The roads leading to Nainital town are devoid of election fervour, with few posters, banners, hoardings and flags of the Congress and BJP visible in the Nainital-Udham Singh Nagar seat. This is where senior Congress leader and former Uttarakhand chief minister Harish Rawat is contesting against Uttarakhand BJP president Ajay Bhatt.
In the afternoon, at one end of Nainital lake, in Mallital, Bhatt addresses a few hundred in the local Kumaoni language. He said that BJP MLA from Nainital (SC) state Assembly seat, Sanjeev Arya, did “itu badhiya kaam (such good work)” in “just two years”.
Before Bhatt, former CM Bhagat Singh Koshiyari — the BJP MP from the seat who was dropped from the list of party candidates this time — addressed the crowd and recounted the work of the Narendra Modi government. The issues of addressing terrorism and strengthening national security found prominent mention in Koshiyari’s speech.
Mahesh Joshi, a Nainital local in the crowd listening to Bhatt, says, “It seems that these elections are devoid of real issues. They (BJP leaders) are only counting the works accomplished under the Modi government.”
In the evening, at the other end of the lake, in Tallital, seven Congress leaders and workers huddle in a tea shop, discussing the “buri sthiti (bad state)” of the Congress in the town. “Our chances were still bright till (Congress president) Rahul Gandhi announced Rs 72,000 for the poor. Then our manifesto came. What was the need to write about (amending) AFSPA? People are asking our workers for an explanation. What should we say?” says a 35-year-old local Congress leader.
Follow more election news here.
According to BJP, this election will mark the end of Harish Rawat’s career. CM Trivendra Singh Rawat told The Indian Express, “In Kumaon region (where Harish Rawat is contesting) people call him Har daa (older brother). After this election, they’ll start calling him Haar daa because he will lose again. This will be the end of Harish Rawat’s political career.”
However, Harish Rawat, who, unlike BJP candidate Bhatt, is actively campaigning on social media too, is eyeing the 2022 Assembly polls. On April 6, he posted an “appeal” for the people of Uttarakhand on Facebook, where he termed the “works done for the people” under his three-year government (2014-2017) as work done to promote “Uttarakhandiyat”. “For ‘Uttarakhandiyat’ to further strengthen in 2022, it is important that the Lok Sabha candidates who believe in the works initiated by the Harish Rawat government are voted by you,” he posted.
With a prominent face of the Congress contesting, Nainital-Udham Singh Nagar is one of the few seats in the state where competition is expected between the Congress and BJP. In the other four seats in Uttarakhand, the BJP has an advantage.
For Bhatt, this is his first Lok Sabha contest. He says, “I’m confident I will win because people are appreciative of the developmental work done in Uttarakhand under Modi ji’s rule.”
Kishan Gururani, from Bhowali, which is under Nainital-Udham Singh Nagar seat, says, “We have enough local leaders in Congress and BJP. Why have these two (Harish Rawat and Bhatt) been parachuted just before the polls? They are both outsiders.”