Uttarakhand: BJP May Field Several New Faces, Congress Candidates Likely to Be Sitting MLAs

The process for finalising tickets has reached New Delhi, after initial rounds which had seen two to three candidates being shortlisted on most seats.

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New Delhi: With voting for the upcoming assembly elections in Uttarakhand exactly a month away, the two traditional rivals in the state – the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress – have started holding final discussions on their prospective candidates. While the BJP, which had won 57 of the 70 seats in the last polls, is expected to drop several ‘non-performing’ MLAs, the Congress is likely to field all its sitting legislators as well as those who had lost the last polls by a margin of less than 10,000 votes.

Though the Aam Aadmi Party is also contesting the election for the first time and has already declared two lists of candidates comprising a total of 42 candidates, political observers in the state believe AAP is waiting for the BJP and the Congress’s ticket distribution before announcing all its candidates, as a number of leaders who are denied tickets might turn to it and seek one later.

BJP has many amends to make

For the BJP and Congress, the elections this time are as much a contest with the other as about meeting the aspirations of their own. Both the parties are witnessing a lot of resentment from within.

The BJP has a long list of former chief ministers, ministers and Central leaders who are either seeking a ticket for themselves or their kin. The party also had a turbulent five years in office, during which time it has had three chief ministers.

While it started with Trivendra Singh Rawat, there were allegations that he was unable to take the cadre and other leaders along. With some allegations of graft also surfacing, he was replaced by Tirath Singh Rawat in March 2020. However, Rawat’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis and his unsavoury comments on wearing of jeans by women left the party red-faced.

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Ultimately, he was replaced by Pushkar Singh Dhami in July 2020. Dhami took charge at a time when the protests against the constitution of the Char Dham Yatra Management Board were getting louder. Finally, the enabling Act was repealed late last year and that appears to have assuaged the hurt feelings of the priests managing over 50 shrines in the state. Dhami, who is the youngest chief minister of the state so far, is also appealing to the youth of the state.

Though the party would be going into the polls under Dhami’s leadership, it has still not declared him to be its chief ministerial candidate. The state election committee of the party is likely to hold its final meeting under the chairmanship of national president J.P. Nadda in New Delhi on January 16 to finalise the list of candidates. So far, a shortlist of two to three candidates for all the seats has been drawn up by the election committee comprising state and central leaders. It is learnt that the party may bring in between 18 and 23 new faces this time.

Rawat is leading Congress, but not declared chief ministerial face

In the case of the Congress, the situation is similar as while the party is going into the elections under the leadership of former chief minister Harish Rawat, it has still not declared him to be its chief ministerial face. Following a protest note by Rawat last month and his meeting with Rahul Gandhi in New Delhi, the party had made him the chairman of the campaign committee, but it did not walk the extra step to name him as its chief ministerial candidate.

Incidentally, Rawat had last year following the installation of Charanjit Singh Channi as chief minister of Punjab, in place of Captain Amarinder Singh, stated that it would be good if in Uttarakhand too the Congress could have a Dalit as a chief minister. With former minister Yashpal Arya, who is a Dalit leader, returning to the Congress fold from the BJP, which he had joined in 2017, there was speculation that he might emerge as the party’s leader of choice. But from Rawat’s subsequent utterances, it has become clear that he wants to lead the party in the state.

The Congress is likely to announce its first list of candidates by January 18. The party recently held a screening committee meeting in New Delhi to discuss the shortlisted names for all the 70 seats. The final list is learnt to have been sent to the Central Election Committee now for its final nod.

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The party central leadership is also expected to take a call on whether it would like to adhere to the “one family, one ticket” formula or give it a pass since the children of several prominent party leaders are also seeking tickets.

Party general secretary (organisation) Mathura Dutt Joshi was quoted as saying that the names of all the candidates will be finalised before the process of filing nominations would begin on January 21. The nominations can be filed up to January 28 and the last date for withdrawal of candidature is January 31.

Congress may field sitting MLAs, those who lost by small margins

In the first list the Congress, which had won 11 seats in the 2017 polls, is expected to announce the names of around 45 candidates. It is likely to give tickets to all the sitting legislators as also to all those candidates who had lost the previous assembly poll by a margin of less than 10,000 votes.

While the ability to win will be the primary criteria for selection of candidates, the party would also be factoring in the infighting and how denial or grant of tickets might impact its prospects in the state.

Incidentally, with many expecting the party to do well in the upcoming elections, there is also a great demand for tickets from many of the seats. There are at least 10 seats where over 10 serious contenders are seeking the party’s ticket.

Will AAP emerge from the shadows?

As for the Aam Aadmi Party, while it has launched its “Uttarakhand me bhi Kejriwal” campaign and has been regularly sending its senior leaders like Manish Sisodia to the state, it has still not been able to make much headway. As with the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal, Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, the AAP is struggling to emerge as a dominant force in state politics.

Though its declaring Colonel Ajay Kothiyal (Retd.) as its chief ministerial face is considered a master stroke by many, as the state has a large population of serving and retired servicemen, the fight still appears to be between the BJP and the Congress. The AAP has already announced 42 candidates in its two lists. Its best case scenario would be if some senior leaders from BJP or Congress switch to it on being denied tickets. For that to happen, it would have to wait a bit longer.