Military strategists take on each other in Garhwal

The fight in the Garhwal constituency of Uttarakhand has a military colour. The elder candidate is a retired Major General, who served in the Army for 36 years before taking a plunge into politics, and the younger one has a doctorate in Military Science, which he completed during his first term as MLA.

Other than their common interest in military affairs, BJP's B C Khanduri (79) and his Congress rival Harak Singh Rawat (54) have many other things in common. Both are formidable leaders, potential Chief Minister candidates, and have a good connect with people. Khanduri, an engineer with post graduation in defence management, comes with a clean image while Rawat was the youngest ever minister in Uttar Pradesh in 1991 at the age of 31.

But it is not their credentials that trigger the interest of journalists on election tour to this region but the issue of the sitting MP Satpal Maharaj deserting the Congress and joining the BJP at the eleventh hour, forcing the Congress to scramble for a candidate and drawing in Rawat for a fight with Khanduri.

A regular loser  from this constituency -- Maharaj lost the elections in 1989, 1991, 1998, 2004 and the 2008 bypolls while winning in 1996 and 2009. He joined BJP on March 21 while his wife Amrita Rawat, a state minister, remained in the Congress. This constituency thus witnesses the unique spectacle of the defector-husband campaigning full force for the BJP while his wife appears on stage with the Congress candidate Rawat. 

Interestingly, in the third week of April and within a span of three days, both Maharaj and Amrita addressed separate election rallies for Khanduri and Rawat in the same venue, the Ramlila Grounds here.

Maharaj is also a sort of religious leader having a number of followers. But Congress functionaries do not lose any opportunity to highlight the presence of his wife Amrita in their fold to deflate the Maharaj's appeal. Congress makes it a point to tell voters that Maharaj has one leg in the BJP and another in Congress.

"There is no effect now (of Maharaj’s leaving). His wife is campaigning here (Congress) while he is campaigning there (BJP).  Even if there is some effect, it is being neutralised," Chief Minister Harish Rawat said.

Interestingly, the BJP had only in February last sought the removal of Amrita from ministership and a CBI probe against Maharaj. 

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