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August 18, 1999
BJP likely to find the going tough in Uttarakhand
Uttarakhand, which has always been a happy hunting ground for the Bharatiya Janata Party, could spring a surprise this time around.
Past elections have shown that it is not national issues that sway the 4.5 million voters in this hill region of Uttar Pradesh. Local sentiments and personal preferences decide the voting pattern here. And that could be the BJP's undoing, in light of the renewed demand for separate statehood to Uttarakhand and the opposition to the Tehri dam project.
The BJP had won all the four seats -- Tehri Garhwal, Garhwal, Almora and Nainital - quite comfortably in 1998. The Hindutva party also represented 18 of the 20 assembly seats. Chakrata and Kashipur went to the Samajwadi Party and Congress respectively.
In the 1998 election, Manvendra Shah from Tehri, Bhuvan Chandra Khanduri from Garhwal, Bacchi Singh Rawat from Almora and Ila Pant from Nainital had won for the BJP. Such was the dominance of the party that in Tehri, Garhwal and Almora its candidates polled more votes than the combined votes of their opponents, comprising the Congress, Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party. The BJP met with some resistance only in Nainital where veteran Congress leader N D Tiwari gave a fight to Pant, who eventually won by a margin of over 15,000 votes.
This election, the BJP has retained the winners of Tehri, Garhwal and Almora. It dropped Pant in Nainital to field Baldev Pasi, who had contested in 1996. Then, the BJP had lost ground to the Congress-Tiwari -- N D Tiwari and Satpal Maharaj, who became a minister in the United Front government, won the Nainital and Pauri Garhwal seats respectively.
Separate statehood had always played a major role during elections. Whichever party supported that cause always received the full backing of the hill people. But now the scene is different as the BJP, despite having been in power both at the Centre and the state, was unable to push through statehood for Uttarakhand.
Even before the election was announced, the Uttarakhand Sangharsh Samiti and Uttarakhand Kranti Dal had voiced their resentment. The Uttar Pradesh assembly had convened a special session and passed a bill in favour of the creation of separate state. But that only aggravated the anger of the hill people. They felt cheated as the bill provided maximum control to the UP government rather than granting full autonomy to the proposed state.
The locals also feel that the relief measures for the victims of the recent earthquake and landslides have been inadequate. Rehabilitation from the catchment area of the Tehri dam is another issue.
The Bahujan Samaj Party, meanwhile, has announced that it would contest all the four seats this time. The party is fielding Rajiv Rawat (Tehri), Chandrashekhar Bainjwal (Garhwal), Gopal Ram Das (Almora) and Naina Balswar Ahmad (Nainital).
The Samajwadi Party has named only one candidate, Munna Chauhan, the sitting member of UP assembly from Garhwal.
The Congress, for its part, has not yet announced its candidates so far, but N D Tiwari may contest from Nainital.
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