Dehradun: Former Union minister and two-time MP Satpal Maharaj is not a new face for the people of Uttarakhand. After staying for nearly 30 years in Congress, Maharaj quit it in March 2014 and embraced BJP alleging that he was not given his due for the services rendered. He is now contesting his first election as BJP candidate as Hindustan Times catches up with him on the campaign trail in Chaubattakhal assembly constituency.
His day starts with 45-minutes of meditation followed by a review of the work done till last night. He then checks out the day’s plan while leafing through newspapers and passing instructions to his team on how not to fall foul of the Election Commission.
He spares 15 minutes for breakfast – dhokla, chutney and sugar free tea --- before leaving his office-cum-residence at Satpuli few minutes past 10 am to address the first election meeting of the day at Thanikhal village, 25 kms away.
“People have stopped farming in many parts of Chaubattakhal owing to destruction caused by wild animals and small land holdings,” Maharaj tells HT. “Agricultural land needs to be rejuvenated and better utilised, which is possible only after proper land consolidation. It will also help increase the farmland size in hill areas and check migration.”
As he reaches Thanikhal around 12.30 pm, he is welcomed by the local BJP workers with traditional Garhwali folk bands. He moves to a canopy raised nearby where locals from from nearby villages have gathered. Maharaj assures the villagers of creating new walnut and pomegranate orchards and introducing herbal farming after proper testing of soil. In his 25-minute speech, Maharaj talks of early completion of drinking water schemes and providing employment to locals via promotion of homestays for tourists. He also takes a dig at chief minister Harish Rawat over his “saviour of Uttarakhand” video that has gone viral.
He then starts for Satpuli. On way, he stops at Ganikhal market and meets local shopkeepers requesting them to support BJP. Back in his SUV, he points towards the high tension transmission line running parallel to mountains. “These can be hazardous for flying machines like helicopter and must be marked with coloured flags for identification.” he says.
He takes lunch at Satpuli and 30 minutes later sets off for another meeting at Kandakhal village on way to Lansdowne cantonment. Maharaj repeats the promises he made at Thanikhal but here his focus is mainly on checking migration. “Our main effort will be to check migration from this area by providing employment generating entrepreneurship skills to the youths and assuring them minimum earning,” says Maharaj.
He also questions Congress’s alliance with Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh saying the ruling party in the neighbouring state was responsible for unleashing atrocities on women who agitated for separate Uttarakhand. “Harish Rawat who talks and swears by the hills, was scared to contest from hill constituency,” he adds.
Maharaj then leaves for another public meeting at Peeda village ahead of Kandahal, yet another area bearing the brunt of migration where population has come down by nearly 80% in the last 25 years. At Peeda, apart from land consolidation, migration and other local issues, Maharaj’s speech is focused on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and how demonetisation has reduced stone pelting at security forces in Jammu and Kashmir in addition to having demoralised the naxalites. “We will make efforts to create, Shakya, Shaiva and Vishnu circuits as important religious tourist zones in the state if voted to power,” says Maharaj ending the speech with appeal for “pressing the lotus button”.
He joins local BJP workers for tea before leaving for party office at Satpuli as the sun sets in.