Uttarakhand election: To reach voters, Harish Rawat takes to the road
With several senior Congress leaders having defected to the BJP just before the Uttarakhand election, it is now left to Chief Minister Harish Rawat to get the Congress back into power. And in a calculated move, he has chosen the tried and tested formula of Indian politics to reach voters: taking out a yatra while trying to raise the bogey of parochial pride.
The yatra formula has been successfully deployed by the likes of BJP's LK Advani and Narendra Modi in the past. Advani is remembered for a series of yatras, the most prominent being the Ram Mandir Yatra of 1989; Modi undertook the Gujarat Gaurav Yatra ahead of the 2002 election to take advantage of the deep polarisation caused by the 2002 communal riots.
Rawat embarked upon his Uttarakhand Swabhiman Yatra Wednesday. The fortnight-long programme began from Kitcha in Udham Singh Nagar, one of the two seats he is contesting from, the other being Haridwar Rural. Through the yatra, the Congress aims to remind voters of the "struggle for carving out a separate identity for Uttarakhand and to establish a strong foundation for its growth story".
According to a member of Prashant Kishor's Indian Political Action Committee, which is managing the Congress's campaign in the state, "Uttarakhand Swabhiman Yatra will reach every household through corner meetings, rallies, padyatras, road shows. The other interesting elements of this yatra entail 'Rawat Sang Dawat' (lunch with Rawat at a party worker's home) and 'Jan Bhoj' (dinner with party workers)".
The chief minister "will seek blessings and support of his people during the course of this mega yatra which also aims to invoke collective swabhiman of the state of Uttarakhand". The yatra aims to touch all 70 constituencies in the state.
Rawat is the first chief minister of Uttarakhand to contesting the election from two seats. "It is a clever move. He is expecting his party to do well in Kumaon as he is known as the face of the region. But at the same time, he's trying to garner maximum support for Congress in the Terai and the plains by contesting from the two constituencies located here," said a political observer based in Dehradun.
As many as 26 constituencies are considered to fall in the ambiguously defined Terai region and the plains - 11 in Haridwar; nine in Udham Singh Nagar; Lal Kuan, Ramnagar and Haldwani in Nainital; Doiwala, Rishikesh and Sahaspur in Dehradun.
The Congress is trying to win the maximum seats in Haridwar and Udham Singh Nagar, where it hadn't done well the last time. The BJP had won five seats in Haridwar and seven in Udham Singh Nagar. The Congress is apparently banking on the fact that most of its leaders who have defected to the BJP and are contesting on the saffron party's tickets come from Garhwal region. The Congress leaders who have joined the BJP include heavyweights such as Vijay Bahuguna, Harak Singh Rawat and Yashpal Arya.
Rawat is selling the rehabilitation work his government has done since the Kedarnath disaster of 2012. He is trying to convey that his government was able to revive tourism in the region, which is a source of livelihood for much of the rural population.
Meanwhile, Rawat has launched a digital citizen engagement initiative for grievance redressal and agenda-setting under the slogan "Kijiye Apni Samasyayon Ko Sanjha, 100 Din Mein Hamara Unko Hal Kanrne Ka Vada (Please share your problems, we will resolve them in 100 days)". His digital public outreach programme is called 'Harda Ko Bol', calling upon the people to submit their issues and concerns so that Rawat can resolve them within 100 days of forming the next government.
"Under the initiative, the Congress government will collect citizen issues for early resolution, which will be a priority for the Rawat government. He is making a personal commitment to set up a task force in the first 100 days of the Congress government and resolve these issues in a time-bound manner," said a member of the Congress campaign team.
The promise encapsulates, for the first time, making people of Uttarakhand active participants and stakeholders in setting the agenda of the government. The programme was announced on Rawat's Facebook page.
It seems inspired by the Congress campaign led by Amarinder Singh in Punjab. Under this campaign, each individual who registers his or her grievances at www.hardakobolo.com will get a receipt through SMS and email along with an IVRS of Rawat assuring that the listed grievances will be solved within 100 days into the new government. The people can also submit their grievances on a specified WhatsApp number (8090680906).
Another prong of the Congress' poll strategy is giving representation to the minority communities. The party has fielded three Muslim candidates and a Gurkha.
On the other side, the BJP's campaign is focused on Rawat government's failure to "deliver" in the last five years. It is also accusing the Congress government of massive corruption.