Farmer Shoorveer Singh Panwar, a resident of Bauntha village, somewhere between Dehradun and Tehri, tends to his small field. The 70-year-old has little interest in politics and ignores election promises made by the BJP and the opposition Congress in Uttarakhand, which goes to the polls on February 14.
“I haven’t decided yet (which party to vote for). I left it to family members,” says Panwar, who heads a family of eight. Recalling last year’s October rains and the devastation they wrought in many parts of the hills, including his village, he said: “For me, any feast is good if it provides timely compensation and supports us (the small farmers).
Unlike the septuagenarian farmer, Devendra Bhandari, 21, is very attached to “Hindu feelings”. “I am a strong supporter of sanatani parampara (Hindu tradition), but at the same time, I am also concerned about my future and my job,” says Bhandari.
Uttarakhand has never elected a ruling party for a second consecutive term. But unlike five years ago when the BJP ousted Congress with 57 of 70 seats up for grabs, doubts persist this year when the opposition has enough momentum to derail the twin engines. Sarkar.
Although the Uttarakhand Assembly has only 70 seats, 41 of them are in Garhwal region and 29 in Kumaon region. The state is a mix of hills and plains, and the priorities are different for voters on a land-by-field basis.
Haridwar district comprises 10 constituencies and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) led by Mayawati is a factor here. In previous elections, the BSP won seats in the district, but in 2017 a large proportion of Dalit voters, the party’s main supporter, voted for the BJP.
Mayawati addressed a packed rally in Roorkee on Friday and made a point of mentioning Muslim voters, another crucial vote bank for the party.
“I feel the BJP and Congress will feel the heat after Mayawati comes in,” says an elated party worker named Saudan, who only uses his first name.
Haridwar also has a significant number of farmers. About 20 km from the Mayawati election meeting venue, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi also addressed a rally. The former congress speaker raised the issue of farmers and the controversial farm bills that were withdrawn after year-long protests.
Another group that could play the role of kingmakers are the Sikh farmers of Udham Singh Nagar district, which has 10 seats in the Assembly, the second highest number of seats after Haridwar, which has 11 seats.
Udham Singh Nagar has political significance for the BJP as the party won nine out of 10 seats here in the last elections. He had performed just as well in the district in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. More importantly, Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami’s constituency Khatima is also part of Udham Singh Nagar district.
The BJP may find it hard to repeat its successes here this time given the bitter aftertaste of the year-long farmers’ protest against the farm laws, which was mainly led by Sikh farmers from Punjab to Delhi’s borders. .
“How are we supposed to forget the way we were treated. Nobody cares about the farmers,” complains Malkeet Singh, a young farmer from Bajpur.
If the BSP has influence in Haridwar, the AAP could benefit in Udham Singh Nagar, especially in Kashipur constituency. The Congress pitched Narendra Chand Singh, the son of a former MP here, and the BJP gave the ticket to Trilok Singh Cheema, the son of a sitting MP. The AAP also has a new face here in Deepak Bali who has been actively campaigning for two months.
In the rest of the hill districts, the political struggle is largely bipolar between the Congress and the BJP. In Devprayag and Dwarahat, the oldest regional party in the state, Uttarakhand Kranti Dal, could fight.
Interestingly, the mass migration of people from the hills in search of greener pastures is not a very emotional topic in these elections. But the lack of health facilities is a common complaint.
Shweta Masiwal, a young social worker running as an independent from Ramnagar constituency, says: “I never planned to go into politics. But crippling issues, people struggling for basic amenities like first aid forced me into the fray. No one cares about love jihad…”
Masiwal is referring to the BJP manifesto released this week, which promises an amendment to the Religious Conversion Law on “love jihad”. The manifesto also promises the formation of a district-level committee to see if “foreigners” buying land here outnumber locals.
“Our manifesto talks about development, but also about temple restoration and conversions law,” said BJP spokesman Suresh Joshi.
The strength of the BJP in its solid organization, the battery of workers on the ground and the RSS backup. The Congress, for its part, relies on its candidates, their resources and their network. But the big old party pledges also have big numbers.
Congress has pledged 4 lakh jobs, annual aid of Rs 40,000 to 5 lakh families and free electricity. “We don’t make empty promises. The party did the math, calculated the cost of the gifts,” says Gaurav Vallabh, national spokesman for the Congress.
The Congress and the BJP are also seeking to woo female voters, whose number stands at over 39 lakh. The former promised cooking gas at Rs 500, while the latter provided three free cooking gas cylinders per year.
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