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BJP ready for revenge, but Cong has an edge

Last year’s flash floods took its toll on the ruling Congress. But with some smart policies and a new CM, the party may still do well in the hill state. Anupam Trivedi reports.

india Updated: Feb 27, 2014 11:58 IST
Anupam Trivedi
Uttarakhand Lok sabha polls

It was an unexpectedly good performance by the Congress in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls in Uttarakhand when it won all the five seats in the state. Now, it’s payback time for the BJP.

But with new chief minister Harish Rawat, it seems that the Congress will not give up easily. Rawat, himself an MP from Haridwar, had assured the high command that he would ensure two-three seats from Uttarakhand.

Rawat, who waited 12 years for the top job, is considered to be a good organiser. Already, cadres who were silent till a month ago are out courting voters. Top state leaders, including those who were in the race for the CM’s chair, are yet to start working, though.

Meanwhile, Rawat has increased the age for applying for government jobs from 40 to 42 years, allocated additional funds for minority welfare schemes and given land to the potter community, which had been sliding steadily towards the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

But conditions — at least in the urban centres — are still not favour able for the Congress. For instance, the seven assembly seats in Dehradun voted largely for the BJP in the Tehri Lok Sabha by-poll in 2012.

Although the ruling Congress always had an edge in the hills, the voter’s mood has changed drastically after the June disaster in 2013. The people are unhappy with both the state and central governments for the slow pace of reconstruction work.

So, the BJP sees an opportunity in the hills this time. Leader of the opposition Ajay Bhatt indicated that his party would make rehabilitation the main political issue.

After Uttarakhand came into being in 2004, the BJP won three seats, the Congress one and the Samajwadi Party one. But in the by-election for Tehri in 2007, the Congress managed to wrest the seat. The BJP retained Pauri in a by-election in 2008.

The trends in the last two elections suggest that both the Congress and the BJP’s vote-shares remained around 36% on average. The surprise gainer in the state is the BSP, which doubled its vote share from 7% in 2004 to 15% in 2009.

“On the instructions of Behenji (BSP chief Mayawati), we have worked hard at the booth level. As of now, we are going alone in the Lok Sabha polls. You will see the BSP emerge as a giant-killer in Uttarakhand,” said Meghraj Jaraware, BSP state president.

The BSP has worked hard in the urban slums and also among government employees. Moreover, the BSP’s archrival, the Samajwadi Party (SP), which is confined in the areas bordering Uttar Pradesh, has witnessed a fall in its vote share in the last few elections.

The BSP leadership thinks it will help Mayawati grow among the minorities, besides her traditional Dalit vote-bank. Haridwar and Nainital constituencies have sizeable minority populations. Nainital has a 32.47% minority population, while Haridwar has 34.5%.

The BJP has grandiose plans to win Haridwar, Pauri, Tehri and Nainital parliamentary constituencies. And party sources indicate that its poll in-charge Uma Bharti could be fielded from Haridwar.

Pauri may get BJP’s poster boy and former CM B C Khanduri, while another former CM Bhagat Singh Koshyari may contest from Nainital-USN.

The Congress, on the other hand, intends to retain all its sitting MPs, except the one — CM Rawat — in Haridwar. Rawat will have to clear an assembly by-poll in six months.

Congress sources said as Rawat wanted to keep his hold on Haridwar, the party might field someone from his family. Similarly, in the Tehri seat, the Congress may go with Saket Bahuguna, son of former CM Vijay Bahuguna.

As of now, the Congress is apparently confident in the Almora–Pithoragarh reserved seat. The present MP, Pradeep Tamta, considered to be the CM’s political protégé, has advantage since Rawat had represented this seat in the past.

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