The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may have swept the Lok Sabha elections in Uttarakhand last month, but the Congress seems to have bounced back from the drubbing and is ready to give it a tough fight in the upcoming bypolls for three Assembly seats.
The Congress on Thursday announced all its three candidates - chief minister Harish Rawat (Dharchula seat), Hira Singh Bisht (Doiwala) and BJP defector Rekha Arya (Someshwar) - for the July 21 by-elections, while the BJP’s search for suitable candidates was still on.
This apparent difference between the rival parties mirrors the “drastic change” in political equations the state has witnessed since the general elections. It was the BJP then that had got a head start over the Congress in all departments, be it the selection of candidates or the election campaign.
The opposition BJP would appear upbeat because the political equations were favouring it. “Everything appeared to be going just right for us because the people then wanted to see just one man to guide the country’s destiny; the man was our prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi,” said a senior BJP functionary.
Political equations, however, underwent a sudden change ahead of the assembly bypolls. “More people now want to vote for the Congress because it’s ruling the state, not us. Besides, these aren’t assembly elections that normally bring about a regime change,” said the state BJP leader.
As of now, the Congress doesn’t enjoy a majority in the 70-member state Assembly. The ruling party has three short of 36 MLAs it needs to have a wafer-thin majority. So, the Harish Rawat-led Congress government depends on the support of the seven-member Progressive Democratic Front (PDF) for its survival.
The Congress wouldn’t require the PDF support and would be able to run the government on its own if it wins all the three seats in the by-polls. What seems to have tilted the scale in the ruling party’s favour is that chief minister Rawat would be contesting one of the three bypolls.
“Obviously, the contest in Dharchula is absolutely one sided. It’s only natural that the voters of that constituency would like to be represented by the CM as he would be far more useful for them, compared to an opposition party (BJP) MLA,” reasoned a senior BJP leader. He admitted that the ruling Congress would also be dominant in the other two seats. “However, we hope to have a fighting chance in the two constituencies, provided our party is able to put up candidates with some political stature.”
State BJP general secretary Prakash Pant though strongly contests such suggestions. “In Dharchula, for instance, we’ve a number of local leaders with a huge mass following. If we put up any of these (leaders) as our candidate, he will not only give the CM a tough fight but may also defeat him,” he said. Pant claimed that another point favouring the BJP in Dharchula, which was hit by flash floods last year, was that voters weren’t happy with the state government’s handling of the relief and reconstruction work.
State Congress spokesperson Surendra Kumar called the BJP “a confused party” and said the Congress was in a strong position ahead of the by-polls. “We will certainly get the benefit of having an early head start over the BJP in announcing our candidates for the assembly by-polls. The BJP hasn’t been able to keep pace with us because it’s a confused party. It doesn’t know how to face the electorate because of the Narendra Modi government’s abject failure to curb food inflation,” he said.