In Rawat’s poll pitch, dig at Congress turncoats and ‘Delhi wale Baba’
Campaigning in Udham Singh Nagar and Haridwar districts, which together make for 20 assembly seats, Harish Rawat says BJP is trying to find support from Congress leaders.dehradun Updated: Feb 04, 2017 19:37 IST
It is 1l.30 am. A security person stands alert by a helicopter at GCT helipad in cantonment area. He smiles at this correspondent. “CM sahab to neta hain, der ho he jati hai (CM is a political leader and delays are bound to happen).”
With next 10 minutes, chief minister Harish Rawat arrives, with staff and Congress poll managers, over two hours late from his scheduled departure. He goes through the day’s appointments and instructs leaders on what to share with media over the next two days.
As the chopper takes off, Rawat’s son Virendra serves brunch – cabbage sabzi, chapatti and dahi. This food will drive CM for another 12 hours. “I prefer simple food. Always on the move, I don’t get time to eat,” says Rawat.
Rawat is the Congress poster boy and is single-handedly managing party’s campaign. It’s a do or die battle for the 69-year-old who managed top save his government even as nine party MLAs rebelled against him last March. His day’s programme is fixed for Udham Singh Nagar district that has nine assembly seats. Rawat is contesting from two seats, including Kichha in Udham Singh Nagar. BJP has fielded Congress turncoats at two seats – Jaspur and Bajpur.
At Jaspur, the crowd goes berserk. “BJP ko sabak sikha kar hi dam lenge sahab (we’ll teach the BJP a lesson),” they shout as the chopper lands. Having an experience of five decades in active politics, CM senses the public mood. He takes position atop an SUV and starts the roadshow, waving hands, and accepting sweets and garlands while moving through the narrow lanes of Jaspur, which has 1.3 lakh voters including 32,000 Muslims and 18,000 Chauhans.
“BJP thought we have gone bankrupt (after three-time local MLA joined the saffron party),” says Rawat. He is hopeful that political greenhorn Adesh Chauhan has a good chance in this constituency, bordering Uttar Pradesh.
The next stopover is Kashipur. In 2012 polls, a rebel had eaten into the Congress votes here, but this time it is the BJP that is facing the problem with its former MLA Rajeev Agarwal contesting as an independent. The constituency has a mix of Muslim, Kumaoni and Sikh voters. Congress’s Manoj Joshi had lost last polls by 2,200 votes. He is again in the fray. “Manoj lag jao, ye tempo banaye rakho (maintain the tempo),” CM instructs.
Rawat spends maximum time in Bajpur. BJP has fielded Congress turncoat Yashpal Arya from the seat.
As Rawat speaks, Harvinder Singh, a Sikh farmer listens patiently. He nods his head when CM says, “Bhajpa wale Congress mein sahara dhoond rahe hain (BJP is looking for support from Congress leaders)”.
Bajpur, an SC reserved seat, is traditionally a Congress stronghold. Harvinder says he will stick with Congress. Rais Ahmad, a Muslim labourer, seconds Harvinder.
“People used to say we have no chance in Bajpur but we proved them wrong. We have changed the rules of the game,” Rawat tells HT.
Congress has fielded Sunita Bajwa, wife of a Sikh BJP leader who joined Congress last month. Sunita hails from an SC family. This seat too has a mix of Muslims, Dalits, Sikhs and Tharus (tribals).
Rawat stops every 50-70 meters. He exchanges greetings with the crowd near national highways. He is spending a good amount of time in two districts – US Nagar and Haridwar, which together have 20 seats. In 2012 polls BJP won 11 of these seats.
“Babuji (father) is full of energy. He never gives up. We want to become like him,” Rawat’s son says as others try to keep pace with him.
It’s 9.30pm when CM addresses another meeting at Sultanpur Patti. He takes a jibe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi referring him as “Dilli wale Baba”. “I came to know that ‘achhe din’ (good days) are stuck in Delhi’s traffic,” Rawat says as the crowd cheers. He also talks about “notebandi” (demonetisation) here. Though demonetisation is not a political issue in the hills, it matters in the plains, where a large number of people survive on daily earnings.
CM refuses to take a break. Sipping sugar free black tea while travelling, Rawat speaks to Congress strategists Kumari Shailja and Ambika Soni and central observers. He fixes a programme of party vice president Rahul Gandhi before switching back to local issues.
He takes feedback on Sitarganj seat from where former CM Vijay Bahuguna’s son is contesting on a BJP ticket. Congress has fielded a Bengali local female candidate from this seat. At 11pm, CM visits the house of a former MLA Premanand Mahajan. After 20 minutes both come out happily.
“Life of a neta is like this,” Rawat tells this correspondent with smile on his face.
When its 15 minutes past midnight, his cavalcade reaches Haldwani. As we call it a day, the CM gets busy again with his colleagues planning the next day’s schedule.