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THIS MLA insists that his critics are flogging a dead horse. But try as he might, Mussoorie’s BJP candidate cannot erase the memories of that infamous image from March 14, 2016. It shows Ganesh Joshi with a raised lathi, taking aim at Shaktiman, the horse from Uttarakhand Mounted Police, during a BJP protest in Dehradun.
There are two versions of what happened next. It was alleged that Joshi hit the horse, breaking its hind leg. Joshi, who is out on bail in the case, claims the horse stumbled while stepping back, and broke its leg. What happened next made national headlines: Shaktiman underwent an amputation, got a prosthetic leg and, a month later, died of infection.
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With Uttarakhand going to polls Wednesday, Joshi is on the final leg of his campaign in Mussoorie, and all that he wants to talk about is Prime Minister Narendra Modi, or even US President Donald Trump. Anything, but the horse.
“I have faith in God. I want to thank (Uttarakhand Chief Minister) Harish Rawat for increasing my TRP so much. Even if I had spent crores, I would not have been able to do that. He tried to defame me, but the truth came out after three days, and national channels showed ‘Shaktiman Ka Sach’… that I was not there at all, its foot was stuck in an angle. People then supported me and agreed that it was a conspiracy against me,” says Joshi.
“People of my area know that if anyone gets hurt, I take them to the hospital in my car. They know that I can never do this (hitting the horse). It has not damaged my reputation, it has only helped me,” he claims.
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Not too keen to speak further on this topic, Joshi says he would rather talk about Modi, whose name has dominated the elections in the state this time — and Trump.
“Even Trump contested his election in the name of Modiji. All the surveys were against Trump, but when he named Modiji in his broken Hindi — ‘acche din aane wale hain… Trump sarkar’ — he won the election. When Trump was asked after his victory how he would work, he replied, ‘I will work like Narendra Modi’,” says Joshi.
For all his claims, however, Joshi faces a tricky contest this time.
In Mussoorie, the Congress has pulled off a surprise by giving its ticket to Godavari Thapli, possibly the first instance of a national party putting up a Gorkha woman in Uttarakhand — the 1.28 lakh voters in in this constituency include nearly 30,000 Gorkhas.
Thapli is not new to politics, either. Having fought the Zila Panchayat and Mandi Samiti polls, she contested in the 2012 assembly elections as an Independent from Mussoorie and got 9,203 or 14 per cent of the votes cast.
Not wonder then, that Thapli’s rallies have been drawing Gorkhas from neighbouring constituencies as well.
“It’s the first instance of Gorkhas rallying behind the candidate of a national party,” says Sanjay Mal, who heads Gorkha International, a local community outfit.
Joshi claims that he got the OBC status for Gorkhas in the state. And that the local ex-servicemen association has promised its support, as he was one of them. But that claim rings hollow at Thapli’s rallies. “We are all with her. It’s a matter of Gorkha pride,” says M S Thapa, an ex-honorary captain in the Army.
Local Congress strongman, Jot Singh Gunsola, who won the Mussoorie seat in 2002 and 2007 before losing to Joshi in 2012, says, “I am totally with her. The party votes of Congress and the Gorkha votes are sufficient to ensure victory for Thapli.”
The Mussoorie contest, in a way, mirrors the BJP-Congress campaign in Uttarakhand.
With little central support, the Congress candidates are drawing on local issues and support. Here, it’s all about anti-incumbency against Joshi and “Gorkha pride”. But for Joshi, all that matters is Modi. “If we have such a leader, why does anybody have an objection to anything?” he asks.
In this frenzy, however, Joshi and Thapli have not spoken much about the real issues, say some residents.
“Few leaders seem to realise the demands of the constituency, which has seen the deforestation of Oak trees… snowfall, which once recorded 9 feet, has now come down to just around 9 cm,” says Gopal Bhardwaj, Mussoorie-based historian and photographer.
“Oak trees retain water and replenish the natural springs that supply water to the town. But Oaks are being replaced by Pines, which is disastrous for the hills,” he says.
“Pines are widely being planted for commercial purposes and has affected the ecology. Pine sucks out water, but no one is concerned. The absence of snow and Oak indicate that Mussoorie will face an acute water crisis in the next few years,” warns Bhardwaj.