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Delimitation of seats a major issue

Daily Pioneer, February 16, 2007

Sidharth Mishra | Hardwar
Uttar manthan Election 2007

It may sound incredible but the delimitation of seats for future elections is turning into a major issue in the present poll. The recent notification of seats by the Delimitation Commission, which would come into force from the next Lok Sabha and the 2012 Assembly elections, threatens to end the dominance of the hills in the Uttarakhand Vidhan Sabha.

This change would be monumental as the BJP was punished in 2002 for foisting Nityanand Swami, a maidani (of the plains ), as the first Chief Minister of the hill State. Today the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal, which spearheaded the agitation for the creation of a separate hill State, stand to be marginalised.

The Uttarakhand area sent 22 MLAs to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly. In 2001 when the boundaries of the constituencies were redrawn, the 1971 census figures were considered. This gave the hills 57 of the 70 seats. The present delimitation has been done on the basis of the 2001 census. This seeks to give 30 seats to the plains and the terai region. What does it mean politically? Parties like the BSP, which had made inroads in 2002 winning five Assembly seats, would increase their presence. On the other hand, the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal could cease to exist with several hill constituencies including Kanalichhina, held by its president Kashi Singh Airy, set to be wiped off the political map.

The divide in Uttarakhand was always thought to be between the Garhwal and Kumaon regions. The Delimitation Commission would create a third distinct bloc, which given its relative affluence would marshal the politics of Uttarakhand. A survey published in a prominent daily from Dehradun mirrored the divide effectively by showing the regional differences in the preference for the Chief Minister. In the Garhwal region, BJP MP and former Union Minister BC Khanduri emerged as the favourite garnering 39.21% preferences compared to Uttarakhand Congress president Harish Rawat (21.19%) and incumbent Chief Minister ND Tiwari (14.49%).

In Kumaon, Rawat and State BJP president Bhagat Singh Koshiyari emerged as close contenders getting 36% and 33% preferences respectively. The performance of both Tiwari and Khanduri was abysmal in the region. In the plains, however, both performed creditably with Tiwari topping with 39.46% preferences compared to Khanduri’s 25%.

“The figures show that the insulation of the people of the isolated hill areas has increased. While Khanduri has acceptability in Garhwal for the several road projects he commissioned as a Minister in the NDA Government, Tiwari is held responsible for restricting development to the industrial estates of Hardwar and Uddham Singh Nagar,” says Hari Raj Singh, a consultant with a World Bank project. Development in Uttarakhand is seen not to have benefited the hill people. The entrepreneurs who were encouraged to set-up projects by State Industrial Development Corporation of Uttaranchal (SIDCUL) are seen as poachers of the State’s wealth. “Unfortunately, the word SIDCUL today has evil connotations,” adds Singh.

The BJP is quiet on the issue as of now. With the increase of seats in the plains they, however, have an opportunity. It would create a typical western UP kind of political equation given the large Muslim presence in Hardwar, Roorkee and the Kumaon terai areas of Uddham Singh Nagar district.

The BSP in 2002 encashed this Muslim presence by fielding candidates from the minority community. It is trying to repeat it this time around too. The BJP has emerged as their main challenger. It’s no surprise that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has had the biggest draw in the political meetings in the Hardwar region. As for the Congress, its leaders are already talking in the terms of forming a coalition Government with BSP support, after the results are announced on February 28.