Updated: January 11, 2022 7:38:38 pm
In the 21 years since Uttarakhand was carved out of Uttar Pradesh, voters have always alternated between the BJP and Congress. But given the Congress’s fortunes, and the BJP’s poll might, nothing can be said with certainty in the hill state this time. Meanwhile, there is AAP, peeking over the horizon.
As elections approach, the issues are the Covid pandemic and inflation, apart from the more routine roads, infrastructure and employment. However, towards the run-up, all the parties have rallied around the issue of armed forces, which draw huge numbers from the state.
The BJP has held a ‘Shaheed Samman Yatra’, collecting soil from villages of 1,734 “martyrs”, is building a ‘Sainya Dham’ in Dehradun to “honour the spirit of pride in one’s nation”, and keeps reminding voters about the Modi government fulfilling the One Rank One Pension demand.
The Congress held a ‘Vijay Samman Rally’ in Dehradun on December 16 to mark India’s 1971 victory over Pakistan, where cutouts of Indira and Rahul Gandhi shared equal billing with that of the late Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Singh Rawat, an Uttarakhand native. Later, it kicked off a ‘Veer Gram Pranam Yatra’ from Rawat’s ancestral village. AAP has declared Colonel (retd) Ajay Kothiyal as its CM candidate – the only state where it has declared one.
In the state with over 50% voters below 40, the Congress is also focusing on unemployment and migration of youth.
However, its biggest hope is former chief minister Harish Rawat, despite the fractiousness in the ranks. Congress organisation general secretary Mathura Dutt Joshi declares 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. Amidst signs of Rawat’s displeasure, Delhi recently rushed to placate him.
The BJP too considers Rawat its primary opponent, with senior leader Amit Shah directing its attacks on him at the launch of the BJP campaign for Uttarakhand. The party is also highlighting that its incumbent CM, Puskhar Singh Dhami, is much younger (46) in comparison. It is asking for more time for the “polite” politician Dhami, who took over only in July this year, after a CM change by the party.
The shake-up at the top hasn’t smoothened all the wrinkles for the BJP. Last month, minister Harak Singh Rawat threatened to resign over “inaction” on a proposed medical college in his constituency Kotdwar. Days later, MLA Daleep Singh Rawat accused the Forest Ministry and the Energy Ministry of neglecting his Lansdowne constituency.
The BJP hopes that the anger over the Devasthanam Board Act, to take over shrines in the state, has settled following the withdrawal of the legislation. Party leader Subodh Uniyal says it is no issue at all as those protesting against the Board were and remain BJP core voters.