Assembly polls in tiny hill state of Uttarakhand are apparently less about issues and more about personalities and cult. The outcome will depend on the political acumen of the major players – the ruling Congress and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Largely, it will be a direct fight between Congress and BJP. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has a base in a few pockets in the plain areas and could dent the prospects of candidates from the other two parties.
The last five years have been a roller-coaster ride for Uttarakhand. In June 2013, the state witnessed one of the biggest natural disasters after cloudburst triggered massive floods and landslides that claimed more than 5,000 lives in the Kedarnath valley. Following the disaster, then Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna was replaced with his bête noire, Harish Rawat, in early 2014.
But that failed to bring stability. Last year, a political coup engineered by rebel Congress legislators led by Bahuguna who backed by the BJP to unseat Rawat shook up the power corridors and led to chaos. The imposition of President’s rule for a brief stint, then litigations challenging it, and a sting video of Rawat purportedly offering money to lure legislators to save his government added to the flux.
The polls will be the biggest test for Rawat, who managed to win a floor test and save his government in May last year. The election will shape his political future. With other senior Congress leaders not in the picture, Rawat, who had to wait for 12 years before the opportunity to become CM knocked on his door, is leading the party’s election chariot. It will be a big boost for the Congress if it manages to retain Uttarakhand.
The BJP, meanwhile, exudes the confidence of being better organised. The party’s top leaders, including poll in-charge and Union ministers JP Nadda and Dharmendra Pradhan, are conducting whirlwind tours of the state. BJP leaders are highlighting “political corruption” in the state at poll meetings and also showing the sting video of Rawat allegedly offering money to legislators to save his government.
Rawat is countering the charges at public gatherings, saying, “BJP ke saare balwan milkar kamjor mukhyamantri ko chiit karna chahtey hain (All powerful leaders of BJP intend to crush a weak CM).”
The Congress government has been repeatedly hit by allegations of corruption. Incidentally, the first such charge Rawat faced was last year when his principal secretary, Md Shahid, was shown in a sting video allegedly inking a deal to award liquor distribution to a private player.
Without naming anyone, Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently said at a rally in Dehradun, “By now politicians should know that people know everything.”
The BJP will have in its corner rebel Congress leaders who came into its fold. Former Congress stalwarts now in the BJP include Bahuguna, former minister Harak Singh, Kunwar Pranab Champion and Satpal Maharaj.