Tharali bye-poll: Why it will be a referendum for 'U-turn' Trivendra govt in Uttarakhand
Although it is just a bye-poll which is not going to have any bearing in terms of numbers in the state assembly, the Tharali by-election in Uttarakhand has assumed the stature of a referendum of sorts for the Trivendra Singh Rawat led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led government in the hill state. It will a barometer to test the popularity of the Trivendra government that continues to draw flak for being a 'U-turn' government that, like several other BJP governments, is accused of being good at making noises poor when it comes to delivery.
The Congress is desperate for a victory and wants to show that it is on the path of revival after a whitewash in last year's Assembly poll when it was trounced by the BJP that won 57 of the 70 seats. The party is now looking towards a better performance in the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls. To counter it, the BJP is going full throttle to retain this seat where a bye-poll has been necessitated following the demise of its MLA Magan Lal Shah. The BJP wants to send across the message that it still is the most popular choice of the people under the national leadership of its president Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The party had contested the assembly polls last year with Modi as its mascot and Trivendra had eventually emerged as a surprise candidate for the chief minister's post with his RSS backdrop helping him emerge the top choice of the party.
The BJP has fielded Shah's widow Munni Devi who is the Zilla Panchayat chairperson and is banking highly on the sympathy factor. The party has pressed several state level heavyweights into campaign.
On the other hand, the Congress has fielded former MLA Jeet Ram who had lost to Shah in the last year's poll. The flash floods in the Pindar river in 2013 that had washed away around 160 houses while damaging hundreds of others had a bearing on the fate of the Congress candidate in the 2017 polls. Apart from thee residential structures, a motorable bridge at Tharali along with several small bridges on different rivulets connecting around 50 small villages with arterial roads and several pedestrian bridges had also been washed out. The people were agitated over the slow pace of repairs and restoration works. The seat had been won by the Congress in 2012.
The Left parties have also closed ranks to field Kunwar Ram of CPM as their candidate while the lone regional force Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (UKD) has fielded Kashbi Lal Shah. Beere Ram is the lone independent horse in the race.
The result of the bye-poll would make no difference to the Trivendra led government in terms of numbers as it is firmly in the saddle with a brute majority but a loss would certainly add to its poor reputation on delivery of poll promises.
The state continues to face the issues pertaining to employment, poor health facilities and other infrastructure, migration and corruption. Uttarakhand is a classic example of the youngest small states being failed by their politicians and bureaucrats.
Trivendra government has earned the nomenclature of a 'U-turn sarkaar' for itself as the government has failed to deliver on what it had promised with aplomb.
The biggest issue being pointed out is the Rs 350 crore National Highway 74 scam. “It was Trivendra himself who had sought a CBI probe into the matter and has now reverted to the matter being investigated by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the state after the centre turned down his request and it was none other than union road transport and highways minister Nitin Gadkari who had opposed it,” points out senior Congress leader Suryakant Dhasmana.
Trivendra's opponents then refer to his promise of bringing in prohibition in the state and then not only going back on his promise but bringing in an excise policy that has rather facilitated easy access to alcohol in the remotest parts of the hills. “We have had mobile vans delivering alcohol and excise officials being suspended after being held responsible for liquor shops running in losses,” Dhasmana added.
The state government is also on the back foot for earlier promising and then going back on its words on the setting up of the institution of a Lokayukta and bringing about an anti-graft law.
Another prominent example being given in support of terming the government as a 'U-turn sarkaar' is the manner in which the government first allowed the private medical colleges to increase their fees and then retracting when the colleges went into an overdrive by increasing the fees by as much as seven times the prevailing structure. Locals say that these colleges raised fees from Rs 4 lakh per annum to Rs 28 lakh in certain courses before the government had to eat crow.
The BJP has been playing up the state government claims on zero tolerance for corruption while pointing at the more than 20 arrests that have been made in the NH 74 scam. It is also continuing with its promises of early delivery through the double engine government with the same party being in power in both the Centre as well as the state.
But there is another dimension as well to Trivendra not being on as firm a footing as he was at the time of his anointment. There has been dissidence brewing with many leaders, particularly those who had migrated ahead of the 2017 Assembly polls from the Congress to the BJP, upset at their being ignored and sidelined.
Trivendra trying to sideline former Congress heavyweight Satpal Maharaj is common knowledge and point of political discussions. “Satpal has always been seen as another contender for the chief minister's post. His coming from a religio-political backdrop and his close links with the RSS on religious grounds has been his strength. It is Amit Shah's backing that has been working in favour of Trivendra. The government has being trying to belittle Satpal Maharaj on various occasions and this is common knowledge,” said a political analyst based at Dehradun. Another former Congress leader Harak Singh Rawat who had migrated to the BJP is also learnt to be upset with Trivendra for his works being ignored. Sources say that the same is the case with former Congress chief minister Vijay Bahuguna who stands 'sidelined' after not being given any post of consequence.
It is amid such a scenario that Tharali will be sending a strong political signal on 28 May that will definitely have a bearing on the Lok Sabha polls in the state next year.