Will Khanduri deliver again?May 11th, 2009 | By Elections2009 | Category: Lead
BJP-Congress contest in four seats; four-cornered race in Hardwar .
In the by-elections to the Garhwal (Pauri) Lok Sabha seat two years ago, T.P.S. Rawat — who quit the Congress and vacated his Assembly seat for Chief Minister B.C. Khanduri — won the seat for the Bharatiya Janata Party with a razor-thin margin. It was the postal ballot that saw the former Army General through.
That contest of Mr. Rawat, who replaced Mr. Khanduri in Parliament, is just one example of the many close electoral contests that the BJP and Congress have been engaged in Uttarakhand for over two decades now. Here, upper caste voters are in a majority; it is only in Hardwar, and to some extent in Nainital, that Muslims and Dalits have the numbers to influence the outcome.
In 2004, the BJP won three seats (with 41 per cent vote share), while the Congress (38 per cent) and the Samajwadi Party (8 per cent) won one seat each. The BJP bagged the Almora, Tehri Garhwal and Garhwal (Pauri) seats, while the Congress held on to its stronghold of Nainital. However, it was the Samajwadi Party that surprised many by winning the Hardwar seat that has a sizeable Muslim electorate. Otherwise, the SP has remained a virtual “untouchable” in the State due to alleged atrocities committed by then Mulayam Singh-led Uttar Pradesh government on those agitating for a separate hill State.
This time too, all the five seats are headed for nail-biting finishes. In four seats — Nainital, Almora, Tehri Garhwal and Garhwal (Pauri) — it will be the BJP versus the Congress; Hardwar will see a four-cornered contest between the BJP, the Congress, the SP and the Bahujan Samaj Party.
The Congress is banking on the performance of the UPA government in the Centre to improve its tally, while the BJP is highlighting its performance in the State as well as the Centre’s “discriminatory” attitude towards Uttarakhand.
While the State Congress appears to be a divided house, with its leaders indulging in political one-upmanship, Chief Minister Khanduri is leading the BJP’s campaign.
However, the BJP has had two pre-poll setbacks. One of its MLAs, Munna Singh Chauhan, deserted the party to enter the fray from Tehri on a BSP ticket, while a Cabinet Minister from a regional party, the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal, resigned on the issue of seat sharing.
In Nainital, sitting Congress MP K.C. Singh Baba is being challenged by the State BJP chief Bachchi Singh Rawat, also a sitting MP from neighbouring Almora seat. Mr. Rawat had to shift his base to Nainital after his seat was reserved, post-delimitation. Here, the BSP and the SP are also trying to make their presence felt. The BSP has fielded MLA Narayan Pal, while former U.P. Minister Prem Prakash Singh is also in the fray from the SP.
In Almora, State Minister Ajay Tamta of the BJP is pitted against Pradeep Tamta of the Congress. In less then two years the two Tamtas are again engaged in a direct contest.
In the 2007 Assembly polls, Mr. Ajay Tamta defeated Mr. Pradeep Tamta from the Someshwar, seat, which falls under Almora constituency. What is worrying Congressmen in Almora is the “migration” of senior leader Harish Rawat, who won the Almora seat earlier, to Hardwar along with his supporters.
However, the contest for Hardwar is not going to be a cakewalk for Mr. Rawat, where the challenge is not only from the BJP but also from the BSP and the SP.
While the SP has fielded its Uttarakhand unit chief Ambrish Kumar, the BJP, at the eleventh hour, replaced its Minister and Hardwar MLA Madan Kaushik with local religious leader Swami Yatindranand Giri under pressure from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
However, the BSP, which managed to win six Assembly seats from this region in 2007, can spring a surprise. By fielding Shahzad, an MLA who is banking on the over 3.5-lakh Muslim voters in the constituency, the BSP seems to have an edge over other parties.
In Tehri, sitting Congress MP Vijay Bahuguna is being challenged by ace shooter Jaspal Rana, a newcomer to politics. After initial hiccups, Garhwal’s royal family has pledged its support to Mr. Rana, giving the BJP a much-needed boost.
In Garhwal (Pauri), the BJP’s T.P.S. Rawat is again contesting against his political guru and former Union Minister Satpal Maharaj.
While the Tehri seat has become a matter of prestige for Mr. Khanduri, Mr. Maharaj also has a chance if he succeeds in placating his detractors in the party.
The Uttarakhand Kranti Dal’s influence has remained confined to the Assembly polls, and that too to only a few seats. However, it could upset poll equations in Nainital where its chief and former MLA Narayan Singh Jantwal is in fray.