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Uttarakhand polls: Aggressive BJP, resurgent Left could keep Cong from Almora hat-trick

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 19:55 IST

Almora, the cultural capital of Uttarakhand is standing at political crossroads on the eve of polling for the Assembly elections. The constituency is reflective of many things other than defections that are the hallmark of Uttarakhand elections this time.

The sitting Congress MLA Manoj Tewari is eyeing a hat-trick but the odds are stacked against him. He is facing a stiff challenge from the BJP's Raghunath Singh Chauhan. The Left is contesting the seat for the first time with a powerful people-centric agenda. Then there are regional parties like Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (UKD) and Uttarakhand Parivartan Party (UPP) who have remained on the sidelines despite their leaders having been at the helm in the statehood agitation and also in various social movements.

There are also contestants from the Samajwadi Party and BSP in fray apart from four independents. The constituency has 87,675 voters, including 42,526 women.

One thing is for sure, the election won't be a cakewalk for Tewari. The BJP, which has overcome factionalism, is fancying its chances this time.

Caste dynamics

Tewari, a close confidant of chief minister Harish Rawat, is a soft spoken leader from the Brahmin community. He is contesting on the development plank and points to the starting of the construction of a proposed medical college in Almora and construction of a barrage on the Kosi river for providing potable water. He also claims to have been working for expediting the work at Uday Shankar Center of Performing Arts at Almora so that it can regain its glory of the past.

Chauhan on the other hand, is from the Thakur community and has sought votes in the name of Prime Minister Narendra Modi while promising to address issues related to local governance and corruption. The BJP has been contesting the Congress' claims saying that both the medical college and the Kosi barrage had been conceived during the tenure of chief minister Bhuvan Chandra Khanduri and even the foundation stone of Uday Shankar Academy was laid by former president APJ Abdul Kalam during the NDA regime

Smaller parties pack a punch.

The CPM candidate Dinesh Pande has been debunking both of them while raising questions like where will the faculty for the medical college come from and why this project has been hanging despite the state government having signed two memorandums of understanding.

He has also been saying that the Kosi barrage is not an answer to the water scarcity because Kosi is not a river fed by glaciers but by natural water outlets. "Why have the successive governments failed to execute the Saryu pumping scheme?" he asks.

Pande has been traveling to the villages and one of the issues raised by him that has caught the fancy of people, particularly the women, is that the jobs done by them like bringing fodder, fire wood, working in the fields and rearing cattle should be brought under the purview of MNREGA.

The CPM is significant because Almora happens to be the home of first general secretary of the undivided Communist Party of India, PC Joshi. It was also home to playwright, theatre director, music composer Mohan Upreti who was deeply influenced by Joshi. His famous tune 'Bedu pako barah masa' is played across the country even today. Locals point out that the Left movement received a setback in the region when several communist leaders were detained after the 1962 India-China war. They say that the vacuum was quickly usurped by the RSS. Pandey says the CPM became active in the district in 1990.

The constituency is in dire need of civic infrastructure in terms of proper roads and sewerage. Its rural sections have a long list of issues that remain unresolved. These include an end to the menace of wild boar and monkeys, water scarcity, road connectivity, proper health and education facilities besides the all important employment avenues.

The military remains the biggest employer of the youth from the villages. Many youngsters who were working in various parts of the country, lost their jobs and had to return to their villages as a result of PM Narendra Modi's demonetisation policy.

This is an issue which parties other than the Congress and the BJP are trying to raise among the public in the villages. The disillusionment with the two main parties is very high in rural areas and around a dozen of villages have announced a boycott of the polls. The villagers have also been complaining of not getting work under MNREGA, pointing that since there are no officials being appointed at the block level, the implementation of the scheme has been shoddy.

There is also the issue of the traditional livelihood of the Tamta community that falls in the Scheduled Caste category. The members of the community are pointing out that the previous regimes have made a lot of noise on making Almora a 'Copper City' to promote their vocation of making copper utensils. But nothing has been done in this direction. The machine manufactured copper utensils from the plains are threatening their very existence.

According to parties like UKD and UPP, successive governments having done nothing to address the concerns of the hill economy and agriculture. They say that the main parties have been busy plundering the hills while overlooking the aspirations and sentiments of the local population.

First published: 14 February 2017, 19:55 IST