Which party will benefit from Satpal Maharaj’s actions during the last five years as an MP of Pauri Garhwal — the Congress from which he contested and won the election last time or the BJP that he defected to later and is now campaigning for?
The answer depends on how voters look at his decision to ditch Congress and join BJP. A large section of the voters, which also approves of Maharaj’s performance as an MP, believes his decision to defect is justified. They, like Maharaj, believe chief minister Harish Rawat ignored party workers in Pauri and would have sabotaged his chances of victory if he contested on a Congress ticket. This likeness towards Maharaj, in all likelihood, will be translated into votes for BJP’s BC Khanduri this time.
Meanwhile, another section of voters thinks Maharaj’s decision to defect is wrong and is borne out of his grudge against Congress for choosing Harish Rawat instead of him to replace Vijay Bahuguna as the chief minister. (Bahuguna was allegedly asked to step down in early 2014 for his mismanagement of the mid-June flash floods last year).
This section of voters, who also disapproves of Maharaj’s performance as an MP, is likely to vote for Congress’s Harak Singh Rawat this time.
While this is the situation surrounding Maharaj’s switchover, there are certain other factors that come into play in determining the winner of the LS election in Pauri.
Maharaj commands a large following in the hills on account of his stature as a Hindu spiritual leader. At the same time, this identity of Maharaj is not palatable to a large section of Muslims, secularists and lower-caste Hindus in Pauri.
Where Maharaj shone
Maharaj who represented Pauri after the 15th Lok Sabha election defeated his one-time protégé TPS Rawat of BJP in 2009 by more than17,000 votes. He was one of the most vocal speakers in Parliament especially in terms of raising the issues of the state as well as his constituency. Besides raising the demand for an industrial package for Uttarakhand, and to end the harassment of Gujjars living inside Rajaji National Park, he was instrumental in streamlining the operation of public distribution system and construction of airports in the state.
Maharaj claims that his three-year tenure as the head of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence actually lead to the enactment of one-rank-one-pension scheme by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government. He said the committee also ensured the establishment of recruitment centres for army and navy, leading to several recruitment-drives in the state in the past five years.
Maharaj is also credited for securing `88 crore from the finance commission for the construction of the assembly house building at Gairsain. This eventually led to Gairsain becoming the summer capital of the state. However, the Rishikesh- Karnprayag rail link project is highlighted as his biggest achievement.
Where he flopped
On the other hand, not all are rosy on Mahaj political resume. He has often faced criticism for his lack of connect with people and his constituency.
Besides, Maharaj was also accused of not doing enough for disaster victims of the flash floods last year.
He has also been accused of inability to bring separate fund for the reconstruction works in the disaster-torn Pauri from the Centre. “As the MP, Maharaj was expected to do much more than other politicians, but he failed to stand up to the people’s expectations. Though most of the disaster-affected areas were in his constituency, he never visited the areas to meet the victims,” alleged senior Congress leader Yogendra Khanduri.