While the election is being fought on the performance of the chief minister and sitting MLAs, there are differing perceptions of the large number of rebels and turncoats.
Dehradun: “Yeh ab Bhajpa nahin, kajpa bann gayee hai (It is no longer BJP, it has become a mix of Congress and BJP)” is the general refrain among a large section of the electorate in Dehradun about the saffron party in Uttarakhand, which goes to the polls on February 15.
The reason for this sentiment is not difficult to see. The BJP has given tickets to 13 Congress rebels, leading to large-scale disenchantment among its cadre. The decision has also forced many ardent party followers to contest the elections as either independent candidates or join the Congress, which under chief minister Harish Rawat is eyeing a third term in the state’s fourth assembly.
In Dehradun, anger over preferential treatment to turncoats has even spilled over onto the streets. In this district, which has nine assembly segments, the election pitch has been queered by the entry of many rebels. Prominent among them is Aryendra Sharma of the Congress, who had contested the last election from Sahaspur and is now contesting as an independent. Sharma’s supporters and those of another ticket-seeker, Narendra Bisht, had vandalised the Pradesh Congress Committee office after being denied tickets.
Following the rebellion, the Congress cracked the whip, expelling about 25 rebels. The BJP also acted tough against its own rebels and has expelled 17 members, including three MLAS.
Killing two birds with one stone
In Sharma’s case, his supporter Praver Sharma told The Wire that bringing state Congress president Kishore Upadhyay to fight from the Sahaspur constituency, although he had fought the 2012 assembly polls from Tehri, was Rawat’s game plan to pitch two Brahmins against each other. In Uttarakhand, there has always been a war of attrition between the Brahmins and the Thakurs, a community to which Rawat belongs.
While Rawat also considered Sharma to be former chief minister N.D. Tiwari’s protégé, Upadhyay is not liked a great deal by Rawat for a variety of reasons. Upadhyay had recently opposed Rawat’s plan to back his ministers, Pritam Singh Panwar from Dhanaulti and Dinesh Dhanai from Tehri, despite their not agreeing to fight as Congress candidates. Both had won in the 2012 election as independents, but had later backed the Rawat government after forming the Progressive Democratic Front with other independents and Bahujan Samaj Party MLAs.
Dhanai had, in fact, defeated Upadhyay in Tehri and it is said that former Congress chief minister Vijay Bahuguna had played a key role in his defeat then. Following the floods of 2013 and allegations of corruption and mismanagement in relief and rehabilitation work, the Congress had replaced Bahuguna with Rawat, leading to him rebelling and engineering a split in the party. Bahuguna later joined the BJP, along with several MLAs who have now been given tickets.
RSS unhappy with too many turncoats in BJP
Though the BJP has accommodated a number of Congress rebels, the move has not gone down well with its cadre or the RSS, which is still working at the ground level to build support for the party in the state polls. As its media in-charge Himanshu Agarwal told The Wire, the political arm no longer listens to the ideological arm the way it used to. “It is said that after killing Bali, when Sugreev was made the king, the joy of power changed his nature and he even stopped listening to Hanuman. Then Lakshman was sent to bring him to his senses. Now in the Treta yug, the story is playing out again in a different form,” he said.
At the ground level, the party workers believe that large-scale defection has cleansed their parties of the candidates with a rebellious nature. “The party is always supreme, no candidate is bigger than it,” asserted octogenarian Bhagwan Dass Verma, who claims to have been with the Congress since 1958, as he sat at the party office of Duiwala party candidate and sitting MLA Hira Singh Bisht. “Only those people who were damaging the party from within have left,” said Bisht.
Election on performance of candidates, chief minister
This election, he said, was being fought as much on the performance of sitting MLAs and the ruling government as on how honest and efficient people perceive their candidates to be. Bisht also questioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s charge that the Congress did nothing in its 70-year-rule, saying, “The roads, the development, the banks and the growth you see all around, where did this come from. You can say more should have been done, but it is not that nothing has happened.”
The work of Rawat is also being evaluated, said Bisht. “Under him, the pension increased from Rs 200 to Rs 1000 per month, pension for farmers was introduced and health insurance scheme with cards was launched under which cover of Rs 1.75 lakh per family is being provided.” Due to all this, Bisht said, the party was upbeat about its prospects in the district.
Reduced expenditure on election
Amir Hasan, another Congress activist from Teliwala village, said while demonetisation has hit businesses hard, it has brought with it a reduction in election expenditure, which was down to a fourth than in the previous elections. “That is why you are finding fewer posters and pamphlets this time. Much of the campaign is being run through door to door campaigning and local meetings.”
Gurmeet Singh, a Sikh businessman and owner of Rana Music Centre in Dhuli, however, had a different take on demonetisation. He insisted that while it had inconvenienced everyone, it was not an election issue. “The fight is clear. In the urban centres, the BJP is on the rise where in the rural areas which have a large Muslim and Dalit population, people are voting largely for the Congress.”