Seven chief ministers in 16 years has left the people of Uttarakhand hoping for a stable government that provide jobs, transparent governance, and most importantly, a full five years of work.
“Uttarakhand needs a majority government,” says SS Pangti, retired bureaucrat and political commentator. In March last year, for instance, nine Congress legislators de-stabilised the government by rebelling against their party.
This year, the election campaign was less about issues and more about personality cults: specifically, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who criticised the Congress government for its perceived corruption; and Harish Rawat, the sitting chief minister, who projected himself as the son of the soil, and dismissed Modi as a ‘Dilli Wale Baba’, or an outsider from Delhi.
Rural distress, urban joblessness
In Uttarakhand, the private sector has been unable to provide meaningful employment to young people fleeing the relentless decline of farm jobs.
“Attacks from wild animals, dearth of irrigation water, lack of marketing linkages have left farmers nowhere,” said Mukesh Pundir, a young farmer from Dehradun.
In its campaign, Rawat and the Congress distributed job cards to the youth as a symbol of its seriousness in tackling the matter: a move that quickly attracted the Election Commission’s ire. For Rawat – who is facing a CBI probe allegedly for offering money to his party MLAs – the outcome of this election could determine his long-term political future.
For the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), the Uttarakhand election, like all state elections since 2014, are about Modi, who addressed four rallies in the state. Party workers say they hope that women voters – who come out to vote in greater numbers than their male counterparts – shall be swayed by Modi’s promise of jobs and development.
The BJP has not announced a candidate for chief minister, but the party has a several candidates vying for the post: Satpal Maharaj, Trivendra Rawat, Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, Vijay Bahuguna, Bhagat Singh Koshyari, Prakash Pant are just some of the names are doing rounds in the BJP circle.
Last year, the inclusion of nine former Congressmen was seen as a coup for the saffron party; but now, party elders fear, these “rebels” could pose a problem for the BJP as well.
The highs and lows of the campaign season
• Widespread use of social media for the first time during campaigning
• Women voters came out in large numbers: voter turnout was 8% higher for women as compared to men.
• Rise of the youth vote – 57% of total electorate was under 35 years of age.
• Less defacement of public and private properties due to strict vigil of EC
• The elections saw 61 women contesting polls
• Drugs, liquor and money poured in to lure voters.
• Teams recovered 1.01 lakh liters liquor, R 3.32 crores cash and 81.22 kg of drugs
• Resentment after ticket distribution saw BJP workers tearing party banners and Congress workers spitting on the posters of Harish Rawat.
What is at stake for Satpal Maharaj
The 66 year-old-godman turned politician Satpal Maharaj is a front runner for Chief Minister, should the BJP win. His proximity to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, party president Amit Shah and RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat weighs in his favour, despite being in the BJP for only three years.
Maharaj entered politics in the late 1980s, and served as Minister of State (Railways) in 1996-97 in H.D. Dev Gowda’s short-lived union government.
A bête noir of current chief minister Harish Rawat, Maharaj left Congress and joined the BJP when Rawat was sworn in early 2014. A win for the BJP would vindicate Maharaj’s decision to change sides; a loss would mean five long years in opposition.
• A torched vehicle, and posters calling for an election boycott in Kumaon led to allegations that the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) were stepping up their agitation in the region
• In a poll rally, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked voters to stop paying ‘Harda Tax’ in a direct reference to chief minister Harish Rawat.
• A day before the voting on February 15, a regional channel aired a sting of a BJP turncoat alleging that he was paid crores for contesting under the Congress symbol.