BJP hopes to do an Assam in Uttarakhand by replicating the strategy it adopted in the northeastern state where it poached on several Congress leaders before launching a successful electoral campaign. If the likes of Himanta Biswa Sarma and other Congress MLAs supporting him helped BJP realise its dream of forming a government in Assam by switching their loyalty before 2016 assembly polls, saffron party leaders expect a similar result in Uttarakhand with the joining of Congress satraps like Yashpal Arya, Kedar Rawat, Harak Singh Rawat and Satpal Maharaj. Satpal Maharaj, a former union minister, had joined BJP last year.
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All these leaders enjoy a loyal support base in different regions of the state where fluctuation of even one per cent vote proves decisive. In the 2012 assembly elections, BJP’s hope of retaining power on the back of the then Chief Minister B C Khanduri’s clean image was dashed tantalisingly close to the finish line with Congress winning 32 seats, one more than its 31. The difference in votes polled by the two parties was a mere 0.66 per cent in favour of Congress.
In the three assembly elections in the state after it was carved out of Uttar Pradesh, BJP’s best performance was in 2007 when it won 35 out of 70 seats, one short of simple majority, and formed government under Khanduri. In Assam too, former Congress veterans like Sarma played a key role in BJP winning elections with a strong majority. It has now roped in Sarma to expand its footprint across other northeastern states.
Even Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal was formerly in AGP before he joined BJP in 2011 and led it to successive victories in 2014 Lok Sabha polls and state assembly polls. “We are sure that these Congress leaders will tilt the scale decisively in our favour,” a BJP leader said about the party’s prospects in Uttarakhand.
Regional satraps can be particularly useful as BJP has not declared a chief ministerial candidate, while incumbent Chief Minister Harish Rawat is the face of Congress there.