In Nainital, BJP Fails to Assess Cadre's Mood

Severe disenchantment and rebellion in the BJP's ranks may give the Congress an easy victory in Nainital.

Some of the only party flags visible in Nainital in the run up to the elections. Credit: Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar

Some of the only party flags visible in Nainital in the run up to the elections. Credit: Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar

Nainital: With just two days to go for voting to the 70-seat assembly, it is increasingly clear that the factor that will determine the outcome of the Uttarakhand poll is whether former chief minister Vijay Bahuguna and the 14 Congress rebels who had defected to the saffron party will prove to be an asset or liability for it.

Nainital happens to be a great example of all that is right and wrong with the BJP’s decision to take Bahuguna – who was accused of running an inefficient and corrupt administration – into its fold just to dislodge the Congress’s Harish Rawat government. Eight other party MLAs switched sides along with Bahuguna, with more joining them later. The BJP has now fielded 15 such candidates, but this decision has also led to rebellion within the party’s ranks.

At the BJP office situated just opposite the famous Naini Lake, there is a lot of activity but many concerned faces as well. The party has fielded former Congress cabinet minister Yashpal Arya’s son, Sanjeev Arya, and this has split the cadre right down the middle. Senior party leader Hem Chand Arya – who fought on the party’s ticket in 2012 but lost to the Congress’s Sarita Arya – has rebelled against the party. Although Sarita, who is also the Uttarakhand Mahila Congress president, is in a good position, since her opposition is now facing a split in votes, many believe that Hem Chand could still give her a tough fight.

Competition for reserved seat

The reserved seat in the assembly was won by the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (UKD) in 2002 and the BJP in 2007. The saffron party is fighting with its back to the wall this time. It is relying on either the Modi factor to pull in the votes or Sanjay Kumar’s appeal – the BSP’s 2012 candidate who subsequently shifted his loyalties to the BJP.

The Congress on the other hand is leaving no stone unturned in its quest to grab this seat. Rawat, who is also the face and star campaigner of the party, has already had two meetings in Nainital and nearby Betalghat.

What the BJP can expect

Rawat’s personal appeal, coupled with anger within the BJP, has made it tough for the BJP to remain in the contest in this constituency. Perhaps this is the reason for the lack of Congress and BJP flags in the constituency. Only a few flags, mostly from the Congress, are visible in the market near Tallital and in the slums near the steep climb that leads from the lake to the high court. Here, the tenements predominantly feature BSP flags, the party which has fielded Sunder Lal Arya.

The UKD’s candidate is Narayan Singh Jantwal, but he is unlikely to cause a major shift in votes. The party has itself conceded that it is only competitive in two constituencies, Dwarahat in Almora district and Didihat in Pithoragarh district.

Former BJP district president Dinesh Arya, however, exudes confidence that the party cadre will be able to swing things in the BJP’s favour. “We have been working really hard since Sanjeev’s name was announced. We have also been speaking about the lack of work and non-fulfilment of promises during the Rawat government rule.” But the work is not visible on the ground. Some workers complained that they have not been paid for their work in three days. Be it choosing its allies at the top, curbing rebellion within the ranks or taking care of its workers, the BJP appears to be truly slipping among its own.

The party can only take solace from the fact that while it is facing a challenge from its own in Nainital and Kaladhungi constituencies in the district, the Congress is up against a similar challenge in Lalkuan and Bhimtal. Many of these local leaders who are contesting as independents wield considerable influence in their own pockets, which may not be enough to win them seats but may be more than enough to disturb the main parties’ calculations.

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