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Uttarakhand Election 2017: The tussle for power has ruined basic ethos of a hill state

“These Elections are an acid test for ‘Uttarakhandiyat’. People of Uttarakhand not only became victims of a natural disaster but they witnessed a political disaster also. Spirit of the Uttarakhand Movement will decide the future of the state.”

These are the words of Uttarakhand chief minister Harish Rawat. He claims that he did not get enough time in his current tenure, but he will work for the welfare of Uttarakhand in his next tenure.

Only if people elect him. Perhaps, he deliberately forgets to add that.

The stage is all set for the fourth Assembly elections in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, but it is ironical to see that even after 16 years of its formation, the politics in the state still revolves around the popular sentiments of the hilly areas. “The villages in the hills have become ghost areas. Pahad ki Javaani aur pahad ka paani ab aur bhi badtar haal mein hain or aisa natakbaaj CM aaj tak nahi dekha. (The quality of the mountain as well as its water has been deteriorating, while I have not seem as more whimsical CM till now.) Did we fight for a separate state for this day?” Sushila Balooni, the leading lady of Uttarakhand movement (for statehood) repents.

The general feeling in Uttarakhand is that the sensitivity of hills has been offended by the manner in which politics and economy developed in the state. Hills have been neglected in favour of the convenient prospects in the plains of Haridwar, Haldwani and Dehradun. This is a bitter truth that migration from hills has increased at a faster rate after the formation of Uttarakhand in November 2000.

File image of Harish Rawat. PTI

File image of Harish Rawat. PTI

Traditional rivals, Congress and BJP are again the key contenders, but the list of BJP candidates shows that more than one fourth of them are turncoat Congress leaders. Ex-chief minister Vijay Bahuguna, former Assembly speaker and former cabinet minister Yashpal Arya, former cabinet minister and former leader of Opposition Harak Singh Rawat and former Congress rebel MLA Subodh Uniyal are such prominent faces. It is a common joke in social media about this election being the contest of Congress versus Congress. Obviously this has generated severe discontent among the BJP leaders, some of whom are sitting MLAs. Congress was not late in taking some of them in party fold. Three of the BJP rebels will contest on Congress ticket. It shows that rebels and independents will play a decisive role in the election results this time too. Three independent MLAs in the last assembly election actually helped in the formation of Congress government in the last election. They were also the major saviours of the Harish Rawat government last year when nine congress MLAs rebelled. Incidentally these three gentlemen were congress rebels at the time when they were denied ticket in last assembly elections.

Former chief minister BC Khanduri, Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank and Bhagat Singh Koshyari, all sitting MPs have not been given assembly tickets, but this does not mean that their strength in regional politics and within the BJP has weakened. In a dynastic move, BJP has given ticket to Khanduri’s daughter also. Quitting the Congress in eleventh hour, one of the prominent Dalit leaders of the state, Yashpal Arya also got BJP ticket for his son apart from securing a ticket for himself.

After the “absorption ceremony” of ND Tiwary and his son Rohit Shekhar, BJP has been facing tremendous criticism within the party. Perhaps this was why Rohit Shekhar was denied a ticket, constituting a huge setback for him. While ruling chief minister Harish Rawat is the face of Congress and chief ministerial candidate in this election, BJP is faceless as there are too many contenders for the post of the chief minister. And all former chief ministers of the state are with BJP. Former Congress MP and Senior Leader Satpal Maharaj who joined BJP about three years ago has been projecting himself as a strong chief ministerial candidate in BJP, “There is no problem at all, party workers are just expressing their opinions. All of us are disciplined workers of the party and will follow the high command,” he says.

Large cut-outs of Narendra Modi are being erected all over the state and in a way BJP is trying to take so called advantage of the firm leadership of Narendra Modi. Ajay Bhatt, state BJP head says, “this election will end the corrupt rule of congress.”

The presence of the Left in terms of mass base and vote share is almost negligible though CPM, CPI and CPIML have decided to show a joint face for the first time. This is rather surprising, looking at the mass struggles lead by these parties in hill and plain areas among village folk and labourers. In fact, the very first demand for separate statehood was raise by no one other than PC Joshi who led the then CPI in 1952.

Renowned social activist and the young CPI(ML) candidate Indresh Maikhuri (karnpayag seat) focuses his campaign on the emotional deprivation of the voters in hilly areas, “No hill economy could be developed for the last 16 years, ministers and their assistants are the only ones who got employment in Uttarakhand. We could find only old people and women in the villages.”

The leading regional party Uttarkhand Kranti Dal (UKD) is struggling for its existence. Perhaps this is the only regional party in India which could not muster political gains out of its grassroots support. UKD lost its significance in regional politics just after the formation of Uttarakhand, despite being at the front of the Uttarakhand movement in late 90s. UKD had been getting only one or two seats in the last three elections and its MLAs preferred to be a part of either Congress or BJP government submitting their own identity.

The infighting in Congress is no less as state Cong chief Kishore Upadhyay and Harish Rawat do not go well together. It is being said that the Rajput-Brahmin equations and Garhwal-Kumaon division have worsened their differences. Uttarakhand may be a tiny state with only 70 seats but the tussle for power has ruined the basic ethos of a hill state.

The last delimitation of Assembly seats has aggravated the situation. Now the hills comprising of nine districts and plains of Nainital, Udhamsinghnagar, Haridwar and Dehradun districts have almost equal number of seats. Most of the leaders have migrated to the plains and they are trying to harvest the votes in the name of the hills.


Updated Date: Jan 25, 2017 12:08 PM

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