Uttarakhand elections: Changing CMs, Covid management in focus
Uttarakhand elections: The Congress said it will target the BJP government for frequently changing CMs, the fake Covid-19 testing scam, high unemployment, increased migration and poor healthcare.
Although the government has changed every time Uttarakhand elected a new assembly since its formation in 2000, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hopes to buck the trend .
The BJP is contesting the polls, to take place on February 14, under the leadership of young chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami. The Congress is pinning its hopes on veteran leader and former chief minister Harish Rawat, the party’s chief election strategist.
The polls for the 70 member state assembly will not be an easy ride for the BJP, political observers said. There are a host of issues that challenge the party’s return to power – three chief ministers within a year, backlash of the priests community on the formation of the Char Dham Board (recently scrapped with an eye on the elections), farmer angst in the Terai areas, and the mismanagement of the 2021 Kumbh Mela including a fake Covid-testing scam.
During the festival, about 9.1 million people took a holy dip in Haridwar, at least six million of them in April at the peak of the devastating second wave of the pandemic. Officials in many north Indian states traced local infection surges to Kumbh pilgrims. The Uttarakhand High Court criticised the government for allowing the massive gathering to take place.
On the political front, the Congress has made the frequent change of chief ministers a major issue. One of its election slogans is Teen Tigada, Kaam Bigada, Uttarakhand Main Nahi Aayegi BJP Dobara (BJP messed up by changing three chief ministers, it won’t come to power again). The state has seen 11 chief ministers in 21 years of its existence.
“It is as insult to parliamentary tradition,” Rawat has said. “People of the state were not told why the chief ministers were changed.”
It started on March 9 last year, when Trivendra Singh Rawat resigned as chief minister, nine days short of his government completing four years in power. The development was triggered when a section of party MLAs expressing resentment over Rawat’s style of functioning, alleging they were not taken into confidence overn many big decisions.
Tirath Singh Rawat was then chosen as chief minister but resigned within four months after a controversy-filled tenure replete with gaffes. He was replaced vy Pushkar Singh Dhami. The 45-year-old from Kumaon, who was never even a minister before becoming chief minister, is now the BJP’s face to take on Harish Rawat.
The youngest chief minister of the state faces stiff resistance from some sections of the party, and people from other regions of the state, especially Garhwal, political observers said. During his tenure, party leader and cabinet minister Yashpal Arya joined the Congress, and another minister, Harak Singh Rawat, has been in the news over speculations of him leaving the party, since November. Both Dhami and Rawat are from the dominant Thakur caste in the state.
The Congress said it will target the BJP government for frequently changing chief ministers, the fake Covid-19 testing scam, high unemployment, increased migration and poor healthcare.
As many as 700 villages in the state are deserted and over 3.83 lakh people have left their villages in the 10 years prior to 2018, with half of them leaving search of livelihoods. “We will tell people how the BJP looted them, and there was no development in the state. Our campaign is focussed around total failure of the state government,” said Harish Rawat, the chief election strategist for the Congress.
However, the grand old party is riddled with major infighting and bickering in the state. Rawat’s attempt to project himself as chief ministerial candidate has not gone down well with many leaders including Devendra Yadav, the all India Congress committee’s in-charge for Uttarakhand. The leader of opposition and former Uttarakhand Congress chief Pritam Singh has openly opposed Harish Rawat on several issues.
Last month, Rawat tweeted on not getting the party’s support during campaigning, after which all senior leaders were summoned to Delhi and asked to work together. The party also decided not to declare any leader as the chief ministerial candidate, Congress leaders familiar with the development said. One camp supports Harish Rawat and Ganesh Godiyal, state Congress president, while another supports Pritam Singh and Devendra Yadav, party insiders said.
Despite the rhetoric on varied issues, unemployment will be a major issue in the elections, according to MM Semwal, professor of political science in Garhwal University.
“The BJP is trying to contest the elections on the development plank, but it will have to answer people on how many jobs were provided during last five years,” Semwal said. “Other issues which will emerge as challenges before the BJP are poor connectivity and health care with severe shortage of doctors, and continuing hill migration.”
The elections will continue the tradition of Kumaon versus Garhwal, with major Congress faces (ND Tiwari and Harish Rawat) coming from Kumaon, while main BJP faces (Bhuwan Chandra Khanduri, Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, Trivendra Singh Rawat) coming from Garhwal.
The 2022 elections is a do-or-die situation for the Congress, as it was decimated in 2017, said political analyst SMA Kazmi .
“The Congress has a lot at stake in this election. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other senior BJP leaders have been coming regularly to the state and announcing various development projects,” Kazmi said. “In contrast, not many Congress central leaders have come to the state. Rahul Gandhi’s one public rally cannot match up to visits by BJP stalwarts. Also, the Congress is a divided house.”
State BJP president Madan Kaushik exuded confidence that his party would win 60-plus seats in the elections. “Given the development work our double-engine government has undertaken in the last five years, people of the state will repose their trust in our party and we will win by a thumping majority,” he said. “We have performed on every front.”
Suryakant Dhasmana, state vice president of the Congress, however, said people in the state want a change as this government has failed on most fronts. “There is no doubt that the Congress will come to power with a thumping majority and start addressing the main issues being faced by people, which include employment, better connectivity and checking inflation,” he said.