Dwarahat, Almora district, Uttarakhand: The Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (UKD), the party that launched the agitation for a separate hill state in 1994 that ultimately led to the carving out of Uttarakhand from Uttar Pradesh, is fighting an uphill battle in this assembly election. Its graph has been falling constantly – after winning four seats in the first assembly election in 2002, its tally dropped to three in 2007 and just one in 2012.
Uttarakhand’s largest regional party has decided to contest from 56 of the 70 seats in the state. But its primarily focus is on Dwarahat, from where party president Pushpesh Tripathi is contesting, and Didihat, where its founding member and patron Kashi Singh Aeri is battling it out in a four-cornered contest, so as to ensure that it does not suffer its first whitewash.
In Dwarahat, which Tripathi had won in 2007, but lost to Madan Singh Bisht of the Congress in 2012 by around 3,300 votes, the city centre has large posters and banners of Bisht, BJP candidate Mahesh Negi and BSP candidate Girish Chaudhary. Tripathi’s campaign is relatively low key, with few party posters and flags being seen in comparison to those of the other parties.
In fact, while the party offices of the BJP and the Congress are in the main city area and that of the BSP is located on the main road leading to the city, the office of the UKD is tucked away behind a row of shops. Neither access to the office nor its surroundings give an impression that the regional party is geared to battle the big national players.
Outside the office, most of the staff and party activists are huddled around a few burning logs, keeping themselves warm on a cold and windy evening. Explaining the low profile, party central secretary Narendra Adhikari said the UKD has always stood for the development of the hill state and is continuing to do so despite the acute shortage of funds. “Demonetisation has not impacted the big parties like the Congress and the BJP, which have the support of the liquor mafia and are distributing free liquor to the youth and spoiling them. It has only impacted us, as we have been working on small donations and these have reduced drastically.”
Adhikari said the UKD is primarily campaigning with the help of vehicles in the countryside. “Our campaign is centred around the issues which are impacting the people right now. We are demanding a ban on liquor sale in the state as it is spoiling our youth, we want action to curb the growing monkey menace and want an immediate end to their transfer from the cities to the villages, where they destroy the crops,” he said.
The UKD is also demanding that the summer capital be immediately be shifted to Gairsain, so that the entire mountainous area in the centre of the state gains through employment, tourism and greater government investment. “About 5,000 villages are expected to gain from the move,” he said.
Another party worker, Hari Dutt Phulara, said accused the Congress and the BJP of failing to provide residents with proper drinking water, health and road connectivity, even 17 years after the formation of the state.
A school principal and head of the Tallikhali gram sabha, Puran Chand Pandey, said since both the national parties have failed the people, this time the UKD is using the slogan ‘say no to BJP and Congress’. “We had only supported the Congress the last time because we did not want people to be burdened with the cost of a fresh election,” he said.
The move of supporting the Congress in 2012 appears to be working against the UKD. Its only MLA to have won the poll, Pritam Singh Panwar, later became a minister in the government and this year he is contesting as an independent from Dhanaulti. The fact that several independents and UKD and BSP candidates joined with the Congress in 2012 has now made the voters wonder if they should vote for them this time or go with the two major national parties.
Close to the main crossing in Dwarahat, mobile store owner Deepak Chaudhary said while the contest in the constituency was three-sided, it was too close to call. “Maybe we will see a difference of just 200 to 300 votes between the two leading candidates this time.”
A general insurance officer and a native of Dwarahat, Bharat Tiwari, said while the Congress is seeking votes based on the work done by its MLA and chief minister Harish Rawat, the BJP is once again relying on the Narendra Modi formula. As for the UKD, he said, its appeal continues to lie in the local issues it raises. “Be it the issue of alcoholism, the monkey menace, the lack of job opportunities or migration from the villages, UKD has always had its finger on the pulse of the people,” he said. But it remains to be seen whether that will be enough.