Uttarakhand: Stiff battle ahead

The state of Uttarakhand has five parliamentary constituencies of which three are in Garhwal and two in Kumaon region respectively. The constituencies in Garhwal region are Tehri, Haridwar, and Pauri. The two constituencies of Kumaon are Nanital-Udhamsingh Nagar and Almora which also is a reserved constituency. Since the formation of the state in 2002 the state government has been dominated by the two main stream political parties, Congress and BJP respectively, while the regional parties such as the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (UKD) which  were on the fore front of the state agitation gradually lost out to the two national parties. In the last elections the BJP was in power and heading the state governments while the Congress which was in opposition won all the five parliament seats. This was a source of embarrassment for the BJP leading to Gen Khanduri, who was then heading the state government, tendering his resignation. Currently the Congress is in power and the BJP wishes to return the favour to the Congress of a 5-0 win, which may lead to political instability at the state government level post the elections. There is as usual a lot of infighting amongst all the political parties but this is more pronounced in the Congress such that the candidates for the various constituencies were declared very late and the main person to defect from the Congress to the BJP was a real heavy weight Satpal Maharaj, who is sulking because he was not made the chief minister in place of Harish Rawat. Thus the BJP stole a march in the initial phases of the electioneering but while going to the polls the battle looks even. The battles are keenly fought and the victory margins are not very heavy.   

Uttarakhand goes to the polls on 7 May 2014, the second last date in the long drawn out polling process. The polls got more and more acrimonious as the summer heat caught up; needless to say one hardly expected such poor language from our leaders. Initially the BJP was well prepared for the polls but slowly the Congress caught up. The contest as usual will be well contested as the voters are very well aware of the ground realities, although Modi did make it a point to address a rally in each and every constituency of the five seats, as he felt every seat counted for mission 272 plus. Barring aside two seats, Haridwar and Tehri, the Aam Aadmi Party is yet to make inroads. These elections as the electioneering progressed the state centric issues gradually took a back seat and other issues came to the forefront which is not healthy for a state like Uttarakhand considering that these issues are not addressed hereafter and cannot afford to be on the back burner.

The first issue is of security, as the state shares borders with two neighbours China and Nepal. The security ramifications of the same have never been discussed by any of the candidates or the parties. Of the 71.24 lakh voters there are 1.21 lakh veterans, more than 34,000 widows, around 85,000 serving soldiers, and more than a lakh para military soldiers, each supporting at least three making a huge total of nine to 10 lakh voters. Thus the initial deceleration of one rank one Pension (OROP) was made hear by Rahul Gandhi. The state has a young demographic profile, nearly 40 lakh plus voters below 40 years of age of which around five per cent or more are first time voters per constituency.

In spite of the odds favouring the soldier not a single new soldier has been given a party ticket, there is only the old war horse Gen Khanduri who has been in politics for nearly 20 years now. The next state issue that was missing is that of hill centric development. The issue of development of a separate Himalayan model for the hill states has not found any takers. In fact the development model is plains centric thus migration from the hills, this is not a state or a local issue but a national issue and it affects seven hill states critically, Uttarakhand, Himachal, J&K, Sikkim, Arunachal, Meghalaya, and parts of West Bengal but together these states are clubbed as minor states and do not get their due in national politics as the add up to a measly total of around  34 seats or so little realising that they are the border states and affect India’s security.

Migration from the hills is a serious national issue and is hardly discussed. The role of infrastructure in the fragile hills, the role of big dams with electricity being supplied to plains and development plans of improving human development indices are part of the larger picture, which have been glossed over. 

The deluge of 16 June last year put Uttarakhand in the news for all the wrong reasons. The char dham yatra is a national event and not one of Uttarakhand alone, but it hardly finds a place anywhere and is hardly debated, although it is claimed that 7,000 crores have been sanctioned. It is the bed rock of economic activity of Tehri, Garhwal and Haridwar constituencies but is only mentioned in passing to press charges against one another. The development blue print was neither sought nor presented to the people and not a single candidate has given a comprehensive plan of how he will ensure 16 June disaster does not reoccur, the issue is sidelined by all.

The loss due to floods in Kumaon repeatedly since 2010, 2012, and 2013 has been sidelined. No political party has presented what they can achieve with a 5-0 win, how a 4-1 result hamper development at state level, the negative impact of a 3-2 win affecting development, only 5-0 counts for revenge sake or to increase their respective bargaining chips in 
getting a minister ship. Why should we give them a 5-0 lead if they do not have a clear cut party blue print?

The elections must have the correct mix of state and central issues, but right now what counts is mission 272 for the BJP and to stop the BJP from forming the next government for the Congress. These elections have taken a very personal tone. India is a parliament party democracy and not an American style presidential democracy. Any hybrid model does have its short comings. Let’s hope our strong institutions keep things in check.

The author is a retired brigadier
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