No political party holds sway in Kotdwar and there is no political leader who can be dubbed as favourite of the 'janata' in Kotdwar. In this constituency, which has more than 86,000 voters, voting is generally on the basis of caste.
Ravindra Rawat, a shopkeeper told Hindustan Times, "We believe in supporting brothers from our caste. I won't deny the fact that casteism works immensely behind any candidate contesting from this constituency."
If locals are to be believed, then approximately 50% residents of Kotdwar are Thakurs. This clearly reflects that having majority population, a Thakur candidate has not only support, but also a soft corner in the hearts of the public. Besides, 30% residents are Brahmins and 20% belong to other castes.
Sarojini, a housewife said, "People of Kotdwar do not care about party or leader. They just want to know whether the candidate is Thakur or Brahmin. His caste decides his vote here."
Needless to mention, people do not openly discuss 'caste votes'. Yet, in hushed tones, they agree upon the factor. Interestingly, local leaders too believe in 'caste votes'. Otherwise, they wouldn't have raised the issue of 'being local'. In this series, Congress candidate Surendra Singh Negi is Thakur but BJP candidate and CM, Maj Gen (Retd.) BC Khanduri is Brahmin.
When asked whether Thakur votes would be his trump card, Negi replied, "I think all factors will work in the elections. This would definitely be one of them." However, on the contrary, Khanduri has a different opinion. He said that all such issues were pointless. "This is known as bankruptcy of issues. The Congress has no issue to highlight. Therefore, they are raising 'caste votes'. People of Kotdwar are educated and will vote for the candidate who has worked for them," Khanduri said.
I am Kotdwar's son: Surendra Singh Negi
After tasting defeat at the hands of BJP's Shailendra Singh Rawat by a mere 900 votes in 2007, Congress candidate Surendra Singh Negi is once again all set to take on chief minister Maj Gen (Retd.) BC Khanduri. He strongly believes that his success 'mantra' lies in 'being local'.
Speaking to Hindustan Times, Negi said, "I am the beta (son) of Kotdwar. So, people will vote for me. My success 'mantra' rests on 'being local'."
But if that was the case, why did he lose in the last assembly elections? Pat comes reply: "Nine hundred is a marginal vote loss. At least it clearly shows my equal standing in the constituency. This time, I won't leave any stone unturned," Negi said.
Interestingly, he isn't insecure of losing his vote bank to Khanduri. He claims that Khanduri is contesting from this seat to avenge the by-election for Dhumakot seat held in 2007. He said, "I contested against Khanduri in Dhumakot by-election. That's why he is contesting against me on this seat."
In fact, delimitation caused a huge blow to Negi's vote bank. One of his favourite regions— Gadh—- where Negi had a heavy vote bank, was added to Yamkeshwar constituency post delimitation. However, Negi says he's unperturbed. "Of course, Gadh was my bastion. But people of Kotdwar too love me equally."
'Being local' inconsequential: Khanduri
So what if BJP candidate and chief minister Maj Gen (Retd.) BC Khanduri isn't a resident of Kotdwar? He is sure that locals of the constituency will vote keeping the ability of the candidate in mind.
Talking to Hindustan Times on phone, Khanduri said, "I don't consider 'being local' can actually be the success 'mantra' of any candidate. I am sure people will vote for the capabilities of a candidate and not his domicile." After filing nominations on January 9, Khanduri visited Kotdwar only twice for a short duration (not more than a day). During his visits, he addressed public gatherings and also tried to connect with villagers. But programs across the state have kept him away from campaigning door-to-door in his constituency. On his behalf, MLA Shailendra Singh Rawat is heading the canvassing. So will this affect his vote bank? "Obviously not. People of Kotdwar are educated. They know it's difficult for me to go door-to-door as I am still CM and have other important issues as well to deal with," he said.
Call it the 'CM factor' or ability to woo hearts of voters, Khanduri believes he will win with a good margin. Khanduri's initial constituency Dhumakot was sacrificed during delimitation. The BJP high command then fielded him from Kotdwar. Khanduri has won Lok Sabha elections five times that also included Kotdwar. Besides, he made the first public address of his political journey way back in 1991 from this town.
Eyeing ex-servicemen that constitute nearly 16,000 voters, Khanduri said, "Even on national level, the BJP has done a lot of work for ex-servicemen. Therefore, we do expect votes from them."