February 08, 2014

CHANGE OF GUARD


WILL REPLACING BAHUGUNA HELP THE CONGRESS

Harish Rawat (Courtesy: Sahara Samay)
With the elections coming closer, the Congress seems to be cornered on all fronts. The myriad corruption scandals, high inflation rates and economic slump have led to a strong anti-incumbency wave across the country. On the other hand, the BJP which had been a divided house for nearly a decade has found a new rallying point - its PM nominee Narendra Modi who has captivated the minds of the cadre. The INC tried to counter the Gujarat CM's growing influence by raising the issue of 'Secularism'. However, as opinion polls have predicted, the saffron leader's development agenda is a big hit amongst the masses while Congress' arguments are finding no takers. At the same time, the willingness of several non-NDA parties to work with the Hindutva leader was another big jolt to the UPA leadership, clearly indicating that many regional players are ready to join the BJP-led alliance provided it crosses the 200 mark. Aware of Modi's growing popularity and in a bid to divert attention from the failures of the UPA at the Centre, the party changed its strategy, deciding to focus on local issues at the state level. This too was a failure with the BJP and the AAP sweeping the recently concluded elections in the four states. Finally, the Congress took the big gamble as Rahul Gandhi gave a rare interview to Times Now Editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami. At the end of the 75 minute show, the younger Gandhi who could neither give convincing answers to any question thrown at him nor could put across his vision for the country was the laughing stock of the nation. At a time when they should convince people to vote for them, the party leaders are seen defending the royal scion in the last few days. Meanwhile the INC has not yet given up hope of a third consecutive term. The sacking of the Uttarakhand CM Vijay Bahuguna just a few months before the Lok Sabha polls is seen as a move to boost its chances in the state which it had swept in 2009. 

This is not the first time that a ripple effect of the General Elections has been felt in the capital Dehradun. In 2009 Lok Sabha polls, following the INC's white wash of the BJP, the incumbent CM B C Khanduri was asked to step down and replaced by his own aide Ramesh Pokhriyal. This move turned out to be a disaster; his alleged role in several scams became a cause of embarrassment to the party which was already facing the heat down south in Karnataka. Aware that Pokhriyal could dampen the party prospects in the 2012 state polls, Khanduri was brought back and placed at the helm of affairs. What should have been a cakewalk for the Congress turned out to be one of the closest electoral battles in the last few years thanks to factionalism within its ranks. Winning one seat more than the saffron outfit, the INC formed the government with support from the Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP), the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (UKD) and some independents. In what was seen as a counter to curb the growing influence of regional satraps like Harik Singh Rawat, Harish Rawat and Yaspal Arya to name a few, the party high command asked the dark horse - Tehri MP Vijay Bahuguna to occupy the top post. The first big jolt to the new CM came just few months down the line when his son Saket, a business man lost his dad's seat of Tehri to BJP's Mala Rajlakshmi Shah by over 22,000 votes. One of the prime reasons for the defeat was that several of the high profile state leaders refused to campaign for the CM's son. The big blow however, came in June 2013 when flash floods in and around the holy city of Kedarnath claimed over 5000 lives. Life and property worth crores was destroyed and tourism, one of the state's premiere sources of income took a major hit. In the following months, the callousness of the state administration to carry out the rescue operations and shoddy rehabilitation efforts further added to the strong anti-incumbency wave against the Central government, here in the hill state. As such, the Congress had no option but to sack Bahuguna. MP Harish Rawat, who enjoys the support of the majority members in the state legislature was made the CM.

       CONSTITUENCY           1996       1998       1999       2004       2009   
Almora BJP BJP BJP BJP INC
Garhwal  AIIC (T)  BJP BJP BJP INC
Hardwar BJP BJP BJP SP INC
Nainital AIIC (T) BJP INC INC INC
Tehri-Garhwal BJP BJP BJP BJP INC


(1) Until 2004 Lok Sabha polls, the five constituencies in Uttarkhand were a part of Uttar Pradesh.
(2) AIIC (T): All India Indira Congress (Tiwari) was a splinter group of the Congress formed by N D Tiwari,  Arjun Singh and Natwar Singh which later merged with the INC.

The decision for a regime change in Dehradun should not surprise anybody. All opinion polls suggest that the UPA is struggling across the country. At the same time, Bahuguna administration's inefficient way of handling the relief work had become a major poll issue in the state which the BJP was trying to use for its own advantage. The Congress is hoping that the change of guard will cut down the anti-INC sentiments to some extent. A look at the above chart, showing which party won the five constituencies in the state over last five General Elections throws a surprising picture. Four out of the five times, Uttarkhand has chosen a clear winner. In other terms, it is a winner-takes-all state, like Tamil Nadu. In 1996, there was a close contest between the BJP and the N D Tiwari led AIIC(T). In the next two elections though, saffron wave swept the state as Congress struggled, managing to win just one seat in 1999. In 2004, the SP won Hardwar bringing the BJP's tally down by one whereas the INC held on to Nainital. The last election saw the Congress humiliating the BJP 5-0 in spite of the BJP lead coalition government in the state. The Congress' excellent show here was one of the biggest reasons for it to cross the 200 mark on its own. Five years down the line, with a strong anti-INC wave at the Centre and people's discontent with the state administration, the BJP is trying to capitalize on the situation and repeat its showing in 1998. The nomination of the Harish Rawat as the Chief Minister is an attempt by the Congress to bolster its prospects in the state. Will it work? Lets wait and watch.


IMAGES

(1) Harish Rawat (Courtesy: Sahara Samay)
Original: Sahara Samay - 1200 crores for disaster relief operations (Link)