anniversary. On September 11, 1995, Satpal Maharaj began the Shraddhanjali Padayatra starting from Gopeshwar in Uttarakhand and ended at Muzaffarnagar in UP, the site where tregedy was struck. This Padayatra was organised to pay homage to the martyrs who laid their lives for this noble cause. A Shahid Smarak (martyrs memorial) was built at the site in Narsain which now stands as a the Gateway to Uttarakhand.
But Satpal Maharaj believed that real tribute to martyrs would be to get statehood declared for Uttarakhand. When elected as Member of Parliament on Congress (T) ticket, Satpal Maharaj was entrusted with portfolio of Railways as a Minister of State. On August 13, 1996 Prime Minster called a meeting of the Council of Ministers. The decision on the issue of Uttarakhand movement was also on the PM’s agenda. When the point was tabled for discussion, PM suggested creating a hill council to avoid the demand of separate independent state, Satpal Maharaj immediately proposed that piece-meal solution will not solve anything and the demand for independent statehood was legitimate and genuine on all practical grounds. Satpal Maharaj pursued the matter of statehood to Uttarakhand and made extremely tiring and demanding efforts to convince the Political Arena in New Delhi. As a result of this effort the then Prime Minister Shri HD Devegowda announced granting statehood to Uttarakhand from the historic Red Fort on the occasion of Independence Day on 15th August 1996. Satpal Maharaj's efforts for independent statehood was becoming a reality now.
Even though statehood was announced for Uttrakhand , Satpal Maharaj proclaimed “Our aim is still distant, in fact our responsibility has just begun.” He immediately, got the Railway Line Survey conducted from Rishikesh to Karnaprayag. As Minister of State for Finance with the Central Government, he was instrumental in declaring Uttarakhand as industrially backward which required reforms. He granted Tax Holiday for Industries in Uttarakhand.
Satpal Maharaj’s relentless efforts and toil to get statehood declared for Uttarakhand finally took shape. Eventually, on November 09, 2000 Uttarakhand became the 27th state of the Republic of India coinciding with the 100th birth anniversary of his father Shri Hans Ji Maharaj.