The picturesque Bhimtal constituency in Nainital district witnesses a battle between the BJP candidate and a former saffron party leader who is contesting as the Congress nominee in the assembly election to be held on February 15.
Dan Singh Bhandari, who won the 2012 assembly poll from the Bhimtal seat as a BJP candidate, joined the Congress in June last year. The BJP has fielded Govind Singh Bisht, who was the education minister when the party ruled Uttarakhand.
In 2007, the BJP won the seat comprising Bhimtal, Ramgarh, Dhari and Okhalkanda blocks. A majority of the voters are farmers.
Bhandari is considered by many as a BJP turncoat, but he seeks to neutralise that perception by citing Congress stalwart Yashpal Arya’s switch to the saffron party.
Many see the election as a triangular fight between Bhandari, Bisht and Ram Singh Kaida, a Congress rebel. BSP candidate Tara Dutt Pandey, locals say, has also a good base.
Congress veteran ND Tiwari’s village Padampuri comes under the constituency. Though Tiwari commands respect, locals are clueless as the veteran leader has maintained silence after many of his supporters joined the BJP.
Narendra Kumar Arya, a shop owner in Bhimtal, said he would not vote on party lines. “Drinking water supply to our Hediya area has been erratic. We have given representation to Dan Singh Bhandari but the problem persists. I will vote for a candidate who has a blueprint for solving the drinking water problem in my area.”
Ram Singh of Gorakhpur said the election would be a three-cornered fight between the Congress, BJP and BSP’s Tara Dutt Pandey. “Pandey would get sizeable votes not because of his party, but due to his own rapport and good work in the area,” he said, adding that Congress rebel Ram Singh Kaida, who was the Ramgarh block pramukh, should not be taken lightly.
“Though it is a direct fight between the Congress and the BJP, some old voters might vote in the name of ND Tiwari if the Congress invokes his name,” Neeraj Paladiya, a gunman, said, adding that the BJP could have benefitted had Tiwari joined the party. “Though Bhandari is being seen as a turncoat, his shifting of loyalties has been balanced by the act of Congress leader Yashpal Arya joining the BJP.”
Bisht said, “People will elect him as he had served them in the past as the education minister.” Bhandari said, “People will vote for me considering the developmental works carried out by the Harish Rawat government.”
After failing to get the BJP ticket in 2012, Bisht remained active in the constituency with regular visits. The Congress and BJP candidates reside in Haldwani but they are not seen as outsiders. Bhandari is the grandson of Shiv Narayan Singh Negi, a pioneer of the cooperative movement in Uttar Pradesh.