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Regional Front Collapses, Time to Support Individual Candidates?

With twenty days of campaigning left in the 2012 Uttarakhand state assembly elections, the Uttarakhand United Regional Front has splintered into at least three distinct alliances, dimming hopes for a breakthrough of alternative political forces in the state. The front originally foundered on seat allocations and miscommunications between various parties at the outset of the campaign period, but there were hopes that the leaders would hammer out some sort of accommodation. However with the parties having to rush the release of their candidates’ lists, the front has all but collapsed and voters will be left having to decide amongst two, three, or even several candidates from the non-BJP, non-Congress parties.

Sadly, the split within the UKD early last year may have presaged this calamitous crack up. While the Diwakar Bhatt-led UKD(D) danced ever more closely with the BJP to the point of total submergence, the Trivendra Singh Panwar-led UKD(P) attempted to form a regional front with the new Uttarakhand Raksha Morcha (URM), an outfit that had attracted enormous interest and broadbased support amongst the ex-servicemen and intelligentsia of the state. Along with the Uttarakhand Parivartan Party (UPP), the Left parties, Uttarakhand Janwadi Party, Lok Janshakti, and Janata Dal (S), the future of the coalition looked bright. However, once the election was called for January 30, the group quickly unravelled as candidates’ lists were issued sans substantive consultation with the coalition partners.

The Left parties were perhaps the most accommodating and have been most disappointed with the collapse of the front. However, even they could not completely agree on seat distribution, with the CPI(ML) releasing their list early and the CPI and CPIM doubling each other in Kedarnath and BHEL Ranipur constituencies. Nominally allied to the UKD(P), the communists were holding out hope that the URM would remain with them, yet those hopes were dashed by the UKD(P) leader’s demand for more seats than the alliance could afford. Given the impasse and the now remote possibility of a united front, the veteran communist leaders have called for all parties to focus their campaigns on the Congress and BJP rather than each other.

The UKD(P) maneuvers also alienated the UPP which decided to bail on the regional front and join with the rump UKD(D) (without the two MLAs who will contest the election under the BJP banner) and the social organization Uttarakhand Jan Manch (UJM). To its credit, the UPP has been organizing abhiyans, meetings, and rallies at least since 2008 so has been laying the groundwork for displacing the UKD as Uttarakhand’s regional party after its opportunistic alliance with the BJP. However, this new reformed coalition will have precious little time to organize after hammering out their common minimum programme by the 14th, despite its strategy of attempting to attract dissident members of the Congress and BJP into its fold.

As in each preceding election, the majority of blame lies with the tardiness of the various outfits in negotiating and sticking with their alliances. It takes years of preparation to form a new party, let alone an alliance. Work should have commenced immediately after the last state elections, although the UKD’s split and the more recent emergence of the URM have changed the political scenario somewhat.

In this regard, the BSP has emerged as the best organized election fighting force in the state, despite its ceiling of support. However, in each election that ceiling has gradually moved higher. This election, the BSP was the first off the mark in announcing its candidates despite losing an MLA to the Congress. This is in stark contrast to the intense factionalism that has consumed almost every party in the crucial first two weeks of the campaign. Due to the BSP’s unique nature and constituency, it may be that the caste character of organizations do play a spoiler role, as the vainglorious upper castes that dominate every other party in Uttarakhand suffer acutely from the “too many chiefs, not enough indians” syndrome.

Despite this misfortune, many strong individual candidates from the various parties remain in the fray and may be supported on a case by case basis. While this may be a difficult exercise, especially given the competition of strong candidates from various alternative parties within each constituencies, it will still be important to ensure an alternative voice in an assembly that will again be dominated by the national parties.