Kichha: For Uttarakhand chief minister Harish Rawat, contesting from this constituency in the plains of Udham Singh Nagar district was important as he wanted to contest from both the Garhwal division – where he chose Haridwar Rural – and also his native Kumaon region in which this constituency falls. With about 35,000 Muslim votes and a significant number of Dalits, Kichha also offered Rawat a fertile ground to tap into the two segments which have traditionally stayed away from the rival BJP.
However, his decision to contest from this constituency – which is largely dependent on sugar cane economy – has also meant that this time, none of the candidates from the three major parties is a Muslim. Last time, the Congress had fielded Haji Shahryar Khan, but this time he is simply supporting the party’s face in Uttarakhand. Khan, incidentally, had lost the 2012 election to Rajesh Shukla of BJP, who is the candidate for BJP again this year.
Apart from the Congress and the BJP, the third major player is the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which has fielded Rajesh Pratap Singh this time, with an eye on both the upper castes and Dalit votes. A road show by the BSP through the city gave indicated how the BSP’s candidate selection has propelled it right into the contest.
The Congress also believes that their fight is with the BSP because they said the Punjabi and Bania community got annoyed with Shukla as he allegedly got into a scuffle with some people during an event organised for the freedom fighters in the constituency in January.
Thus, now the Congress is very confident about Rawat winning the seat. “People know they would not only be electing an MLA but also the chief minister,” said Liaquat Ali Ansari, former pradhan of Bandia village and now the booth in-charge of the party in the area. He insisted that this time, Rawat’s fight is actually with Singh and not the BJP candidate. “Singh had bagged 8,000 votes last time and this time a large number of BJP supporters have also gravitated towards him,” he reasoned.
Bhupendra Singh Pokhariya, the district secretary of Indian National Trade Union Congress, added that apart from Rawat’s appeal as the next prospective chief minister, his work for the constituency is also going to fetch him votes. “When Vijay Bahuguna had as chief minister proposed that six sugar mills of Uttarakhand be privatised, Rawat had as union minister opposed it. About 1,000 people from this constituency are employed in these mills and their jobs were thus saved. Rawat also adjusted the 700-odd workers of the Gadarpur mill in others after it closed down and increased the wages of workers in Kichha mill by between Rs 6,000 and Rs 13,000 per month.”
This apart, the Congress is depending on Rawat’s promise to provide a job to one member of every family and provide 33% reservation to women in government jobs to win him support from every section of society. The party has also promised a degree college for girls in the constituency among other things.
Another party activist, Darshan Kohli, insisted that Rawat was hardly facing any competition in the constituency. “The BJP has got Yogi Adityanath and even a beauty queen, Ruby Yadav for its roadshow and campaign. Rawat is campaigning all by himself as he has his work to show,” he said.
But it is not all that is well with Kichha. Despite possessing a hospital, its residents still go to Haldwani or Bareilly for treatment. “This is because the hospital only provides proper gynaecology services,” said a resident.
The BJP has been accusing him of only making hollow promises to the residents. “He had made 19 promises to the residents, all of which remain unfulfilled,” said Rahul Rathore, a young party activist, whose brother is the district president of BJP Yuva Morcha.
Rathore insisted that the girls’ degree college had been promised in the last election by the Congress as well. Similarly, he said, a new ITI polytechnic had been promised several years ago but has made no progress still.
Both the BJP and BSP are also urging Rawat to clearly state which seat he intends to retain should he win both Kichcha and Haridwar Rural.
These parties are also trying to corner Rawat by stating that the benefits of various schemes like health insurance cards and increased pension have not reached most of the residents of Kichha. As Shubham Bansal, a college student said, “The people of Kichha will now hopefully elect a representative who will sincerely work for this constituency, which has a huge problem of unemployment and lack of basic facilities.”