BJP IN THE DRIVER’S SEAT

The party puts all its might be­hind the cam­paign, the Congress has only Har­ish Rawat

India Today - - UTTARAKHAND - Santosh Ku­mar

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.

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