It is a tale of irony when it comes to Uttarakhand's oldest regional force the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (UKD) that was at the helm of affairs during the agitation for attaining statehood. The UKD now is standing on the margins, facing the threat of disappearing into oblivion. They are now fighting a battle of survival in these elections for the state Assembly.
It has been a story of continuous decline for the UKD for the last two decades. There was a time during which people used to vouch that this was the party that would form the first elected government in Uttarakhand.
UKD was viewed as a party that represented the sentiment and the aspirations of the people of the hill state. It was seen as a force that would address the concerns of the people of the remote districts who had agitated for long to get a separate state in the Indian union. But the party has proved to be a grand failure.
The UKD could just manage to win four of the 70 seats in the first state polls in 2002. In 2007 the tally came down to three.
In the last assembly polls held in 2012, the slide continued and the party managed to win only one seat of Yamunotri where its candidate Pritam Singh Panwar won on the UKD ticket. This time he is contesting as an independent. UKD's vote share eroded from 5.49% in 2002 to 1.93% in 2012.
The party is desperately trying to keep its head above water in the political sphere of the state in these elections. It is hoping to win at least seven seats out of the 59 it is contesting.
The party was initially in talks with other groups like Uttarakhand Parivartan Party (UPP) to cobble up a Janwadi Morcha but the talks fell apart because UPP was keen on contesting 35 seats while the UKD was willing to give only 15.
“Apart from this, they were seeking to field their candidates on seats like Dwarahat and Didihat that have been our traditional strongholds with leaders like Kashi Singh Airy and Vipin Tripathi having represented them. Vipin's son Pushpesh Tripathi has also won the Dwarahat seat in the past and remains a strong contender there. How could we surrender such seats,” party leader Sunil Dhyani asked.
The party claims to have taken certain steps to prevent its further downslide in the state politics. Primary among them is the coming together of the two factions represented by Pushpesh and Trivendra Panwar.
This has also meant that the party retains its traditional symbol of 'Kursi' (chair). This symbol had been frozen by the Election Commission of India just before the 2012 Assembly Polls and this had lead to considerable damage to the party's image as well as its stakes.
In the last polls, the two factions of the party led by Diwakar Bhatt and Trivendra had contested on the symbols of a kite and a cup and saucer respectively.
A major decision taken by the party this time is that it has made clear that its winning candidates would not align with any of the parties in the assembly. The UKD will neither support any political party from outside nor ally with them.
The party leaders feel that the party backing the Congress and the BJP after various State Assembly polls have led to the denudation of its own political base in the state. UKD had backed the Congress in 2002, the BJP in 2007 and the Congress again in 2012.
Party leaders feel that this had led to its legislators getting inclined towards the party that the UKD supported and started ignoring the parent party itself. This reflected in the poor performance by the party in the next polls.
Dhyani also points to the lack of political foresight of the UKD leadership and the leaders practising politics of opportunism as the key factors why UKD has been pushed to the margins of the state politics.
This time around the party also went in for early announcement of its candidates. It has also set up its units in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Mumbai, Punjab, Maharashtra and Rajasthan where people from Uttarakhand are residing in large numbers. Volunteers from these units are helping the party candidates contest the polls.
“Our volunteers from Delhi have pitched in with the printing of our pamphlets, manifesto and brochures. The teams from Punjab and Mumbai have landed here to campaign for us. There are more than 1,37,00,000 Uttarakhandis living outside the state and we are reaching out to them through our Pravasi Prakosht,” said a party leader.
He pointed that the party's major shortcoming is in terms of finances. It is running low on finance as compared to the two main parties in the state.
The party leaders also added that the party got back its symbol only on 12 January and to convey this to the masses is a big challenge.
Will the UKD be able to resurrect itself? Only time will tell.
Edited by Jhinuk Sen