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Centre calls party’s doom in Uttarakhand

Sidharth Mishra | New Delhi
Daily Pioneer, March 1, 2007

At the end of the month-long election campaign, a general consensus prevailed that the BJP, though it would remain far ahead of the Congress, would fall short of the halfway mark. The matters were not helped for the saffron party with polls for Bajpur seat being postponed as the Congress candidate died in a road mishap.

On Tuesday, the BJP, which did not expect to get that close to majority on its own, needs support of just one non-BJP MLA to form the Government. The Congress, which had hoped to get enough numbers to try a coalition, is nowhere near the magic figure.

What proved to be that high tide, which has now set in process for the formation of a BJP Government in the State? The answer probably lies in BJP general secretary Arun Jaitley’s observations, made days before the polls, in Dehradun. Jaitley had said, “The UPA Government’s mismanagement at the Centre and the wrong doings of ND Tiwari Government in Uttarakhand constitute the double anti-incumbency in the State. The dream team of economists comprising Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Finance Minister P Chidambaram and Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia has turned into a horror team because of its inability to curb price rise.”

There were telltale signs of the fact that the popularity of the Central Congress leaders was at low ebb. Nobody shed a tear when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s proposed rally in Hardwar got washed out due to inclement weather. There weren’t great crowds present either at Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s rescheduled rallies across the State. The people’s mandate was clear that they have lost confidence in Centre’s ability to implement its proclaimed pro-people agenda.

Does that mean that it was more of a vote against the policies of the Congress than for BJP? Opposition to a person, party or a policy cannot be in vacuum. The results in Uttarakhand have to be viewed in the light of the BJP’s ability to mobilise public opinion both against the State and the Central Government. This success gets reflected in the fact that BJP vote-share has gone up by seven per cent compared to the Congress gaining just five per cent despite Chief Minister Narayan Dutt Tiwari giving development a big push in the State.

The BJP capitalised on the fact that the fruits of development got restricted to the plains and its benefits did not reach the hills. This is reflected in the results. The BJP has come down from four seats to three in the plains whereas the Congress has increased its tally from two to four. The loss for the Congress has been in the hills. In Garhwal, its tally has come down from 20 to 10 whereas in Kumaon from 13 to seven. The losers in the hills include important Ministers like Indira Hridayesh, Hira Singh Bisht, Narendra Singh Bhandari and Nav Prabhat.

Congress’ loss in hills directly benefited the BJP. In Garhwal, BJP increased its tally from 10 to 18. In Kumaon, BJP gained eight seats to take its tally from five seats to 13. Here the strategy to project a combined Garhwali-Kumaoni leadership of Maj Gen BC Khanduri and former Chief Minister Bhagat Singh Koshiyari paid dividends.

The affirmative voting for the BJP also reflected in the fact that party wrested reserved seats from the Congress in the hills. While the BSP monopolised the Dalit votes in the plains, the BJP probably for the first time got substantial Dalit votes in the hills.

The question remains, what made people in the hills so angry with the Congress? The grouse of the people was that the power and water from the hills was diverted to the industrial estates of the plains, where no pahadi worked. The BJP Government would have to do a serious rethink on the focus of the State’s industrial policy.