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Uttarakhand 2012: Who Gained, Who Lost?

The 2012 assembly elections not only saw a totally fractured mandate in Uttarakhand but also the historic defeat of the Bharatiya Janata Party Chief Minister B C Khanduri. Even as delimitation shifted more seats to the Plains compared to the Hills, caste politics, intra-party rivalries, poor choice of candidates and internal sabotaging meant that neither national party emerged as a clear winner or loser in the process.

COMMENTARY

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Uttarakhand 2012

Who Gained, Who Lost?

Annpurna Nautiyal

-fractured mandate of the people. The state also witnessed the unfortunate and unexpected defeat of B C Khanduri, the chief ministerial candidate launched with the slogan Khanduri hain jarooriee (“Khanduri is indispensable”) to save the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from

The 2012 assembly elections not only saw a totally fractured mandate in Uttarakhand but also the historic defeat of the Bharatiya Janata Party Chief Minister B C Khanduri. Even as delimitation shifted more seats to the Plains compared to the Hills, caste politics, intra-party rivalries, poor choice of candidates and internal sabotaging meant that neither national party emerged as a clear winner or loser in the process.

Annpurna Nautiyal (annpurna43@hotmail.com) is with the HNB Garhwal University, Srinagar, Uttarakhand.

U
ttarakhand, carved out of big ungovernable Uttar Pradesh (UP) in 2000, presents an interesting contrast of hope and despair. The result of a mass movement against the continuous neglect of the region and the discriminatory and irrational policies of successive UP governments, the creation of Uttarakhand was viewed as the victory of the common people.

Since its creation, Uttarakhand has witnessed three assembly elections and two Lok Sabha elections, but people’s hopes of progress are yet to be converted into reality. The state still remains devoid of robust development and qualitative improvement in terms of basic infrastructural facilities. The blame for the unfulfilled dreams and development defi cit falls on the opportunistic and visionless leadership of the state. Every small or big leader aspires to become chief minister but has little concrete to offer to resolve the basic problems of the people.

The fractured mandate given by the people in the 2012 assembly election in Uttarakhand is a clear example of people’s despair and mistrust of both the national political parties. Of the fi ve states which went to the polls recently, Uttarakhand was the one with the totally the disgrace of corruption, scams and bad governance. The intense political manipulation, caste politics, intra-party rivalry, internal sabotaging and large numbers of independent candidates, who contested against their parent parties after denial of tickets, were together responsible for the extraordinary verdict which cast both parties as winners and losers simultaneously.

Ironically, Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (UKD), the party created during the 1970s to work for the cause of Uttarakhand’s development, is on the verge of total extinction from the political scene due to its various political divides. In the 2012 assembly elections, one of the factions of the UKD, UKD-P, was able to acquire one seat from Yamunotri assembly constituency. But the sitting Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) Diwakar Bhatt, and Om Gopal Rawat of the other faction of the UKD-D, who had contested on the symbol of the BJP, both lost their seats from Devprayag and Narendranagar assembly constituencies of Tehri Garhwal parliamentary constituency.

New political parties like the Uttarakhand Raksha Morcha, formed by T P S Rawat, which contested on 43 seats aiming to become an important regional power also failed totally as none of its

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candidate could capture any of the seats. However, this party also included some disgruntled candidates from the BJP (like K S Phonia) and the Congress (R S Gunsala, Renu Bisht, Srikant Verma, etc), who played an important role in cutting the vote share of the BJP and the Congress, thereby reducing the margin of victory in various seats. The mushrooming of new political parties and the large number of candidates, 788 in all, including 262 independents and 63 women who contested elections in 70 assembly seats, not only increased political uncertainties but also made it quite difficult for the people to choose the right candidates.

Though the political landscape in Uttarakhand has largely revolved around the two national parties, the marginal difference in vote percentage between victory and defeat in the last few elections reflects people’s restlessness with the non-delivery of the promises made during elections. In 2012, Congress could only win 32 seats, only 10 seats more than 2007 and BJP’s closed its tally at 31 seats, only losing three seats compared to the previous election. Both parties found themselves close to power but also far away because the key to the formation of government depends on the support of the four independents (including the UKD-P) and the three candidates of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) to prove majority. In the 2012 election, BSP’s performance remained poor despite its strong support base and infl uence among the dalit and Muslim voters in the Plains areas. Though it could hold on to only three seats compared to its eight seats in 2007, these seats have assumed significance in the present political scenario. Currently, the Congress has been invited to form the government as it has managed the support of the independents (and at the time of publishing, also of the BSP).

Seats in the Plains had increased from 34 to 36 due to delimitation, with a corresponding reduction of seats from the Hills from 40 to 34. Interestingly, the BJP performed better than the Congress in the Plains compared to the hill areas. It captured five seats from the Haridwar parliamentary constituency. The Congress and BSP both got only three seats each, indicating that the BJP is no more an untouchable party in the Plains areas. In Nainital parliamentary constituency, too, BJP got seven seats, the Congress only two, and the BSP and Samajwadi Party (SP) could not even open their accounts. Congress’ performance was so bad that its sitting MLA from Rudrapur, Tilak Raj Behar, who had floated the idea of having a deputy chief minister from the Plains on account of the increase of seats from these areas, could not even save his own seat. People felt that the demand of a deputy chief minister from the Plains could be dangerous as it could change the political contours of the state, shifting the seat of power from the Hills to the Plains areas and thus defeating the very purpose for which the hill state was created.

Delimitation

The delimitation, in fact, also emerged as a factor, changing the political game for leaders of different parties. Dhumakot, the original assembly seat of stalwarts like B C Khanduri, and the Thalisain assembly seat represented by Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank in the Pauri Garhwal parliamentary constituency ceased to exist. Khanduri had to shift his base and contest from Kotdwar, and Nishank from Doiwala assembly seat. In the Congress, too, leaders like Harak Singh Rawat and Ganesh Godiyal had to change their seats and contest from Rudraprayag and Srinagar assembly constituencies respectively. This phenomenon added another interesting dimension of intra-party rivalry and internal sabotaging of votes among the candidates. In some cases, the stalwarts of both parties tried their best to discreetly cut vote shares by promoting and supporting candidate from other parties or putting up dummy candidates.

The historic defeat of Khanduri from Kotdwar confirmed the conspiracy theory about intra-party rivalry and internal sabotaging of votes that was doing the rounds in political circles from the very day Khanduri decided to contest from this seat and denied the ticket to the sitting MLA, Shailendra Singh Rawat. Besides provoking dissent within the party and projecting Khanduri as an outsider, this also polarised voters on brahmin versus Rajput, as became evident from the defeat of Khanduri, a brahmin candidate. The caste equation and sabotaging of votes assured the victory of Congress’ Rajput candidate Surendra Singh Negi, who had lost in 2007 to BJP’s Shailendra Singh Rawat. Interestingly, in other seats, such caste politics were not seen. Khanduri appeared like the captain of the sinking ship, who could save the maximum number of sailors but unfortunately not himself.

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There were also media reports that annoyance with the manner Nishank was replaced and Khanduri inducted as chief minister just before elections caused pro-Nishank groups to sabotage Khanduri’s prospects in the election. On the other hand, Nishank’s victory from Doiwala assembly seat indicated a better management and engagement strategy. But the phenomenon of the migration of the chief ministers from the Hills became more relevant in view of an old saying Pahar kee jawani aur pahar kaa pani rahey pahar kaey leeya bamani (The water and youth of the hill areas are not useful for the Hills as they both give services to the plain areas).

Though the Congress Party candidates also had to shift their bases due to intra-party rivalries or denial of tickets, very few lost like Khanduri. The shifting of Harak Singh Rawat, the leader of the opposition and topmost contender for the chief ministership to Rurdaprayag assembly seat, where he had to contest against his own brother-in-law, the BJP leader Matbar Singh Kandari, who had held this seat for a long time, gave weight to speculation in the media that Harak Singh Rawat was deliberately pushed into such a contest so as to curtail his growing political aspirations. This situation interestingly saw the powerful Harak Singh burst into tears in full public view in a political rally. The melodramatic crying indirectly brought out his anger against his party for being forced to contest in such a tricky situation. But it seems Harak Singh Rawat’s crying tactics worked very well in his favour; with the help of the sympathy votes, he defeated his brother-in-law and proved his mettle.

Another sitting MLA, Mantri Prasad Naithani, who was denied a ticket by the Congress, also used similar crying tactics to announce his candidature as an independent candidate. His crying tactics also worked and he defeated the BJP’s Diwakar Bhatt. Now, as an independent candidate, his bargaining position has increased immensely as he holds the key to power. Other independents in positions of power include Dinesh Dhanai, who won from the Tehri assembly seat by defeating his Congress rival Kishore Upadhaya by 377 votes and Harish Durgapal who won from the newly constituted Lalkuan assembly constituency.

Internal Differences

Besides indicating the wrong choice of candidates given tickets by denying veterans, these instances also highlight internal differences which proved damaging for both parties. As a result, in Chamoli district, considered a BJP stronghold, BJP could not even open its account. All the three seats went to the Congress which gave tickets to two new candidates – Rajendra Bhandari who was part of the BJP cabinet from 2007 but decided to contest on a Congress ticket from Badrinath assembly seat, and Jeet Ram from Tharali seat. The Karanprayag seat was retained by the old Congress veteran A P Maikhuri who defeated his BJP rival Harish Pujari by 270 votes, because Pujari’s vote share was cut by Anil Nautiyal, a disgruntled BJP leader, who contested as an independent.

The damage control exercise just before the assembly elections of replacing Nishank as chief minister with B C Khanduri, who was previously replaced after the BJP lost all five parliamentary seats in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, increased the BJP’s tally of seats and made it the second largest party. But slogans like Ghotalo par ghotala Uttarakhand kaa nikala diwala; naa doctor, naa adyapak aab yahi hai devbhoomi kee kahani, saat saal main paanch sawar Uttarakhand kaa kiya bantadhar refl ected people’s despair with the BJP. The impeccable image and working style of B C Khanduri no doubt rescued the BJP, but the denial of tickets to non-performing MLAs and the alacrity with which the BJP government under the new chief minister passed the Uttarakhand Lokayukta Bill were seen only as election gimmicks by the people. The impact of people’s distrust was so large that at least five ministers of the Khanduri cabinet, including Prakash Pant from Pithoragarh, B S Bhoriyal from the Kapkot seat of the Almora parliamentary constituency, T S Rawat and Diwakar Bhatt from Tehri parliamentary constituency and Matbar Singh Kandari from Pauri Garhwal constituency lost their seats, allowing Nishank to issue a statement after the results that under his leadership, the party could have won 40 seats.

On the other hand, the Congress party’s election agenda focused on development but people’s experience with Congress in Uttarakhand has also not been good. In the first two years of the state’s creation, the Congress formed the government in Uttarakhand but the hill areas as usual remained cut-off from mainstream development. The despair against Congress was also refl ected in

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slogans like Joo kha gayai desh ko woo kaisa bachayangai Pradesh ko, joo liyae desh main mahagai us party say Uttarakhand ko bachana hai, 2-G ghotala, commonwealth ghotala and aadarsh ghotala Congress ney kiya desh kaa deewala. But, despite the desperation, the antiincumbency factor and the BJP’s poor performance in all the sectors gave a

slight edge to the Congress over the BJP. With the help of independents, the Congress is forming the government in Uttarakhand. However, the Congress’ path is also difficult as factionalism within the party and the lack of majority votes will not allow a smooth sailing.

The 2012 assembly election which became eventful due to caste politics,

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wrong choice of candidates, internal sabotaging and an unclear mandate has brought more despair than hope. Looking at the whole political scenario, the question of who gained or who lost remains unanswered. Both the political parties are almost equally rated by the people. Ultimately it is people of Uttarakhand who are at a loss.

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april 7, 2012 vol xlviI no 14

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