The sizeable population of ex-servicemen and widows in Uttarakhand has led to both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress trying their best to woo the 2.5 lakh voters from the community residing in the hill state.
The BJP aims to lure the sizeable vote base by drawing attention towards the implementation of the One Rank One Pension (OPOP) scheme; while the Harish Rawat- led Congress has promised a separate ministry for former soldiers, if it is voted to power.
The BJP, however, appears to be a step behind the Congress as it has failed to project a candidate representing the forces. The Congress on the other hand as fielded three candidates -- TPS Rawat, SS Negi and Ranjeet Rawat—that have a connection with the armed forces.
Political set up
Representation from the armed forces is significant in the state due to the sizeable vote bank constituted by ex-servicemen, widows, veterans and those presently serving.
Understanding the importance of army vote bank in state, BJP has Major General BC Khanduri —currently an MP from Pauri — campaigning in the Garhwal region where the concentration is highest. The Congress appears to not have taken the full advantage of its representives of the armed forces as its candidates TPS Rawat and Negi have been limited to their constituencies.
The hill state has nearly 2.25 lakh serving personnel, retired officers, widows and veterans. There are 76 lakh total voters in state.
According to records of Sainik Kalyan Evam Punarwas located in capital, till December 2016, there are 122,849 registered ex-servicemen and 39,345 widows. In addition, there are 300 veterans while 1,531 veteran widows. There are about 60,000 armed forces serving personnel.
Dehradun has 22,576 retired personnel and 4,000 widows. With seven veterans and their 78 widows, it has the maximum concentration of ex-servicemen.
It is followed by Pauri Garhwal district. The regiment centre of Garhwal Rifles-Lansdowne alone has 14,866 retired and 4,936 widows. It also has 10 veterans and 143 war widows. The remaining areas in the district have 6,958 ex-servicemen and 2,455 widows with 2 veterans and 134 war widows. Pithoragarh district has 16,517 retired personnel and 7,348 widows, 10 veterans and 329 war widows.
In order to woo this section of voters, BJP is largely banking on the implementation of One Rank One Pension (OROP). Parrikar had already declared that 90% retired personnel have been benefited so far.
The second trump card of the saffron party is the army chief. He is the first army man from Uttarakhand who was promoted to the rank of Army General. His visit to home district of Pauri Garhwal last year was seen as another important event favoring the party during elections.
The man behind the surgical strikes-Ajit Doval who also hails from Pauri, has managed to mesmerise retired personnel in his home district.
“Two of our sons-Bipin and Ajit are safeguarding the country and I feel immense proud of being a resident of their home district,” said Lt Gen Raghubeer Rawat.
Congress on the contrary, is banking on support from the United Front of Ex-Servicemen of India. The front has shown its solidarity with the party highlighting several discrepancies in OROP.
“OROP was given to us like alms and not as our rights. There are discrepancies to which BJP is not willing to make changes. Under such circumstances, we have requested the people and families associated with the front to cast vote in favour of Congress,” Lt. Gen. Gambhir Singh Negi (retd.), a former commandant of Indian Military Academy told Hindustan Times.
Congress chief Amarinder Singh is also expected to take part in campaigning with an aim to win retired personnel and Punjabi voters.