BJP IN THE DRIVER’S SEAT
The party puts all its might behind the campaign, the Congress has only Harish Rawat
For the BJP, the battle for Uttarakhand goes back to the slight it suffered at the Congress’s hands last year, when chief minister Harish Rawat won the May 10 trust vote in the assembly, compelling the Centre to withdraw President’s rule and reinstate his government. BJP president Amit Shah had then vowed to wrest the state from the Congress at any cost. Starting with rallies in 44 constituencies where it did not have MLAs to ‘expose’ alleged horsetrading by Rawat, the BJP worked to strengthen its organisational base, forming booth-level committees in all 70 constituencies.
What the BJP does not have, however, is a single face to project as chief ministerial candidate. It has four former CMs—B.C. Khanduri, Bhagat Singh Koshyari, Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank and Vijay Bahuguna (who left the Congress to join the BJP last year)—as well as Ajay Bhatt, Maharani Laxmi Shah, Ajay Tamta and Satpal Maharaj vying for the job. All eight of them featured on the BJP’s parivartan rath as it rolled across the state in November-December.
The Congress, by contrast, has Rawat, although Pradesh Congress Committee chief Kishore Upadhyaya is giving him grief, and competition. The large-scale defection to the BJP side is also cause for worry. The BJP is in contact with Congress leader Yashpal Aarya; talks have been stuck because Aarya is adamant on his demand for two seats, Nainital for his son and his own Bajpur. Former CM and veteran Congress leader N.D. Tiwari too is on the BJP radar. He is willing to join if his son Rohit is given a ticket from Lalkuan or Haldwani.
The BJP is focusing on the 41 constituencies in the Garhwal region because most of the leaders who have defected hail from here. It’s not all smooth sailing, though, as many of these leaders want tickets for their relatives, despite Narendra Modi’s ‘no ticket for kin’ injunction. Kunwar Pranav Singh ‘Çhampion’ wants a seat for his wife; as does BJP spokesperson Munna Singh Chauhan. Former assembly speaker Harvansh Singh is hoping for a ticket for his son from Dehradun Cantt while former chief minister B.C. Khanduri wants to pit his daughter Ritu from either Karnprayag or Yamkeshwar.
In neighbouring Kumaon, which has 29 seats, Harish Rawat has the upper hand. But he is also thinking of contesting from Garhwal, especially Upadhyaya accused him of ignoring the Garhwal region.
The Congress has a firm social base in the state, with Rawat enjoying a clear edge over his rivals. A majority of the 50 per cent Rajputs in the state are in his favour. Muslims and Dalits, who make up 32-35 per cent of the vote, too, have traditionally thrown in their lot with the Congress.
The BJP is wooing the Brahmins, Vaishyas and Punjabis, who constitute 16 per cent of the vote. It is also hoping to attract Dalits, after the SC sammelans it has held in all 70 constituencies, besides actively promoting the Ambedkar legacy, including naming the UPI app—Bhim—after him. The women’s conferences and yuva samvads could help rope in the women and youth vote.
Both sides have shifted into battle mode. The Congress has moved election strategist Prashant Kishor to Uttarakhand. The BJP, in turn, has made cabinet ministers J.P. Nadda and Dharmendra Pradhan election in-charge. However, for every challenge that the BJP throws his way, CM Rawat has only one answer: President’s rule. It’s the one thing the BJP might find difficult to live down.