Here today, gone tomorrow

Here today, gone tomorrow
For the first time in 16 years of its existence, issues touching the common people have vanished from the Assembly elections in Uttarakhand. What has got the people of the state talking is the great ability of their leaders to change political colours.

As one travels through the hill state, one can make out that the rebellion by leaders of the Congress and the BJP have become talking points with people openly questioning whether the loyalties of the politicians would remain intact after the results are declared on March 11.

Rebellion could be traced back to March last year when nine Congress MLAs met Governor K K Paul along with 27 BJP legislators. As the Harish Rawat government succeeded in getting the central rule overturned, these nine legislators – derisively called as ‘navratnas’ by an irate rank and file of the BJP – were embraced by the saffron party. What has riled the rank and file further was that these nine, along with three other Congress rebels, are fielded by the BJP as its candidates in the Assembly elections.

Chief Minister Harish Rawat of the Congress has termed it good riddance. With rivals out of the party, Rawat has mounted an all out effort to retain power and at the same time raise his profile by turning the elections as a direct fight with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The BJP’s failure to project a chief ministerial candidate has been utilised to the fullest by Rawat. He has launched a direct attack on Modi for trying to hurt the Uttarakhandi pride or ‘Uttarakhandiyat’ as he puts it, by trying to dislodge the Congress government last year.

Modi raised the campaign pitch by addressing rallies in Haridwar and Rudrapur. He attacked the Uttarakhand government for being “tainted”, an apparent reference to a sting operation that purportedly showed Rawat discussing buying off MLAs to sail through the floor test. Rawat minced no words and hit back at Modi within hours wondering how the BJP was planning to give “corruption-free” government when it had “tainted” defectors from the Congress’s ranks in its fold.

The Congress, too, has its own share of rebels, though not on a scale as large as in the BJP. Uttarakhand Congress chief Kishor Upadhyay, who is contesting from Sahaspur constituency on the outskirts of Dehradun, is not lucky unlike some of his colleague where rebels withdrew. One time compatriot Aryendra Sharma has thrown his hat in the ring, making things difficult for Upadhyay.

In Dhanaulti, the Congress decided to support Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (UKD) nominee Pritam Singh Panwar, but the plans went awry after Mussoorie Mayor Manmohan Singh Mall entered the fray. The Congressman refused to withdraw in favour of Panwar, who had bailed Harish Rawat out of a political crisis last year.

The BJP’s problems

For the BJP, the problem is acute. As many as 18 of the total 70 seats have BJP rebels taking on the official candidates. Some of the prominent leaders facing rebels include Ajay Bhatt, the state BJP chief, in Ranikhet. Former Union minister Satpal Maharaj is facing BJP rebel Kavindra Isthwal in Chaubattakhal, where the latter is getting support from the allied organisations of the BJP. Tirath Singh Rawat, who was turned down the party ticket from Chaubattakhal, was mollified by the BJP which made him the national secretary.  Vijaya Barthwal, too, was persuaded to withdraw her candidature from Yamkeshwar, where Ritu Khanduri, the daughter of former chief minister B C Khanduri, is in the fray.

Despite the rebellion in the party ranks, the Modi factor appears to be at play in Uttarakhand and Harish Rawat loses no opportunity to dent it. The presence of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), particularly in Haridwar and Udham Singh Nagar districts in the plains, is expected to make the Congress candidates work harder. Harish Rawat, who is contesting from Haridwar Rural, may have to sweat it out because of the challenge posed by Mukarram Ansari, the BSP candidate who had polled 19,000 votes in the last election.
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