Is Uttarakhand that went to polls on Monday headed for a hung Assembly? The race seemed narrow in the hills and plains of the newly-carved state — the Congress reviving its thrust in the campaign’s dying moments, the BJP desperately fixing internal dissensions and sabotage. Corruption did dominate the noisy discourse. But it wasn’t as much about 2G, CWG, Anna Hazare’s Lokpal or CM BC Khanduri’s Lokyaukta praised by anti-graft activists.
The recurring theme invoked homegrown images — at times leaving the BJP on the back foot despite an indulgent Team Anna that arrived and returned without making a meaningful impact.
A media conference in Haridwar saw associates of Anna field searching questions on a damning CAG report on the “Kumbh mela” scandal under Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank whom Khanduri replaced as CM before the polls. Local journalists dismissed as pretentious their claims to political “neutrality”.
“While here, they were facilitated on the quiet by elements known to be politically aligned,” said a Haridwar-based reporter. He felt corruption had electoral traction in constituencies where aspirants were overtly tainted. Example: the contest in Haridwar city between a controversial minister and a Congress nominee backed by the numerically and spiritually influential sant samaj.
A masseur at a health clinic 24 km away in Rishikesh had his own take on Hazare’s team-mates: “Anna’s Ramlila maidan fast and the police action there against Baba Ramdev captured popular imagination most of which has since dissipated. People will vote for reliable faces no matter where they come from — Congress, BJP or BSP.”
That in a way made rebel candidatures a bigger challenge for the Congress than for BJP. The damage potential of renegades was visible as much in Rishikesh where a youth congress leader handpicked by Rahul Gandhi was fighting, among others, a party colleague denied ticket.
The masseur’s views tallied with those of a RSS inclined office bearer of the Sumo taxi association. “We fight assembly polls the way we fight panchayat elections,” he said.
Big names, bombastic issues don’t matter in vidhan sabha segments uniformly smaller in size than the national average. Anna’s foot soldiers could have influenced a section of the urban electorate. But what translates better into votes is anti-incumbency, peer pressure, caste, kinship, personalised campaigning, the candidate’s profile and his ability to resolve local issues.
“Why not back people who’d be honest without the Lokayukta deterrence,” asked a Muslim shopkeeper in Roorkee. He said his community was divided between “good” BSP and Congress candidates.
Sagacious ticket distribution was the key therefore to a better show at the hustings. The BJP did well on that score but faltered in getting senior leaders to work in tandem with the new CM whose “indispensability” was so overblown as to predicate the state’s future on his continuation: “Khanduri hai zaroori…”
Among those who thought otherwise were his predecessors — Nishank and Bhagat Singh Koshiyari. If the BJP does pull off a win or ensure for itself a sizeable presence in the new House, the credit will go to the retired general. Others jostling for space on the victory stand will be rank intruders.
An outright Congress win — which isn’t beyond the pale of possibility given the high voting rate — will be a blow as much for Team Anna as for Khanduri who adopted their version of the Lokayukta.