So how Zaroori is KHANDURI?
In Uttarakhand, there are signs of a hung assembly. Smaller parties and independents can play kingmaker and decide the fate of Congress and BJP
Akash Bisht Dehradun
The frozen election campaign in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand has reached a crescendo and candidates are leaving no stone unturned to woo voters, despite the ordeals of extremely harsh and chilly weather. The political pitch in the state, which has a history of alternating between the two major national parties, is set to test both Congress and the incumbent BJP. However, reports from the ground suggest that the state could be heading towards a hung assembly. The general perception is that smaller parties and independents can rock the boat of the two parties, pre-empting any full-fledged majority. Indeed, BSP, Uttarakhand Raksha Morcha (URM) and independents could play kingmaker and decide the fate of Congress and BJP.
Political equations have been volatile recently, especially after BJP replaced its tainted CM, Ramesh Pokhriyal 'Nishank', with BC Khanduri. Khanduri hai Zaroori, is the BJP slogan. Earlier, experts had predicted a rout for BJP, but Khanduri's inclusion was a masterstroke. "The BJP relies heavily on Khanduri's clean image and charisma to woo voters who were disturbed with Nishank's corrupt practices," says Manoj Negi, a Doiwala resident.
Khanduri has been instrumental in getting the Uttarakhand Lokayukta Bill, 2011, passed after bringing the chief minister, other ministers and MLAs within its ambit. The accompanying legislations include the Uttarakhand Right to Service Act, which would help in establishing special courts to deal with corruption cases on an everyday basis, and the Uttarakhand Transfer for Public Servants Act. "Under Nishank's leadership, the state was in ruins and BJP was battling charges of corruption, but Khanduri changed that perception," says a party leader in Dehradun.
The feud between Khanduri and BJP leader BS Koshiyari has been resolved. "They forged an understanding that whatever happens, Nishank shouldn't be allowed to dictate terms and gain popularity," says a BJP insider.
Nishank faces an easy battle in Doiwala as Congress seems to have given him an easy passage after the leader of opposition Harak Singh Rawat, one of its tallest leaders, decided to opt out. "No one knows whether Congress gave a safe passage to Nishank or Rawat chickened out," says a BJP leader. Rawat is in for a tough battle in Rudraprayag, where he is pitted against his relative, BJP's Matbar Singh Kandari. Kandari has not lost the assembly segment in the past five terms.
BJP faces its toughest opposition from its own rebels. Badrinath assembly seat's sitting MLA, Kedar Singh Phonia, joined URM after being denied a ticket. Anil Nautiyal, MLA for two consecutive terms from Karnprayag, is contesting as an independent. Tharali's sitting MLA, GL Shah, Sahaspur's sitting MLA, Ram Kumar, and Almora's former MLA, Kailash Sharma, have added to the party's misery. Khanduri, too, has acknowledged the adverse impact that these rebels could have on BJP's prospects.
The Congress, too, isn't untouched by rebellion. "Congress doesn't need any opposition as they have enough opposition within. Most candidates are posturing as chief ministerial aspirants, and they can only win because of BJP's incompetence," says TPS Rawat of URM.
Rebellion within Congress was due to the manner tickets were distributed to the loyalists of the top five leaders in the state – Harak Singh Rawat, Harish Rawat, ND Tiwari, Satpal Maharaj and Yashpal Arya – who fought hard to give tickets to their loyalists, and in the process, accommodated several candidates who had no ear on the ground.
"Congress has gangs within gangs, and the real fight would surface if Congress has to declare a chief minister, since too many leaders are nursing this dream," says a senior journalist in Dehradun. The party is banking on the five Lok Sabha seats it won in 2009, but the factionalism within the party is becoming its own nemesis. "Harish has gained popularity after the Lokpal debate, Satpal has good rapport with senior ministers and is also deputy speaker in Lok Sabha, Bahuguna wants to inherit his father's legacy, Harak Singh is taking credit for the five Lok Sabha seats, and ND Tiwari doesn't seem to be retiring, despite all the controversies. So the debate in Congress is around who the CM will be, and not how to win elections," says Jot Singh Bisht, a Harish loyalist, who has been suspended from the party for fighting as an independent from Dhanolti.
Jot Singh told Hardnews that he was in for a surprise when an outsider and Bahuguna loyalist was given a ticket despite his unpopularity among the voters. "Harish didn't fight hard for me and reached an understanding with Bahuguna. I have done so much for Congress since the last 30 years, and still they ignored me," rues Bisht. He claims that the state Congress manifesto is his brainchild, while the credit is being given to senior leaders.
Similarly, on being denied a ticket, former Congress minister Mantri Prasad Naithani, who was a strong contender for the Devprayag seat, also rebelled. Former Congress MLAs, Harish Durgapal, Bharat Chaudhary, Virender Singh Bisht, SP Singh, Deep Sharma, among others, have entered the fray posing serious trouble for Congress candidates.
Congress and BJP face a similar conundrum, and to predict a possible winner is an ardent task. In 2007, the difference between the votes shares of the two parties was a mere two per cent, with Congress registering 30 per cent and BJP 32 per cent of votes polled. Interestingly, smaller parties like BSP, Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (UKD) and independents garnered a whopping 27 per cent of votes.
In the last assembly elections, BJP won 34, Congress 21, BSP eight, UKD three, and independents two seats. "This time the vote percentage of smaller parties and independents could go higher, and that can be the game changer," says Yogesh Bhatt, a political analyst based in Dehradun.
Congress might benefit from URM's decision to field strong candidates. URM could eat into BJP's vote bank and disturb their poll arithmetic. URM chief Rawat had joined BJP and even vacated his Dhumakot seat to accommodate Khanduri in 2007. However, he got disillusioned with Nishank's corrupt ways and decided to float his own outfit. "Uttarakhand has a huge population of army men, and they have supported BJP in the past. URM's posturing as a party of ex-servicemen could spell disaster for BJP," says Bhatt.
Even BSP is on a strong wicket and their hold in Haridwar district is undisputed. The party has won six seats out of nine from Haridwar. "What works in Mayawati's favour is the delimitation process that has added two more seats in Haridwar," says Bhatt.
Amid all this political churning, the people of the state have been left to their fate. Problems of water, power, electricity, health, educational services, roads, employment, migration are hardly being discussed. "I can't even think of doing agriculture as deer, boars and monkeys eat up whatever we grow. Monkeys eat flowers of fruits or vegetables, while boars dig deep to eat tubers and seeds. So, what options do I have except to go to Delhi and work in a dhaba," says Alok Bhatt of Dugadda town.
Meanwhile, Team Anna landed in Dehradun with great hopes, only to receive a lukewarm response and a shoe thrown at them. "Anna is not a factor in Uttarakhand and it is well-known that Team Anna is a RSS front. So why should anyone listen to them? They know nothing about Uttarakhand and are just politicians in the garb of civil society," says Rawat.