Do-or-die poll battle on cards in Uttarakhand
Dehradun: With the ruling BJP fiercely defending its throne and the opposition Congress desperate to avenge its 2017 humilation, a do-or-die battle is on the cards on February 14, when the two parties grapple with each other yet again in the Uttarakhand Assembly polls.
The largely bipolar politics of the state involving the two national parties, which have been alternately in power, has got a new twist this time with Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) also in the fray, offering itself as an alternative to the Congress and the BJP.
While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has set itself a target of winning more than 60 of the 70 Assembly seats in the state, poll observers feel it is unrealistic on the part of the saffron party, which is totally ignoring the anti-incumbency factor.
According to poll commentator JS Rawat, repeating its tally of 57 seats in the last Assembly polls could be a tall order for the BJP.
Even the Modi factor, which was behind the party's comprehensive win in the last polls, is not as strong as it was in 2017, he said.
The rollback of three contentious agriculture laws may have done some damage control, but the farmers in some of the seats in the Kumaon belt, including Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami's Khatima constituency, have been able to keep the issue alive to a great extent, he added.
Giving three chief ministers to the state within five years and bringing about political instability despite a big mandate is another factor that may eclipse the BJP's chances.
However, insiders in the saffron party said the move is going to work in its favour as it has offset the impact of anti-incumbency that might have been there against the former chief ministers.
Citing an example, they said there was discontent among the priest community against Trivendra Singh Rawat as he had set up the Chardham Devasthanam Board, but his removal as chief minister and the subsequent withdrawal of the Act that had led to the creation of the board have lured them back to the BJP.
State BJP spokesperson Shadab Shams expressed confidence that the jinx of the party in power losing at the hustings every five years will be broken this time in Uttarakhand.
"We did it in the 2019 general election, in which we retained all the five Lok Sabha seats in the state, and we will do it again. It is not such a big deal," he told PTI.
Apart from the Modi magic, which the party feels is intact, another factor that will work in its favour is the "double-engine" government due to which the hill state has seen "unprecedented" development in terms of road, rail and air connectivity, despite prolonged Covid lockdowns, Shams said, in a reference to the BJP being in power both at the Centre and in the state.
Routed at the hands of the BJP in the last Assembly polls and deserted by party heavyweights, a resurgent Congress on the other hand faces the uphill task of avenging its ignominious defeat in 2017.
Former chief minister Harish Rawat, who had lost from both the seats he had contested in 2017, is spearheading the party's poll campaign in the state.
But the Congress had no other option as it has no bigger face than Harish Rawat, whose stature among the state party leaders remains unparalleled.
It has been over five years since 10 Congress heavyweights rebelled against Rawat and crossed over to the BJP in 2016, but the party still appears to be smarting from the jolt.
Deserted by most of its old guards, the Congress banks upon Rawat as its lone prop to catapult it to power.
Perpetual infighting is another hurdle the grand old party needs to overcome. Internal rumblings, which came to the fore yet again recently when Rawat tweeted saying he was not getting cooperation from the party organisation, can put spokes in the wheel of the Congress.
Though former party chief Rahul Gandhi intervened to defuse the crisis, at least temporarily, by asserting that Rawat will lead the poll campaign and the rest of the Congress leaders will follow him, not much has changed on the ground.
Rawat has still not been declared as the chief ministerial candidate of the Congress with party in-charge for Uttarakhand Devender Yadav and Leader of Opposition in the state Assembly Pritam Singh opposed to the idea.
The strategy of the opposition party of not declaring a chief ministerial face is keeping its flock together as the declaration might intensify the internal squabbling and rival contenders could start working to damage each other's chances.
"Ours is a big, democratic party. Some differences between party leaders may occur but we are going absolutely united into the polls," state Congress general secretary Mathura Dutt Joshi said.
"The issues being raised by us, apart from unemployment and inflation, are the continued migration from the hills and the BJP's failure to set up a Lok Ayukta despite being in office for five years," he added.
The AAP, which is the only party to declare its chief ministerial candidate before the polls, is trying hard to make the contest triangular.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his deputy Manish Sisodia have made several visits to Uttarakhand in the recent months, promising freebies to people and jobs to youngsters.
The party has declared Colonel Ajay Kothiyal as its chief ministerial face, eying the votes of the servicemen and hoping to cash in on his fresh, apolitical image.