On Lansdowne’s electoral battlefield, a ‘mahant’ and an army veteran will cross swords for the second consecutive assembly election to win the cantonment town.
BJP’s sitting legislator Dilip Singh Rawat aka Mahant ji will take on Congress’s Lt Gen (retd) TPS Rawat – who contested the last election on Uttarakhand Raksha Mocha ticket and lost – in the February 15 polls.
Dilip Singh, the mahant (chief priest) of Siddhbali Temple at Kotdwar, defeated the army veteran by 5,438 votes in 2012, while Jyoti Rawat of the Congress stood third. In the 2002 and 2007 polls, the seat was bagged by former Congress heavyweight Harak Singh Rawat.
With nearly 40% voters in the constituency comprising defence personnel, retired officers and their families, the Congress thinks Lt Gen Rawat is a strong bet.
“We will continue to support our army representative, come what may,” says Lt Gen (retd) RS Negi, a local resident.
However, Dilip Singh has his own support base in the area. “At least he (Singh) visits us and asks for our problems. Lt Gen Rawat comes here in army style and leaves without even seeking our support,” Ashok Dhyani, a shopkeeper, complains.
Local people say the constituency lacks proper health facilities as well as professional colleges.
Rajesh Bedwal, 70, of Pulkot village, 10 km from Lansdowne, is ailing with diabetes. But due to non-availability of free medicine at the only government hospital in Lansdowne, his son has to go to Kotdwar, 40 km away, every now and then, he says.
Sukesh Chandra, a shopkeeper in the main market of Lansdowne, says, “There is only one lady doctor and one male doctor at the hospital. They could check patients with routine problems, but if someone is suffering from ENT diseases or other severe illnesses like diabetes, thyroid, heart and liver, they have to go to other town to get medical services.”
Private doctors, too, are not easily available. “Who would want to practice in an area that is completely neglected,” said Sharad, a dairy owner.
Students also suffer as the area has only a few private schools but no private college or university. “I have to travel each day to Kotdwar for my college. I am enrolled in the government degree college there. It’s disappointing. Aren’t we a part of Uttarakhand and shouldn’t the government be proactive in providing us better higher education?” said Swati, an undergraduate student.
Lansdowne has a government degree college in Jaharikhal. But the lack of engineering and other colleges has left the future of many youngsters uncertain.
The population of the constituency, with over 83,000 voters, is scattered across several villages – most of which lack basic amenities.