February 19, 2012

THE STATES THAT MATTER - PART IV


 BATTLEGROUND UTTARAKHAND

Nestled amongst the mighty Himalayas, the state of Uttarakhand, characterized by lush green hills, steep doons (valleys), gushing rivers and abundant natural beauty is one of the most picturesque states of India. Dotted with places of pilgrimage and worship in Hinduism, the state, referred to as the ‘Land of the Gods’ attracts a large number of tourists each year. Carved out of north western Uttar Pradesh after a long, yet relatively peaceful struggle, the state has not yet made any significant progress even 12 years after its creation. The state politics has been dominated by the national parties – the BJP and the Congress and there have been five different Chief Ministers. Also, the electorate has voted out incumbent governments in the two assembly elections since its formation.

Aware of this fact, the ruling BJP is heavily banking on its CM Bhuvan Chand Khanduri to rewrite history and come back to power. A former army man who was given the Athi Vishisht Seva Medal by the President in 1982, he was the Minister for Road Transport and Highways in the NDA government and played a key role in the implementation of Vajpayee’s dream project – The Golden Quadrilateral. A four time Lok Sabha MP from Garhwal, he was made the Uttarkhand CM after he led the BJP to a victory in the 2007 elections. However, after a 5-0 drubbing at the hands of the Congress in the 2009 General elections, he was asked to take moral responsibility for the party’s dissmal show in the state and replaced by his former confidant, Ramesh Pokriyal Nishank as the saffron party was looking for an image makeover in the hill state.
Uttarakhand CM B C Khanduri
However, little did the BJP know that many of the problems that plague the party in this election would emanate from Pokriyal’s 18 month rule, or as his detractors say, ‘misrule’. During his tenure the government was shrouded in a series of scams, most notably the Kumbh Mela scam, irregularities in the bidding process for the construction of several hydro-electric plants and the Citurgia land scam. In fact, the situation soon became a political ‘hot potato’ for the BJP with the Congress accusing it of double standards in its anti-corruption campaign against the UPA government. Even civil society member, Arvind Kejriwal trained his guns at Pokriyal and labeled him as ‘pocket edition of Suresh Kalmadi’. Fearing a rout in the forthcoming polls, the BJP president Nitin Gadkari, at the behest of senior party leaders Murali Manohar Joshi and Rajnath Singh, summoned the Uttarakhand CM to New Delhi and sacked him. 

In a bid to regain lost ground, the saffron outfit installed its most popular leader in the state, Khanduri as the new CM. And in his second stint, Khanduri hit a six of the very first ball when he passed Anna Hazare’s version of the Lokpal bill. This move won him accolades from the civil society and further enhanced his image as a clean and upright leader. To cut the Congress to size in the state, he ordered inquiry into several cases of corruption during the N D Tiwari led Congress government. He also passed several popular legislations including Uttarakhand Right to Service Act (making 80 basic services to be provided within a prescribed time limit), Uttarakhand Special Courts Act (setting up of fast trials courts to deal against corruption) and Uttarakhand Transfer for Public Servants Act (dealing with frequent transfers of government employees). Thus what once looked like a cake walk for the Congress has turned into a tight contest. The ‘Khanduri Zarori Hain’ campaign of the BJP has revitalized the party cadre and opinion polls have suggested that the party may have a slight edge over the Congress in Uttarakhand.

The Opposition Congress finds itself rather on a sticky wicket. With the UPA government accused in a number of scams, the state unit of is finding hard to make the corruption under the Pokhriyal regime a major political issue.  However the main mudda for the party ahead of the upcoming polls is the lack of development in the last 5 years. Though blessed with perennial rivers, watered by glaciers in the Himalayas, many parts of the state are facing acute water shortage. Besides, routine power cut and lack of road connectivity, especially in rural areas has become a major road block in the state’s development and has given more ammunition to the party to attack the incumbent government. Unemployment and migration from hills due to poor living conditions in the villages are other planks that the Congress is fighting the assembly polls. But poll pundits have predicted that with high inflation may dent the prospects of the party in the state.

In fact, the large number of rebels that have entered the fray may hold the key as to who forms the next government in Dehradun.  Hoping to beat anti-incumbency, the BJP dropped a third of its sitting MLAs but the move backfired as many of these leaders have rebelled and are contesting against the party’s official candidates. Though former cabinet ministers, Khajan Das and Govind Singh Bist seem to have fallen in line after much persuasion, several others like Kedar Singh Fonia (Badrinath), G L Shah (Tharali) and Anil Nautiyal (Karnaprayag) have been expelled and are contesting the polls either as independents or as candidates of regional parties. Also, the party is facing rebellion in all three assembly seats in Chamoli district. 
BJP leaders Pokhriyal, Koshiyari and Khanduri
And the situation is equally bad for the Opposition. Although, it has given tickets to all its sitting MLAs, the Congress is facing rebels in several constituencies. With the state unit being divided into several camps, each supporting its own CM candidate, loyalists of leaders who have been denied party tickets, are standing as independents. Prominent amongst them include Jot Singh Bist (Dhanaulti), a Harish Rawat loyalist and Mantri Prasad Naithani (Devprayag), who is known to be close to Satpal Maharaj.

Another problem for the two national parties in the state is the infighting amongst the state leaders for the much coveted seat of the Chief Minister. While the BJP has projected Khanduri as its official CM candidate, former CMs Ramesh Pokriyal and Bhagat Singh Koshiyari have not yet given up their claims over the top post. Pokriyal, once a close confidant of Khanduri was chosen by the latter to replace him after he was made to resign following the BJP’s rout in 2009 Lok Sabha elections. This was seen by many as a move to prevent Koshiyari from being the CM. Although Khanduri and Koshiyari buried their hatchet and worked together to end Pokriyal’s stay at the helm of affairs in the state, the bonhomie was short lived and the two soon fell apart. 

Khanduri is contesting from Kotdwar in the plains after his seat of Dhumkot in the hills ceased to exist following the delimitation exercise. The sitting BJP MLA from the constituency, Shailendra Singh Rawat is known to be very popular in the area and has given up his seat in favor of Khanduri after initial resentment and the promise of a plum post if the party comes to power in the polls. Though many speculated that Shailendra may rebel against the party's dikat, he has been seen actively campaigning for the CM. 

Ramesh Pokhriyal, a sitting MLA from Thalisainin is contesting from the town of Doiwala near Dehradun. He has been side lined by the party and many of his loyalists including Anil Nautiyal, Pankaj Sehgal , G L Shah and Manveer Singh Chauhan have been denied tickets, thereby suppressing any chances of rebellion from his side. Without the support of local leader and agriculture minister, T S Rawat – a Koshiyari aide and with a slew of corruption charges against him, the former CM may find it extremely difficult to win his seat.

Koshiyari, who is a BJP MP from Rajya Sabha and a RSS favorite, is not contesting the state elections. Though the BJP has denied all allegations of infighting amongst its top leaders, sources say that relations between the BJP’s Tridevs are far from cordial and may affect the saffron party’s performance in the hill state.
Leader of Opposition Harak Singh Rawat
While BJP is said to be in split over the issues of CM, the Congress is in no better situation as it several potential candidates for the CM’s chair. Harak Singh Rawat, the Leader of Opposition in the outgoing house is contesting from Rudraprayag against brother-in-law, Matbar Singh Khandari who is a state minister and a two time MLA from the assembly seat. A protégé of Govindacharya, who left the BJP to join the BSP and then the Congress, he is seen as a frontrunner for the CM’s chair in case the Congress comes to power in the hill state. 

The Minister of State for Labour in the UPA government and Haridwar Lok Sabha MP, Harish Rawat is also seen by many as a potential CM candidate. Starting his political career at the village level, he has worked as a Trade Unionist and Youth Congress leader. As such he is seen as a grass root politician and enjoys the support of party cadres.


Dalit leader and state Congress in-charge Yashpal Arya is another prominent Congress leader form the state and is contesting from Bazpur seat. His Dalit-Muslim combine was a seen as instrumental in the party’s resounding victory in the 2009 elections. 

Lok Sabha MPs from the state Satpal Maharaj (Garhwal) and Vijay Bahugana (Tehri) are the other contenders in the fray. Even veteran Congress leader and former CM N D Tiwari has thrown his hat in the ring and has announced that he is ready to head the state if the ‘High command’ desires. The octogenarian politician has secured seats for his nephew Manish Tiwari (Gadarpur) and associate Indira Hridayesh (Haldwani).

The delimitation exercise in Uttarakhand which has reduced the representation of the ten hill districts and increases that of other three districts, namely Haridwar, Dehradun and Udham Singh Nagar may end up spoiling prospects of several top politicians in the state. Several top leaders including the BJP’s Khanduri, and Pokhriyal and Congress’s Yashpal Arya and Harak Rawat have been forced to shift their base and scout for new assembly seats.

Besides the two national parties, the BSP is hoping to increase its tally in the state assembly to double digits. In fact, the BSP supremo has realized that a good show in the upcoming elections in UP, Uttarakhand and Punjab may make her a force to reckon with in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Continuing with her dream of becoming India’s first Dalit PM, the UP CM has addressed several rallies in the hill state in a bid to garner as many seats as possible. In the last assembly elections, the party did very well in the Haridwar district, winning 6 out of the 9 assembly seats. With the number of assembly seats from the district being increased to 11 this time around, the BSP is looking to improve its performance and emerge as a king-maker in case of a hung assembly.
UKD leader Diwakar Bhatt
The Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (UKD) which spear headed the movement for the creation of a separate hill state in the Himalayas has utterly failed in its motive to become a third alternative for the people of Uttarakhand. In the last assembly elections, the UKD could get only three seats and ended up supporting the BJP. Amongst the party’s main aim is the setting up of a new state capital at Gairsain and protecting the culture and rights of the people of the region. However, the UKD’s ideology, especially since the creation of the state has failed to strike a chord with the voters and its support base is sinking over the years. As of today, the party’s electoral symbol has been freezed by the EC and infighting between state cabinet minister Diwakar Bhatt and Trivender Singh Panwar has split the party into two factions, namely the UKD (D) and the UKD (P), which has joined hands with the Left parties. 

The Uttarakhand Raksha Morcha (URM) floated by former army man Lieut-Gen Tej Pal Singh Rawat has been able poach several leaders from the BJP and the Congress who have been disgruntled with their parties for various reasons. Rawat, who has been associated with the BJP and Congress in the past, is planning to win the hearts of the electorate by fielding clean candidates. 

As in other states, the political parties seem to have completely forgotten the issues that affect the farming community in the hill state. The man-animal conflict involving grazing of crops by herbivores, especially in the hilly terrain causes loss worth lakhs of rupees to the farmers. Also, the illegal quarrying of the Ganga river bed is destroying the National River and the flora and fauna that depend on it. This issue was highlighted by the death of Swami Nigmanad, who died in June 2011 after a long fast which attracted no large scale media attention as compared to the Baba Ramdev’s 11 day fast against the midnight police crackdown on his agitation against black money in New Delhi, which looked more like a farce.
Swami Nigmanad
As the election fever grips the state, the BJP and the Congress are trying their level best to win the forthcoming polls. The saffron outfit is aiming to rewrite history and get back to power for a second consecutive term. On the other hand, the Congress is highlighting the short comings of the incumbent government and trying to convince the electorate to vote it to power. The regional parties and the many independent candidates that are contesting the polls are hoping that a fractured mandate may make them key players in the process of government formation, provided they manage to win their seats. The people's verdict to be announced on 6th March will decide who rules the state and who bites the dust.




SOURCES

(1) Business Line - BJP banking on Khanduri's clean image to return to power in Uttarakhand (Link)

(2) NEWS Bullet.in - BJP magic to continue in Uttarakhand (Link)

(3) The Indian Express - Will file defamation suit against Kejriwal: Nishank (Link)

(4) Business Standard - In Uttarakhand, revolt in BJP more severe than Cong (Link)

(5) The Times of India - Many Nishank loyalists dropped from BJP list (Link)

(6) The Indian Express - Congress attempts to pin down Khanduri in his own constituency (Link)

(7) Zee News - Uttarakhand CM Candidates (Link)

(8) Jagran Post - Appraoch for Uttarakhand's chief minesterial post gains momentum in Congress (Link)


(9) Wikipedia - Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (Link)

(10) Jay Bharat, Jay Uttarakhand - Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (Link)

(11) The Tribune India - Pact with BJP proved 'suicidal' for UKD (Link)

(12) The Tribune India - Party activists will never forgive Panwar, says Diwakar Bhatt (Link)

(13) The Times of India - Maya eyes Uttarakhand to raise BSP's vote bank (Link)

(14) The Times of India - In Uttarakhand, politicians ignoring farmer's issues (Link)

IMAGES


(1) Uttarakhand CM B C Khanduri (Link)
Source: Zee News

(2) BJP leaders Pokhriyal, Koshiyari and Khanduri (Link)
Source: The Tribune India: Industrial package tops agenda  

(3) Leader of Opposition Harak Singh Rawat (Link)
Source: The Hindu: India committed to controlling foot and mouth disease  

(4) UKD leader Diwakar Bhatt (Link)
Source: The Tribune India

(5) Swami Nigmanad (Link)
Source: India Water Portal – Unsung Baba