A patrolling team of CRPF in Haldwani on Saturday.
Chunav to bandh mutthi ki tarah hote hain, Janaab; jab khulegi tab pata chalega, iske bheetar kya hai (You can't say who will win in election until results are out). That's how octogenarian Iqbal Hussain, a hawker, reacts when quizzed about the possible winner from Haldwani assembly seat, where the Muslim voters hold the key.
In fact, like this ageing peddler, many in the assembly segment prefer to skip the question on the outcome of the election.
However, they appear unanimous on one thing - Haldwani is going to vote for development.
And since, people say, Indira Hridayesh, the former PWD minister, had ushered in the "bayar of vikas" (the wind of development) in Haldwani during her last stint (2002-2007) as a legislator, the tilt appears to be strongly in her favour.
She has a upper hand, also because of what people call the non-performance of the sitting Bhartiya Janata Party legislator Bansidhar Bhagat who is now contesting from the nearby Kaladhungi (rural) assembly constituency.
The majority view is that development suffered a great deal in Haldwani because Bhagat left it to its fate and focused only on the Kaladhungi constituency from where he had been assured of a ticket by his party following the 2006 delimitation of constituencies.
So, the anger of the people against the BJP is not the only factor going against Hridayesh's main rival (the BJP candidate from Haldwani and former Municipal Board chairperson) Renu Adhikari. In fact, she is also not acceptable within her own party (BJP) which she joined recently after resigning from the Congress.
"They may appear canvassing for Adhikari but the majority of the BJP workers and many of the party's senior local leaders who were in line for a party ticket from Haldwani are not at all with her," said Vipul Goyal, a TV journalist based in Haldwani. "She is seen as a parachute candidate within her own party, who got the party ticket by hobnobbing with the top BJP leadership," he added. "Even the loyal BJP voters have not been able to connect with her as she is a new entrant in the BJP," he added. Two factors though seem to favour Adhikari: her image of a go-getter administrator and development works she "carried out as a Municipal Board chief."
Other candidates who are in the fray are Samajwadi Party's Mateen Siddiqui and Raees-ul-Hasan of the Bahujan Samaj Party besides a host of Independents.
Political observers though feel that Hridayesh has a clear edge over Adhikari this time around.
"It's not because as an MLA from Haldwani she focused on its development. Also, people are now realising that they shouldn't have defeated such a useful candidate in the 2007 assembly elections," says Dr Abdul Rashid Ansari, an assistant professor at Haldwani's Motiram-Baburam Postgraduate College.
In fact, the undercurrent appears so strong in Hridayesh's favour that the people in this constituency have forgotten the allegations of corruption against her, which resulted in her massive electoral defeat in 2007. "Who can deny that politicians in power get kickbacks on various deals and projects? But they should also deliver in terms of carrying out development in their constituencies, which Hridayesh has done," said MS Kohli, a retired government official.
Consequently, even the 35-40% Muslim voters who ditched Hridayesh in the last assembly election now seem to be standing solidly behind her. "Last time we did commit a mistake by not casting our votes in favour of a Congress candidate we had been electing regularly for the past 30-35 years", regrets 40 year-old Sartaj Hussain, a resident of the Muslim dominated Vanbhoolpura colony. "No doubt, Hrideysh did a lot of work….she built roads, set up drainage etc besides providing our colonies water and power connectivity," agrees sexagenarian Sartaj Hussain of the same area.