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New Delhi: The BJP has won 47 seats in the Uttarakhand assembly elections, easily crossing the halfway mark. The Congress has 19.
The Congress’s Harish Rawat has conceded defeat and took responsibility for the party’s performance.
#UttarakhandElections2022 | Our efforts were a little less to win over the public of Uttarakhand. We were sure that people will vote for a change, there must’ve been a shortage in our efforts, I accept it & take responsibility for the defeat: Congress leader Harish Rawat pic.twitter.com/xiG0YuSnCF
— ANI UP/Uttarakhand (@ANINewsUP) March 10, 2022
An interesting aspect of the results is that the chief ministerial faces or campaign heads of all the three parties – BJP, Congress and AAP – have lost in their seats.
Uttarakhand chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami lost to the Congress state working president Bhuwan Chandra Kapri in Khatima. Former chief minister and Congress leader Harish Rawat also lost to Mohan Singh Bisht of the BJP by a large margin. Rawat, who was also leading the Congress campaign in the state, had struggled to find a safe seat. He was first named from Ramnagar but later given Lal Kuan.
AAP’s chief ministerial candidate Ajay Kothiyal was a distant third behind BJP and Congress candidates in Gangotri.
This is the first time that the state has reelected a party.
One independent candidate emerged victorious, while the Bahujan Samaj Party has won two seats.
When Uttarakhand went to polls on February 14, many in the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were not confident of the party doing well enough to retain power. There are several reasons behind this assumption. First, the state has in the last four elections never returned a party to power. Second, with internal strife and charges of corruption afflicting the saffron party, which had to appoint three chief ministers in four months, it did not appear that the new incumbent, Pushkar Singh Dhami, who took over as the chief minister in July 2021, would be able to turn the tide. Therefore, the outcome of most of the exit polls – which show BJP ahead of the Congress – has surprised many.
As the counting of votes takes place on March 10, Thursday, it would be pertinent to look back at how the arch rivals fared in the run up to the polls. The entry of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) into the poll scene in the hill state also appears to have had some impact.
In the 2017 assembly elections, BJP had swept the polls winning 57 seats, while Congress had bagged 11 and Independents two. In terms of the percentage of votes garnered, BJP had 46.5%, Congress 33.5%, Independents 10%, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) 7% and others 3%.
This time, all exit polls agree that the Congress has drastically improved its performance. With Harish Rawat leading the Congress’s campaign in the state, the party has appeared to pose a serious challenge to the ruling BJP. Apart from that, Congress’s decision to get prominent Dalit leader Yashpal Arya and his son, Sanjiv, back into the party fold has helped it made deep inroads into several constituencies in Kumaon region, especially which the BJP had swept in the last elections.
The return of another former minister, Harak Singh Rawat, to the party in January further bolstered its prospects.
In the BJP, chaos prevailed soon after the elections. At least three BJP candidates accused their party leaders of back-stabbing and sabotaging their chances to win the elections.
BJP MLA from Haridwar’s Laksar Sanjay Gupta accused Uttarakhand BJP president Madan Kaushik of contriving to defeat him. Two other legislators from Kumaon also levelled similar charges against their party leaders.
The MLA from Kashipur, Harbhajan Singh Cheema, whose son Trilok Singh Cheema was the BJP candidate from the seat, accused the local leaders of the party of not campaigning for his son. Similarly, BJP MLA from Champawat, Kailash Gahtori, alleged that some local leaders worked for the Congress.
While there was turmoil in the BJP, the Congress seemed confident about the outcome.
However, Rawat, who had last year advocated the need for the party to get a Dalit leader to head the government in the state, a statement which made many believe that Yashpal Arya could become the next chief minister, if the party wins, suddenly changed his stance. He declared: “Either I will be the CM or sit at home”.
Clearly, he was fancying his chances to lead the next government. The Congress during the past month also lodged complaints about alleged postal ballot tampering. State unit president Ganesh Godiyal even lodged a complaint with the Election Commission in this regard. The issue assumes significance since over 90,000 postal ballot votes were cast in the state and they could turn the poll outcome one way or the other.
Exit poll outcome
In such a scenario, how are the exit polls showing that the BJP is ahead in the race. While the Zee News-Design Boxed exit poll predicted 35-40 seats for the Congress and 26-30 for BJP and 0-3 for others, most other polls showed BJP to be ahead.
Of these, the ABP-CVoter projected BJP to win 37 seats with 41% votes and Congress 31 seats with 39% votes. It said AAP would get 9% votes and others 11%.
Likewise, the News24-Today’s Chanakya poll gave BJP 43 seats and Congress 24 with a probability of plus or minus seven seats. It has given others three seats. In terms of vote percentage, it showed that BJP could secure 41% votes, Congress 34%, and others 25% with an error margin of 3% each.
A look at the poll data reveals that while in 2017, the BJP and Congress together received 80% of all votes polled, this time, the vote share could drop by around five percentage points – which is almost the percentage of vote share that AAP may secure. AAP had last year projected a former social activist and retired Army officer, Colonel Ajay Kothiyal, as its chief ministerial candidate.
Kothiyal’s candidature from Gangotri appears to have had an impact in the entire upper Garhwal and Kumaon hills. Here the BJP also seems to have suffered due to the delay in the disbanding the Char Dham Devasthanam Board, against which the temple priests in the region protested for nearly two years till the enabling Act was finally repealed. The BJP did not win the Char Dham seats even in the years when it formed the government in Uttarakhand.
In the plains of Uttarakhand too, the saffron party had faced a lot of flak for its handling of the farmers’ agitation. This anger was all the more palpable in the plains of Kumaon where it had won most of the seats in the 2017 elections. With a large number of Sikh and Dalits in the region moving towards the Congress, and the farmers in general being angry with the party, especially in the wake of the Lakhimpur Kheri incident in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, the BJP appeared on the back foot.
Its politics of religion and division also annoyed a large number of voters. Following the Dharam Sansad in Hardwar, where religious leaders had called for genocide of Muslims, several people, and especially those belonging to the minority community, had distanced themselves further from the party.
The handling of the COVID-19 situation, especially during the Kumbh Mela, a major scam in testing for the coronavirus during the religious festival, and the change of two chief ministers – Trivendra Singh Rawat and Tirath Singh Rawat – in quick succession also did the party no good.
However, it remains to be seen whether all these factors which seemed to be weighing against the BJP last month will end up bringing about a regime change, or if the emergence of AAP and its eating into the opposition votes would keep the Congress out of power. While none of the exit polls have predicted a hung assembly, that too remains a distinct possibility in such a close contest.
Khatima: Chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami is contesting from this seat. He is looking to break the trend of sitting chief ministers losing the polls, as Harish Rawat had lost both from Haridwar (Rural) and Kicchha in 2017 and before that B.C. Khanduri had lost from Kotdwara in 2012. Nityanand Swami too had lost in 2002 and N.D. Tiwari had not contested in 2007. Dhami is taking on Congress state working president Bhuwan Chandra Kapri, whom he had defeated in 2017 by 2,709 votes. The AAP candidate is its former state president S.S. Kaler.
Haridwar: BJP Uttarakhand president Madan Kaushik has been undefeated in this seat. This time he is taking on seer Satpal Brahmachari of the Congress, who had also fought against Kaushik in 2012. Sanjay Saini is fighting for this seat from AAP.
Rishikesh: Speaker Premchand Aggarwal, who had won the seat in 2017, by defeating Rajpal Singh Kharola of the Congress by over 14,000 votes, is taking on Congress’s Jayendra Chand Ramola. This constituency is considered the gateway to the Char Dham region. The AAP candidate is Raje Negi.
Srinagar: BJP’s cabinet minister Dhan Singh Rawat is locked in a keen contest in this seat against Congress state president Ganesh Godiyal. The two are traditional rivals from this seat. While Godiyal had won it in 2012, Rawat emerged victorious in 2017.
Narendra Nagar: BJP’s sitting MLA and cabinet minister Subodh Uniyal is taking on Om Gopal Rawat, who recently left the party and joined the Congress. While Rawat had won the seat in 2007 on a BJP ticket, Uniyal had won it in 2012 on a Congress ticket and then in 2017 as a BJP candidate.
Mussoorie: Cabinet minister Ganesh Joshi is contesting from this seat, which had witnessed ugly episodes of harassment of Kashmiri traders during the BJP’s rule. He is taking on Godavari Thapli of the Congress. However, the contest became interesting when Thapli’s cousin, Kalpana Gurang, joined the BJP and started campaigning against her.
Chaubattakhal: Sitting MLA and cabinet minister Satpal Maharaj is once again the BJP candidate from this seat in Pauri Garhwal. This seat has remained with the party since 2012 when Tirath Singh Rawat won it. Keshar Singh is the Congress candidate this time. Incidentally, prominent leader Harak Singh Rawat who recently moved from the BJP to the Congress was eyeing this seat but could not get it.
Haridwar (Rural): Cabinet minister Swami Yatishwaranand is taking on Harish Rawat’s daughter and All India Mahila Congress general secretary Anupama Rawat from here. It’s a tight contest this time as the BSP changed its candidate at the eleventh hour, replacing Darshan Sharma with Yunus Ansari.
Kaladhungi: BJP has again given the ticket to cabinet minister Banshidhar Bhagat from Kaladhungi. In 2017, Bhagat had defeated Prakash Joshi of the Congress by over 20,000 votes. This time the Congress has given its ticket to Mahesh Chandra, while BSP has fielded Sunder Lal Arya and AAP has given its ticket to Manju Tiwari.
Gadarpur: BJP’s sitting MLA and education minister Arvind Pandey is again contesting from this seat. Till now in the history of Uttarakhand, no education minister has won his election. Be it Tirath Singh Rawat in 2002, Narendra Bhandari in 2007, Matbar Singh Kandari in 2012 or Prasad Naithani in 2017, all the education ministers have lost in the past. So Pandey, who has won all his four elections since 2002, seems to be looking to break that record as he takes on Premanand Mahajan of the Congress, who had won the seat in 2002 and 2007. The farmers’ protest against the farm laws is a major issue in this constituency as it falls in the Terai region.
Tehri: This seat is witnessing a battle between turncoats. While the BJP has fielded former Uttarakhand Congress chief Kishore Upadhyay, who joined the party in January 2022, the Congress has given its ticket to sitting MLA Dhan Singh Negi hours after he quit the BJP.
Lal Kuan: Former chief minister and Congress leader Harish Rawat was first named from Ramnagar but later given this seat. He is taking on Mohan Singh Bisht of the BJP. The ruling party has changed its candidate. In 2017, its candidate Naveen Chandra Dumka had defeated Harish Chandra Durgapal of the Congress by over 27,000 votes. While AAP has fielded Chandra Sekhar Pandey, BSP has fielded Prithvipal Singh Rawat.
Chakrata: Leader of Opposition and Congress leader Pritam Singh is taking on Bollywood singer Jubin Nautiyal’s father Ramsharan Nautiyal in this constituency. Singh won this seat in all four previous elections. An independent, Daulat Kunwar, is also presenting a strong case in these polls.
Bajpur (SC): Congress gave its ticket to former assembly speaker and transport minister in the BJP government, Yashpal Arya, who returned to the party along with his son Sanjiv in October 2021. This constituency witnessed strong protests against the three farm laws. Arya had also won from here in 2012. This time he is taking on Rajesh Kumar of BJP and Sunita Tamta Bajwa of AAP. She is the wife of Samyukta Kisan Morcha leader Jagtar Singh Bajwa and was the Congress candidate in 2017.
Nainital (SC): Yashpal Arya’s son Sanjiv will be contesting on the Congress ticket from this seat. Arya had won it on a BJP ticket in 2017. This time his fight is against BJP’s Sarita Arya, who recently left the Congress to join the saffron party. Hem Chandra Arya, who had contested the 2017 election as an independent after leaving the BJP, is fighting on an AAP ticket. The BSP has fielded Rajkamal Sonkar.
Haldwani: Congress has fielded Sumit Hridayesh, son of its senior Congress leader Indira Hridayesh, who passed away in June last year, from this constituency in the foothills of Kumaon. The BJP has fielded Jogender Pal Singh Rautela, while the BSP candidate is Jitendra Singh and AAP has given the ticket to Samit Tikkoo.
Gangotri: AAP has fielded its chief ministerial face Colonel Ajay Kothiyal from this constituency, which covers one of the four shrines constituting the Char Dham. This seat has always elected an MLA from the party which has gone on to form the government. It was bagged by BJP’s Gopal Singh Rawat in 2017. After his demise in 2021, the party has this time given the ticket to Suresh Chauhan, while the Congress has fielded Vijaypal Sajwan, who was also its candidate in the last elections.