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Saturday 28 January 2012



Battles within
in Dehradun and Rudrapur
Internal feuds pose a serious problem to the Congress and the ruling BJP in Uttarakhand.

(FROM RIGHT) CHIEF Minister B.C. Khanduri, BJP leader Rajnath Singh, and former Chief Ministers B.S. Koshyari and R.P. Nishank releasing the party manifesto in Dehradun on January 16.
AT this time of the year in the tiny hill State of Uttarakhand, inclement weather can upset any plan. It is spoiling the road shows of the major political parties. But the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress, the two main contenders for power, have one more serious factor to contend with as they prepare for the January 30 elections to the 70-member Assembly: internal squabbles.
For the BJP, anti-incumbency, along with the prospect of party rebels entering the fray, is causing a lot of distress. The Congress is harping on the theme that the BJP has been changing its Chief Ministers ever since it came to power in 2007 to “mask” its “dishonesty” and the scams dogging its government. The BJP leadership had replaced Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank as Chief Minister in September 2011 and installed B.C. Khanduri, for the second time (he resigned in 2009 to pave the way for Nishank to become Chief Minister), keeping the Assembly elections in mind. The frequent change of leadership since 2007 coupled with a lack of cohesion between the three power centres in the State party – Khanduri, Nishank and Bhagat Singh Koshyari, also a former Chief Minister – had posed a big challenge for the BJP national leadership in mid-2011 in planning a strategy for the elections. Now, more than a dozen sitting MLAs, who have been denied the ticket, are in the fray as rebel candidates.
The Congress is in a slightly better mood because of the party's good performance in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. For the first time it won all the five seats from the State, a region considered to be a BJP stronghold.
In 2007, the BJP was elected to power with 34 seats in a direct fight with the Congress. The Congress, which had won the 2002 elections and formed the government under party veteran N.D. Tiwari, won only 21 seats. But the BJP soon frittered away the support it had earned. Moreover, factions led by Koshyari, a favourite of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, and Nishank started working against the government. The result was the disastrous performance of the party in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections in the State. An inquiry held at that time hinted at sabotage by the rivals of Khanduri, who was then Chief Minister. Koshyari even threatened to resign his Rajya Sabha seat. He could be placated only after Khanduri offered to step down as Chief Minister. The party leadership readily accepted his resignation and replaced him with Nishank.
But the Nishank government came under fire following allegations of corruption and scams. Although Nishank himself was not named in any of the corruption scandals, his close associates figured in a number of scams and it became the bane of his government. The general impression at that time was that nothing moved in the government without money changing hands. The Congress issued a list of 419 scams, which related to mismanagement of the Kumbh mela, shoddy disaster management, the Sturdia land use scam (involving arbitrary change of land use policy) and corruption in the purchase of medicines. None of these charges, however, was proved.
The BJP national leadership was embarrassed as it was keen to harness the wave of anti-corruption sentiment against the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre and the State elections were just six months away.
In September 2011, faced with the daunting task of putting the party back on the rails, the BJP brought back Khanduri. Khanduri went about his job ruthlessly though he admitted to this correspondent that he was indeed faced with a challenge. Given the fact that he took over the reins just a few months away from the scheduled elections, he has, no doubt, put the party back into fighting mode. Although he has as yet no concrete results to show on the ground, several initiatives taken by him have been appreciated by people at large. Among them are the legislative measures against the red tape.
The most significant of the initiatives taken by the Khanduri government is the passage of the Uttarakhand Lokayukta Bill, 2011, to establish an independent authority to investigate offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, bringing into its ambit the Chief Minister, Ministers and MLAs. This is seen as a major achievement of the BJP as the Lokpal Bill has been stalled in Parliament. The State Bill is waiting for the Centre's approval.
The Khanduri government also passed the Uttarakhand Right to Service Act, bringing under its purview 80 basic services which are mandated to be provided within a prescribed time which is extendable twice under appeal. It passed the Uttarakhand Special Courts Act, 2011, to enable the setting up of special courts to deal with cases relating to corruption on a day-to-day basis, without adjournment. In these courts, a case is expected to be disposed of within a year. In order to deal with the issue of frequent transfers of government officials, which seriously hamper their performance, the government passed the Uttarakhand Transfer for Public Servants Act.
Besides, this time Khanduri is seen to be making a conscious effort to keep party workers happy and is taking other leaders along in decision-making, something which was missing during his previous stint. “We are absolutely confident of victory as we have worked for all sections of people and have taken effective steps to improve governance. We have taken measures to provide relief to people from spiralling prices by reducing VAT. Our vote percentage is going to increase by 2-4 per cent,” Naresh Bansal, BJP national executive member who is in charge of party affairs in the State, said. About the corruption charges against the Nishank government, he said they were only allegations. “Nothing was ever proved. Besides, we have shown our intent to curb corruption by passing the Lokayukta Bill, which brings even the Chief Minister in its ambit. What else can you ask for?” he said.

CONGRESS PRESIDENT SONIA Gandhi at a rally in Roorkee on January 17.
The Congress hopes to revive the factors that gave it an impressive victory in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. It also banks on the obvious non-performance of the BJP government in the last five years. “We have a list of 419 scams that happened during the BJP regime. It has been a totally non-performing government. Whatever work the previous Congress government [2002-07] had started, this government stopped. For example, work on the medical college at Rishikesh on the lines of the AIIMS [All India Institute of Medical Sciences], which was started by the Tiwari government, has been abandoned. The BJP has brought back Khanduri who presided over the party's defeat in the Lok Sabha elections, and nothing has changed since then,” Surinder Agrawal, a Congress spokesperson, said in Dehradun. He is confident that the Congress will form the government with a clear majority.
Adding to the Congress' high hopes is the presence of the Uttarakhand Raksha Morcha (URM), which is in the fray for the first time. That party is headed by Lt. Gen. (retd) T.P.S. Rawat, a Minister in the Tiwari government. Rawat, who had joined the BJP, vacated the Dhumakot Assembly seat in 2007 to enable Khanduri, who had become Chief Minister, to contest from there. Disgusted with the corruption in the State and the BJP high command's unsympathetic attitude towards his complaints in this regard, Rawat left the BJP in August 2011 to form the new party. According to Rawat, the URM, which is attracting a number of educated and employed people, besides a substantial number of retired and serving defence personnel who form a major part of Uttarakhand's population, will act as a “catalyst” to force the two main parties to talk about “real issues” like good governance, transparent administration and good leadership.
“What we are saying is that despite the creation of a separate State, the quality of life has not really improved, the basic problems remain. We need good leadership to bring about change,” he said. If the URM remains in the fray, it could dent the BJP's vote bank as the section of voters Rawat is targeting has been mainly BJP supporters. This has given the Congress an edge. “The URM will take away the BJP's votes and in a State where candidates win with very thin margins, even a few hundred votes this way or that way can make a difference,” the Congress spokesman said.
While the main contest is between the Congress and the BJP, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which won eight seats and 12 per cent of the votes in 2007, is making its presence felt in the plains of Uttarakhand, especially in Haridwar and Udhamsingh Nagar districts. A triangular contest is on the cards in these constituencies, with the BSP in a comfortable position.
Internal feuds, which are at times spilling over to the streets, are a serious problem facing both the Congress and the BJP. However, the BJP, having denied the ticket to some of its sitting MLAs, is the bigger victim of dissent. Kedar Singh Fonia, a BJP Minister who has been denied renomination, is contesting from Badrinath on the URM ticket. “The BJP is a party of bhai-bhatijawad [nepotism],” he told this correspondent. Other probable rebel candidates are former Ministers Khajan Das and Govind Singh Bisht. Khanduri himself may face trouble in Kotdwara, from where he is contesting, as the sitting MLA, Shailendra Singh Rawat, who has been denied the ticket, could jeopardise his prospects.
In the Congress, N.D. Tiwari is known to be unhappy as several of his nominees have been denied the ticket and he is not likely to campaign for the party. Tiwari continues to be a force to reckon with in the Kumaon region, but even he had to face the ire of Congress workers in the Gadarpur area of Udhamsingh Nagar district from where his nephew, Manish Tiwari, is contesting. Congress workers were so unhappy that they attacked him when he went to file his nomination papers. N.D. Tiwari camped in the neighbouring Pantnagar area to “manage” the rebels. He held a three-hour-long meeting with them.
The Congress is also in trouble in the Haldwani seat from where Indira Hridayesh, number two in the Tiwari government, is the official candidate but is facing Renu Adhikari, who recently shifted allegiance to the BJP on being denied the Congress ticket. Since the difference in vote percentage between the BJP and the Congress was only 2 per cent last time, the contest becomes an interesting one as even a marginal shift can make a huge difference. The Congress had got 30 per cent of the votes and the BJP 32 per cent.
It is interesting to note that the real issues, which affect the day-to-day lives of people, get buried in the hurly burly of politics as the election approaches. The basic needs such as roads, drinking water, health services and employment remain a pipe dream for the vast majority in the State, despite promises galore. “Nobody listens to the poor,” says Sohan Singh Rawat of Kaudia village in Rishikesh, summing up the despondency of the common man.
“The aspirations of the people are high. They have realised that their lives have not improved despite the creation of the State and this is exactly what we are saying. We need change and we need good leadership to bring about that change,” says T.P.S. Rawat.
It would be interesting to watch the impact of Team Anna on the elections. Members of the civil society movement are scheduled to campaign in the State as it has adopted the Lokayukta Bill

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