Turncoats and Rebels

There’s lit­tle talk of devel­op­ment as con­fused vot­ers try to make sense of all the de­fec­tions

India Today - - STATES - By San­tosh Ku­mar

Across Ut­tarak­hand, huge mist-laden hoard­ings of Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi and Chief Min­is­ter Har­ish Rawat sig­nal the elec­tion fever that is warm­ing up the freez­ing Hi­malayan winter here. But it’s an elec­tion cu­ri­ously bereft of is­sues per­tain­ing to devel­op­ment. Suc­ces­sive de­fec­tions be­tween the rul­ing Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party over the past six months have con­founded vot­ers. Con­test­ing faces have changed camps. Within the BJP, for in­stance, they now see faces the saf­fron party had for the long­est time dubbed as “cor­rupt”. In the other cor­ner, the Congress too has em­braced rebels from the other side.

And while the Congress has pro­claimed Rawat their CM face, the BJP, with its sur­feit of new en­trants, has found it im­pos­si­ble to name a leader and is once again bank­ing on Modi work­ing his ‘magic’. Ut­tarak­hand faces huge chal­lenges in areas like health, ed­u­ca­tion, wa­ter sup­ply and roads, but these are not part of the pop­u­lar dis­course. Street-side con­ver­sa­tions are now cen­tred on turncoats and blurred party lines.

State BJP chief Ajay Bhatt says the “cor­rup­tion” and the “sense of fear” about an­other Rawat regime will de­cide these polls, while Suren­dra Singh Negi, state min­is­ter and the Congress can­di­date in Kot­d­war, in­sists “the gov­ern­ment’s work on the ground” will win the party a sec­ond

term. It’s an in­ter­est­ing con­test in Kot­d­war where Negi’s chal­lenger is for­mer Con­gress­man Harak Singh Rawat, who was among the first to revolt against the Rawat gov­ern­ment. Negi, who’s run­ning for the third time, pre­dicts a ‘cake­walk’, point­ing to how he de­feated BJP stal­wart B.C. Khan­duri in 2012. Harak Singh, he says, “is no match for me”.

Like Harak Singh, the BJP nom­i­nee in Chaubat­takhal (Garhwal district), Sat­pal Ma­haraj, and Ajay Bhatt in Ranikhet, too, are re­cent en­trants to the saf­fron fold. Both, in­ci­den­tally, are not shy about their chief min­is­te­rial am­bi­tions. Out in the Terai con­stituency of Bazpur, BJP nom­i­nee Yash­pal Arya, who had earned con­sid­er­able re­spect as a Congress leader, is find­ing it dif­fi­cult to make a con­nect wear­ing his new po­lit­i­cal colours.

But, some be­lieve that with more armed forces vet­er­ans than most states, many of Ut­tarak­hand’s vot­ers could buy into the nar­ra­tive PM Modi has care­fully crafted around ex-ser­vice­men. OROP (one-rank-onepen­sion), the sur­gi­cal strikes against Pak­istan and the re­cent de­ci­sion to ap­point Gen. Bipin Rawat as the army chief, a gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial says, could turn things the BJP’s way. How­ever, even saf­fron strate­gists are wary of CM Rawat’s rep­u­ta­tion for mi­cro­manag­ing polls. “Things could turn out quite dif­fer­ent on polling day,” a BJP leader ad­mit­ted point­ing to how just three months af­ter the Modi tsunami in Lok Sabha 2014, Rawat un­hinged the BJP by win­ning all three assem­bly by-elec­tions in the state.

Mean­while, other than the turncoats and de­fec­tors, both parties also face the com­mon chal­lenge of rebel can­di­dates. Past the dead­line for with­drawal of can­di­da­ture, there are still as many as 28 Congress rebels in the fray. The BJP has done only marginally bet­ter, it has only 25 rebel can­di­dates. The bat­tle for Ut­tarak­hand, an­a­lysts say, could have a some­what ‘messy’ conclusion. So many rebels, they point out, con­test­ing as in­de­pen­dents could well be­come ‘king­mak­ers’ in the event of a photo fin­ish be­tween the Congress and the BJP.

SHOW OF HANDS Rahul Gandhi at a Congress road­show in Roor­kee

DEHRADUN

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