Consolidation of influential voting blocs might hurt the chances of AAP's Kanchan Choudhary Bhattacharya in Haridwar but she will not go down without a good fight. Mayank Mishra reports
It was a predominantly Muslim-dominated village where the Aam Aadmi Party candidate from Haridwar, Kanchan Choudhary Bhattacharya, stopped to campaign.
Even before she could utter a word, she got an unusual request from a young Muslim girl. “Please come inside my house, so that I am able to talk to you for a few minutes,” the girl whispered to the former director general of police.
It was a request hard to say no to. Once inside, the girl talked at length about why she needs good education and how it is hard for someone like her to get in this area.
At the end of it, what the girl told Bhattacharya really touched the politician, making her electoral debut from one of the five Lok Sabha constituencies in Uttarakhand.
“Tell me, how can I become like you -- an educated woman who made it big in life despite the odds?”
It is one of the many instances pushing Bhattacharya to make an impact in her new innings as a politician, that began only a few months ago. Having retired as the DGP of Uttarakhand in 2007, she was looking for an opportunity to work on a promise she had made to herself the day she demitted office.
“I was watching one of the television interviews of AAP convenor Arvind Kejriwal. The way he was responding to the questions related to the problems faced by the common man impressed me a lot and I decided to take the plunge,” she told Business Standard, minutes before she was to embark on a long and arduous campaign schedule, with the temperature hovering around 40 degrees Celsius.
She joined the AAP in February and was immediately offered a nomination to contest the election from Haridwar. It was an offer she was not sure she could accept.
Yet, the fighter in her decided to go ahead. Here, she is putting in at least 10 hours a day in an open jeep with a band of volunteers.
“Sorry, I wanted to tell you many more stories of suffering in this constituency which I encounter every day but had to cut short because of the campaign schedule,” she told a reporter on the phone in between meetings.
Apart from tackling the omnipresent bijli, paani, sadak problems and corruption in everyday life, Bhattacharya is determined to do something about women empowerment and poor sanitation in the constituency, if she gets a chance to represent it.
“We keep meeting people who say due to funds received for relief work following the recent natural calamity, the village patwari has built a big house, the village headman has added to his riches, government officials have prospered, but the affected people are yet to get any tangible relief. Is this the way relief operations should be conducted?,” asks Dev Bhattacharya, Kanchan’s husband, who is in charge of her campaign.
He has been a corporate executive and is using his management skills in an area he is not very familiar with.
Even on a modest budget, there is a dedicated team for, among others, booth coordination, media and training of volunteers. What came as a major boost to the debutante’s election strategy team was the news that anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare had decided to support her candidature.
The team is also enthused by the fact that 100 AAP volunteers from Delhi and Punjab have been pressed into service to iron out last-minute glitches.
It has not been a smooth sailing for the former cop, though.
To begin, raising campaign finance was a headache. The team managed to collect Rs 18 lakh through donations, among the highest for AAP candidates in the country.
Another problem area has been raising a dedicated band of volunteers for booth management.
“There are 2,000 booths in this constituency. Which means at least 6,000 volunteers for booth coordination alone,” says a local AAP leader.
But these problems have not deterred the AAP candidate.
“Wherever she goes, she establishes a connect with the people. As the top cop of the state, she had done a commendable job. She was accessible, honest, down to earth and someone who could deliver. She was someone people loved. Now that she is in the electoral fray, she is getting a good response, especially in rural areas,” says Himanshu, the local AAP leader.
However, her opponents and political commentators are not so upbeat about her prospects.
“How can a former DGP be an AAP candidate? This only shows the AAP is for khaas aadmi,” says a Bharatiya Janata Party leader who did not wish to be identified.
A local Congress leader, too, is dismissive about her candidature.
“The AAP candidate has definitely created a buzz but she is unlikely to get enough votes,” says the leader.
The social profile of the voting population, however, suggests the electoral outcome is likely to be determined by who Dalits and Muslims vote for.
These two groups together constitute 40 per cent of the voting population in Haridwar.
Besides the AAP candidate, Congress nominee Renuka Rawat, wife of Uttarakhand Chief Minister Harish Rawat, and Bahujan Samaj Party candidate Haji Mohammed Islam are the principal claimants of these voting blocks.
With the chief minister leaving no stone unturned to ensure victory for his wife, the Congress nominee is likely to get a lion’s share of these votes, say political observers.
Also in the fray is BJP heavyweight and former chief minister Ramesh Pokhriyal “Nishank”.
“People know the kind of work we have done in the state. I enjoy a lot of goodwill here. It is heartening to note that lots of BSP workers are joining the BJP and we are also getting support among Muslims ,” Nishank told Business Standard.
However, what seems to be working in the Congress’ favour is consolidation of Muslim votes in the state. “What Modi wave? We see the Congress doing very well in the state,” says Qamar Khan, a shop owner at Lansdowne in Garhwal district, indicating Muslims are likely to vote for the Congress in the state.
“Two constituencies -- Haridwar and Nainital-Udhamsingh Nagar -- have a sizable Muslim populations. In both, the Congress could do well because it is seen as the party most likely to defeat the BJP,” says Jyotsna, a Dehradun-based political analyst. Haridwar and Nainital-Udhamsingh Nagar constituencies have Muslim populations in excess of 20 per cent.
Consolidation of influential voting blocs might hurt the chances of the AAP candidate in Haridwar. But knowing Bhattacharya, she is not going to go down without putting up a good fight.
Complete Coverage: Lok Sabha Election 2014