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Uttarakhand Polls: It could be a close fight in the land of Gods

Uttarakhand Chief Minister, Pushkar Singh Dhani, doing door-to-door election campaign for the Assembly elections (Pic. Courtesy ANI)

Uttarakhand also called "Devbhoomi"(Land of God) could possibly witness a close contest between the ruling BJP and its political rival-Congress. The Opinion polls have so far come up with mixed predictions. While the one conducted projected a "stiff competition" giving 33-35 seats for BJP and Congress each, the one conducted by Times Now predicted a landslide victory for BJP with anything between 44-50 seats.

However, ground reports emanating from the region lean towards the first prediction. "It's not going to be a cakewalk for us," a BJP leader from the state revealed.  A senior Congress functionary echoed the same view."It's going to be a close fight." Of the 70 assembly berths, BJP has 57 MLAs while the Congress has 11 in its kitty.

The saffron insiders believe that "anti-incumbency, unemployment and price rise" could be issues hurting the party.

Sensing that unemployment has emerged as a major election issue both Congress and BJP have been promising lakhs of jobs. But none of the outfits has so far been able to come up with any concrete roadmap. Throwing its hat into the ring the Aam Aadmi Party promised 5,000 per month to the unemployed youth. According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), "while the working-age population in Uttarakhand has risen by 14 per cent in the last five years, the employment rate has come down to 30.43 per cent in December 2021 from 40.10 per cent in December 2016."

What also hit the BJP was the constant change of leadership in the state. Over the past few years, the party changed three chief ministers starting from Trivendra Singh Rawat to Tirath Singh Rawat to Pushkar Singh Dhani. In an interview with a news portal present chief minister, Dhani claimed that the changes were not going to be an issue. "It is not at all an issue for the public. You can see it like this: It is a car that has to reach its destination and in between drivers have changed, but the car is definitely reaching its destination," Dhani told the news portal.

The BJP functionary from the state also revealed that a majority of the government employees "are upset with the ruling party." The issues which had upset the state government employees ranged from "no work no pay" rules in 2021 to transfers and postings. There are over five lakh government employees in the state. "Dhani tried to do some damage control, but it was too little and too late," said the BJP functionary.

However, what could work in BJP's favour was its strong organisational network. A Congress functionary maintained a strong organisation network and efficient booth management could help BJP "breast the tape." It may be recalled that last year BJP had launched -"Vikas ki baat-Booth ke saath" and been holding 10 meetings in every booth across the state. Compared to BJP's well-oiled machinery working round the clock in and around the booths, the Congress "has nothing', the party leader said. "It's more or less like a personal army for the Congress candidates. If you have an army of workers, your booth management could be somewhat better," he maintained.  Talking about the Congress CM's face, Harish Rawat, the functionary said that he has an advantage of the prevailing anti-incumbency but "lacks the charisma, he once had."

The Congress is also apparently in trouble in one of the state's most prestigious assembly seats-Haldwani. Congress had held the seat since 2007. The seat was last held by veteran Congress leader, Indira Hridayaesh, who passed away last year. Adhering to the dynasty politics, the party fielded her son, Sumit from this constituency. The party leaders felt that Sumit's selection could possibly "hurt" the party. While his supporters believe that Sumit would be able to gather "sympathy votes," others claimed that his selection has divided the workers in the constituency, "who may vote for the rivals."

Moreover Muslim population in this constituency is around 30 per cent while the rest is Hindu. Traditionally the majority of the Muslim votes went to Congress, which helped the party retain the turf. This time, however, AIMIM and Samajwadi Party have fielded Muslim candidates. The Congress insiders apprehend while the BJP candidate could garner a majority of the Hindu votes, the Muslim votes could be split between Congress, AIMIM and SP. "This could make things difficult for the Congress candidate," the party insider said.

Also Read: PM Modi's virtual rally in Uttarakhand on Friday morning cancelled due to bad weather