After holding meetings for five hours to fine-tune the party’s poll preparations, state Congress chief Kishore Upadhyay scurries out of a Dehradun hotel towards his SUV around 2pm. “Let’s go, fast,” he tells the driver as he sets off for Sahaspur – a constituency adjoining the state capital from where he is contesting the February 15 polls. “I’m over two hours behind my schedule,” a worried Upadhyay tells this correspondent as he settles in his car.
Upadhyay, who stood like a wall behind CM Harish Rawat after last year’s political crisis, has been a two-time MLA from Tehri, his home turf. He lost to Independent Dinesh Dhanai in 2012 polls and has been fielded by the party from Sahaspur this time – a constituency he admits he’s “unfamiliar” with.
In 2012 polls, Congress candidate Aryendra Sharma lost to the BJP’s Sahdev Pundir on this seat by a margin of 6% votes.This time, Sharma is fighting as an Independent and may eat into the Congress’ votes.
“I got little time to be with the people here (Sahaspur)…but I’m sure they’ll support us against the undemocratic forces,” he says, while admitting that the Congress does not have “the kind of resources BJP is splurging on its blitzkrieg”.
On way, Upadhyay stops at Jhajra on Dehradun’s outskirts where he inaugurates a poll office; women greet him with garlands. Around 4:10pm, he arrives at Sherpur where a motley crowd has been waiting for him for over two hours. Sensing restlessness among people, Upadhyay is quick to tender a humble apology.
“Main zarur der se pahucha, par vikas ab dur nahin (I may be late, but development is not far away,” he says as the crowd breaks into cheers.
In this Muslim-dominated belt, he gently throws in the choicest Urdu words to strike a chord with the locals and makes sure to cut short his speech as he hears the azaan (call for prayer). “Congress is the only party which respects the feelings of every section of the society,” he says as slogans like ‘Kishore nahin aandhi hai, Uttarakhand ka Gandhi hai’ and ‘Sahaspur me ek hi shor, Kishore Kishore’ echo in the background.
Besides being the party’s state chief, he is also a candidate, which has brought much load on his shoulders. “Main chunav ladna nahin ladwana chahta tha (I wanted to help the party in fighting instead of contesting the polls myself),” he tells HT. Through the journey, his phone refuses to stop ringing. He fixes schedule for the next day and directs party workers about campaigning in parts of the state.
Around 5:15pm, Upadhyay reaches Kainchiwala, a small village that has a mixed population of Himachalis and Muslims. His supporters immediately carry him on their shoulders amid loud sloganeering as he steps out of his SUV. At the nukkad sabha, he hits out at Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP. “Humein kaali taakaton aur jumle walon se savdhan rehna hai (we have to be wary of divisive forces that make false promises),” he tells the people. Nadeem Hasan, a daily-wage labourer, nods, “The BJP MLA didn’t do anything for us.”
Next up, Upadhyay stops by for rallies at Gorakhpur and Singhaniwala before returning to Dehradun at midnight where he holds a meeting with the CM and party’s state in charge Ambika Soni.