Uttarakhand’s chance to choose a majority government after 16 years

New Delhi (India), Jan.30 : Faced with instability due to not having a clear majority over the last 16 years, Uttarakhand will get another chance to choose a majority government in the coming two months.

The Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, often referred to as the Land of Gods, was carved out of Uttar Pradesh more than 16 years ago on November 9, 2000.

None of the parties got a clear majority, but the Indian National Congress (INC) formed a government with the help of the PDF under the leadership of Vijay Bahuguna In the 2012 polls, it was a case of being so near yet so far for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which won 31 seats as opposed to the 32 won by the Congress.

In 2007, the BJP emerged as the largest party with 35 seats, one short of forming a majority in the 70-seat legislature, while the INC became the official opposition with 21 seats.

Then the BJP had to rely on the support of the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal and three Independents to form the government.

Such scenario leaves minor players such as the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Independents with a decisive role in the government formation process in the state as it gets ready for another election and with political equations still largely unchanged.

The exit of a majority of the top state Congress leadership, including former chief minister Vijay Bahuguna, and former cabinet ministers Yashpal Arya and Harak Singh Rawat, has somehow weakened incumbent Chief Minister Harish Rawat's position.

The BJP acquiring the leadership and services of another former chief minister N D Tiwari and his son Rohit Shekhar should also be viewed as a jolt to the former.

Pahari voters will decide the fate of "Pahari Yodhha" (Mountain Warrior) Harish Rawat in the Uttarakhand Legislative Assembly election being held on February 15, 2017, where a total of 722 candidates have filed their nomination papers for 70 assembly seats.

One can say that defections and a switching of loyalties during the elections is not a new phenomenon in any poll-bound state, but in Uttarakhand's case, no one can ignore the fact that in the last eight months, 11 Congress legislators have left the party to join the BJP.

Last year, Satpal Maharaj had also deserted the party to join the BJP later on. On other side, there is an aggressive and upbeat BJP, which has charged the incumbent Congress administration with failing to provide jobs for the youth and also for creating an "atmosphere of fear" in Uttarakhand.

The BJP is claiming that the party in power will be dislodged with a two-thirds majority. The state government is also being accused of corruption, as the BJP has cited an example of a helipad that could have been built at a cost of Rs.

one crore, but in actuality was constructed at a cost of Rs 12 crore. Also, there is the case of a toilet being built for Rs. One crore, when the actual cost is between Rs. 5 and Rs. 7 lakhs. The state government is currently constructing 50 helipads at different places to deal with emergencies in disaster-prone areas of the state.

Chief Minister Harish Rawat's focus is trained on the disadvanatages faced by the general public due to demonetisation.

The state government was quick to constitute a committee headed by Chief Secretary S. Ramaswamy to study the impact of demonetisation on revenue and the economy. The president of the Uttarakhand unit of the Congress party, Kishore Upadhyay, has said this year's election will be fought on the issue of demonetisation and its impact on the people.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his last rally in Dehradun has described his government's decision to demonetise as a useful weapon to deal with fake notes and terrorism in one stroke.

Since Uttarakhand has a large number of retired and serving army men as voters, the sense of nationalism always matters in an election campaign.

So, Modi's special focus on demonetisation at his Dehradun rally has apparently its own political meaning in this state.

Keeping in view the 'Fauji Factor' in the Uttarakhand assembly poll, which constitutes about 40 percent of the population, the BJP is highlighting the implementation of One Rank One Pension (OROP) scheme by the BJP Government in the centre.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's growing popularity and the decision of granting One Rank, One Pension (OROP) may prove beneficial for the BJP.

The Congress is leaving no stone unturned, however, in trying to convince the people that the Modi government has instead cheated all ex-servicemen and their families.

The Army, it is noteworthy, raises two of its most important regiments from the state - Garhwal and Kumaon.

There are about two-lakh ex-servicemen in Uttarakhand, along with more than 80,000 people currently serving in the armed forces.

And there are nearly 40,000 widows of the defence personnel in the state. In fact, as of 20 January, of the 60, 82, 823-strong electorate in Uttarakhand (total population is 1, 01, 16, 752), as many as 82,213 happen to serve presently in the three armed services (58,210 males and 24,003 females).

The announcement of Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar that around 20 lakh pensioners have been paid OROP benefits so far and more than 99 percent of cases will be settled by January-end, has been well received by the faujis, serving and former.

"By now, the government has compensated us substantially. I believe the words of the defence minister that the remaining issues, if any, will be resolved soon because he has been sincere in his work related to our armed forces," says Manish Nautiyal, an ex-Garhwal Rifles soldier.

Vinay Rawat, who served the Indian Army for 20 years, supports this view. He says, "We have been hearing of the issue of OROP since long, but at least this government has taken the decision to implement it.

There is no reason for it to have lingered for so long." Uttarakhand has population of 1.01 Crores (10,086,292), according to Census 2011, an increase from figure of 84.89 Lakh in 2001 census, of which male and female are 5,137,773 and 4,948,519 respectively.

The Congress has promised 33 per cent reservation for women in government jobs, the setting up of a ministry of welfare for army personnel, and free smart phones to "every youth" with "free data and free calls for a year".

However, barring the promise of job reservation for women, there is little new in the resolutions and none of them offers a long-term vision for the state.

The BJP has not yet revealed its cards and maintained suspense over who will be its chief ministerial candidate in the hill state.

With veterans like N D Tiwari, Vijay Bahuguna, Yashpal Arya and Harak Singh Rawat shifting loyalties, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seems to be in the driver's seat in 'Devbhumi' as Uttarakhand is known.

Facing the possibility of anti-incumbency kicking in, the Congress has roped in election strategist Prashant Kishore to ensure that its control over Dehradun or Garsain, its future capital.

Kishore, however, is yet to come up with a solution, and there are some questioning his autocratic style of functioning.

Caste dynamics could also play a major role in the electoral fortunes of the state. Rajputs and Brahmins are predominant voters in the hilly areas of Kumaon and Garhwal, while the Terai region has a sizeable minority and Dalit population.

The Congress, which is in the midst of a turf war between Kishore Upadhayay and Harish Rawat, may find it difficult to win over Dalit votes.

The Rajput vote bank, however, appears to be in its pocket, ever loyal to Rawat. It is high time the Grand Old Party get its calculations correct and neutralise the BJP before it is too late.

Source: ANI