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In cutout, as ‘mentor’, Gen Rawat in Uttarakhand campaign pitch

🔴 Minister and Uttarakhand government spokesperson Subodh Uniyal said while the BJP has always worked for jawans and given them due respect, the Congress was using General Rawat’s name for political gains.

Written by Avaneesh Mishra | Dehradun |
Updated: December 23, 2021 11:40:07 am
At the Congress Vijay Samman Rally on December 16.

Amidst the cutouts at the Congress ‘Vijay Samman Rally’ in Dehradun on December 16, to mark India’s 1971 victory over Pakistan, one stood out in particular. Competing with Indira and Rahul Gandhi in size and display was a cutout of the late Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Singh Rawat.

In the campaign for the hilly state that has a large population in the defence forces, it’s not just the Congress that is giving pride of place to Rawat, who belonged to Uttarakhand and died in a helicopter crash on December 9. The Modi government gave Rawat, his wife and other defence officers who died in the crash a big ceremonial send-off, while the chief ministerial face of the Aam Aadmi Party, that is seeking to get a toehold in the state ruled by either the BJP or Congress for 21 years, has called Rawat his mentor.

After its Dehradun rally, the Congress held a three-day-long ‘Veer Gram Pranam Yatra’ starting from the ancestral village of Rawat.

Before the Congress rally, the BJP wrapped up a ‘Shaheed Samman Yatra’, during which it collected soil from villages of 1,734 “martyrs”, before holding a ceremony for construction of a ‘Sainya Dham’ in Dehradun to “honour the spirit of pride in one’s nation”.

A senior Congress leader said they expected the BJP, with its “nationalism” pitch, to canvass for Army votes, and it hopes to preempt that. Pointing out that “roughly every family in the state has sent at least one person to the Army” the leader said: “The ‘Vijay Samman Rally’ by Rahul Gandhi was dedicated to ex-soldiers and it was a big success. We reminded people of the sacrifices made by the Gandhi family. Rahul Gandhi asked all Congress workers to install photos of Indira Gandhi in their house. Women in Uttarakhand love and respect Indira Gandhi due to her attachment to this region.”

Minister and Uttarakhand government spokesperson Subodh Uniyal said while the BJP has always worked for jawans and given them due respect, the Congress was using General Rawat’s name for political gains.

“One Rank One Pension was a very old demand of Army personnel and it was the BJP that fulfilled it. In the past, governments would just send ashes of martyrs after cremation along with some compensation. After the BJP came to power, it was decided that bodies would be sent home in proper coffins. The BJP has also provided several other facilities to ex-soldiers,” Uniyal said.

Marking its poll debut in the state, AAP picked mountaineer and former Army officer Colonel Ajay Kothiyal as its CM candidate back in August – it hasn’t announced one yet in either Punjab or Goa where it is also contesting. Calling Gen Rawat his mentor, Kothiyal said the late CDS had congratulated him on joining AAP and asked him to “bring the Delhi development model to Uttarakhand”.

Kothiyal added that he is happy that after 20 years of the state’s formation, parties had “started talking about soldiers”.

Apart from Kothiyal’s Army appeal, AAP is banking on its promises of electricity, jobs, free pilgrimage.

For the Congress, long divided between various factions, the biggest hope is former CM Harish Rawat, who heads the party’s poll campaign in the state. Congress organisation general secretary Mathura Dutt Joshi claims Rawat “personally” commands 7-10% of the votes, and people are rallying behind him as it might be the 73-year-old’s last election. “It doesn’t matter who is going to be our CM candidate tomorrow… As of now, the vote will be for him.”

The BJP too considers Harish Rawat its primary opponent, with senior leader Amit Shah directing its attacks on him at the launch of the BJP campaign for Uttarakhand on October 30. The party is also highlighting that its incumbent CM Puskhar Singh Dhami is much younger (46) in comparison to Rawat. One of the BJP’s campaign slogans is “Abki baar yuva sarkar (This time a government of the youth)”. At the October 30 rally, Shah challenged Harish Rawat to a public debate with its Yuva Morcha chief.

A two-term MLA, Dhami took over in July after the BJP changed CMs twice in a year – first bringing in Tirath Singh Rawat in place of Trivendra Singh Rawat in March; and then Dhami instead of Tirath Singh in July. As a Thakur from Kumaon, Dhami evens out the caste balance, with BJP chief Madan Kaushik a Garhwal Brahmin. Dhami is only the second Thakur CM of the BJP from Kumaon region.

The BJP government has also tried to placate priests unhappy over Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamnotri dham being brought under the Devasthanam Board Act, by withdrawing the move. Uniyal said the issue will not impact the BJP as those unhappy over the move remain the party’s core voters.

Both the BJP and Congress claim AAP will not amount to much. Uniyal said it won’t win a single seat, but cut into Congress votes and help the BJP. Congress leader Joshi insisted the core voters of both the BJP and Congress remain loyal, and if AAP gets the floating voters, they will only gain.

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