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Harish Rawat’s Congress washed away by a Modi wave in Uttarakhand

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 11 March 2017, 15:19 IST

In the hill state of Uttarakhand, it was the strong undercurrent of a Modi wave that lost the Harish Rawat-led Congress party the election. Although symptoms of this wave were evident in the Garhwal region, it reached its crest to cover the entire state, leading to the rout of many Congress heavyweights.

But this wave is all set to have a detrimental impact on the BJP as well - heavy infighting is expected over the next few days as there are far too many claimants for the prized post of the new chief minister.

If it chooses a leader like Satpal Maharaj who has come from the Congress, it will face the wrath of the RSS cadres and traditionally committed BJP workers. If it chooses someone with a strong RSS background there will be resentment among others.

The Congress loss

For the Congress, all calculations went horribly wrong. The strategy adopted by Rawat to contest from the two seats of Kiccha in the Terai region and Haridwar (Rural) in the plains to help the Congress re-establish its foothold in these regions - that account for 20 seats in the 70 member state assembly - backfired in a big way. 

His own losses reflect Congress’ fortunes in the hill state. It could also be a spill over impact from neighbouring Uttar Pradesh as the BJP retained the stronghold that it had managed to establish in 2012 in these areas.

Congress workers were not happy with the choice of candidates in more than 50 of the 70 seats

It seems that Rawat failed to market the rehabilitation work his government had carried out after the Kedarnath tragedy. But his failure to capitalise on the chaos within the BJP that had resulted from the poaching of a large number of Congress heavyweights last year has cost him the most. He could neither play the victim successfully over the BJP attempt to dislodge his government last year, nor could he make gains from the BJP chaos.

Observers also point out that the distribution of tickets by the Congress turned out to be a major flaw as Congress workers were not happy with the choice of candidates in more than 50 of the 70 seats. The condition was quite similar within the BJP but the strong Modi undercurrent took care of that. 

There was also a clear mismatch at work between Congress workers on the ground and the IPAC team deputed by the Congress poll strategist Prashant Kishor. The lack of co-ordination was primarily evident in the hill constituencies where the Congress workers threatened to launch formal complaints to the central party leadership on the issue.

The BJP victory

The BJP had begun the campaign in the state on an advantageous note. It had the heavy anti-incumbency against the Harish Rawat government on its side.

The hill state also has the tradition of choosing an alternate government every five years. The people of this state, particularly in the hill districts, have always felt cheated by the politicians and bureaucrats and have tried alternate governments in the face of the absence of a third alternative. 

But apart from these factors, it was Prime Minister Narendra Modi's persona that worked for the BJP in a big way. At many places the people were not even aware of the local candidates but wanted to vote for Modi. In terms of the campaign, Modi and the BJP president Amit Shah had ensured that the state was bombarded with heavy duty campaigning by the entire central leadership of the BJP. Towards the end there were no less than a dozen central ministers and BJP leaders campaigning all the across the state.

The hill state has the tradition of choosing an alternate government every five years

Modi was also able to play up the nationalist sentiment in the state in a big way. The BJP leadership kept on reminding the voters, particularly in Garhwal, how it had gone ahead to choose the National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Bipin Rawat from the state.

The BJP leaders were also successful in winning over the huge number of ex-servicemen on the issue of One Rank One Pension (OROP) while claiming that it was only the BJP that had delivered on their demand. In the plains the party played up the surgical strikes across the Line of Control (Loc) to get the desired results.

Much to the relief of the BJP, the issue of demonetisation did not work against it anywhere in the state despite the fact that the people had suffered in a big way on account of it. A large number of residents in the hill districts have returned after losing their jobs but somehow they were convinced with the BJP narrative that all this was needed to bring out black money and the society at large would benefit from the move in the long run.

The narrative on terror funding also did not boomerang on the BJP. Another factor at work in the hills has been that there is a money order economy at work and concepts like cashless economy have no meaning for the people in this set up.

In the plains and the Terai, the demonetisation had led to a lot of anger on account of closure of factories and farmers not getting reasonable prices for their produce but all this did not translate into vote against the BJP.

But having won the polls, the problems for the BJP only begin from here.

There will be many who will try to stop the party leadership from bringing in a new face as the chief minister as this will ruin their chances of getting the post in the near future. Besides the party will have to address the Garhwal-Kumaon divide, the Thakur-Brahmin equation along side the hill -plains divide in the state. The party will also have to prepare a road map to address the peculiar socio economic issues in the state.

First published: 11 March 2017, 15:19 IST