Uttarakhand civic polls: Ruling BJP, Opposition Congress set for major face-off ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha election

Dehradun: The upcoming elections for municipality corporations in Uttarakhand have assumed hitherto unseen importance because of what is at stake for both the major parties, the Congress and the BJP.

Congress campaign at Mussoorie in Uttarakhand. Image courtesy Rahul Singh Shekhawat

Congress campaign at Mussoorie in Uttarakhand. Image courtesy Rahul Singh Shekhawat

The hilly state will witness elections on 18 November for Urban Local Bodies (ULBs). The state is ruled by the BJP, which stormed into power by winning 57 of the 70 seats in the Assembly polls in February 2017, displacing Harish Rawat-led Congress government. For the Congress, this election is a do-or-die situation, a matter of survival. For the BJP, it's a matter of prestige as the results are slated to be viewed as the state government's referendum. Also, whisper networks are abuzz with talks that Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat's position might be in trouble if the BJP fails to do well as his detractors within the party would then find a premise to question his performance.

Also, with Lok Sabha polls barely half a year away, both the parties want to get a headstart by registering a victory in these polls. Such is the importance they are according to these elections that not only former state ministers and their kin are in the fray but also current, former and prospective MLAs and MPs have been asked to throw their weight behind the party candidates in their constituency.

The Congress' mayoral candidate for the state's biggest turf, Dehradun, is former sports, forests and wildlife and law and justice minister Dinesh Agrawal, who held the post between 2012 and 2017. In the second most important municipal corporation, Haldwani, the Congress' choice for mayor is the son of Indira Hridayesh, Opposition leader in the Assembly. For Pauri municipal corporation, the BJP has fielded former MLA Yashpal Benam for the post of mayor. In the newly designated municipal corporation of Kotdwar, wife of former state minister Surendra Singh Negi is the Congress' pick for the post of mayor. Ex-minister Shoorveer Singh Sajwan’s wife Ambika Sajwan, also a former district panchayat president, is contesting on Congress ticket for Tehri municipal chairperson’s post.

The BJP's list of star campaigners includes Chief Minister Rawat and four of his predecessors. Rawat and state BJP president Ajay Bhatt have been addressing marathon election rallies across the state. In these rallies, the chief minister has been hard selling his government as corruption-free and highlighting the BJP-led Centre government's decision to accord the tag of Smart City to the state's interim capital Dehradun.

Further, the BJP has deputed eight state ministers for campaigning. They are Higher Education Minister Dhan Singh Rawat, Transport Minister Yashpal Arya, Finance Minister Prakash Pant, Urban Development Minister Madan Kaushik, Forests and Environment Minister Harak Singh Rawat, Agriculture Minister Subodh Uniyal, Education Minister Arvind Pandey and Women & Child Welfare Minister Rekha Arya.

Bhojpuri performer and Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari too has been addressing rallies to attract people from eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, concentrated in certain pockets of the state, especially Dehradun, Haridwar and Udham Singh Nagar.

Bhatt sought to downplay the notion that the result of these elections might reflect on Rawat's future. He said it is hyperlocal issues that matter in ULB polls. He said the BJP will register a victory in three-fourths of the corporations that are going to elections.

Uttarakhand Congress president Pritam Singh is somewhat in the same boat as the chief minister as these elections will be his first major test since he got a charge of the party's state unit last year. However, he said office-bearers come and go but the party contests elections as a composite unit. He said the candidates have been chosen after consultations with district-level party functionaries and leaders. He added that the victory of Congress candidates is guaranteed as the BJP governments at the Centre and the state have failed to live up to the expectations of the people.

The Congress' mayoral candidate for Dehradun, former minister Agrawal, said people of Dehradun have been itching for a change and that's why the Congress will register a victory this time. For the last two terms, it is the BJP that has been winning Dehradun corporation elections. In Agrawal, the Congress has fielded a politician who has defeated the young state's first chief minister Nityanand Swami twice in elections.

Harish Rawat, the last chief minister of Uttarakhand and now the Congress' national general secretary, is among the grand old party's star campaigners. He termed the BJP a party of catchphrases and expressed confidence that the electorate will reject its gimmicks and choose the Congress owing to the welfare schemes the government had launched during his tenure.

The author is a Dehradun-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com.

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Updated Date: Nov 16, 2018 21:10:56 IST

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