It has been over 16 years since Uttarakhand was formed, and since then the state saw three Assembly elections in 2002, 2007 and 2012. But the 2017 Assembly elections, where the winning party crossed 40-seat mark and losing party went below 15, will be seen as a watershed moment in the history of the hill state for following reason
BJP winning 57 seats out of 70 is a clear mandate for Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led campaign in Uttarakhand where people have voted for development and progress. While Narendra Modi sought votes on his agenda promising development and progress of the state and highlighted failures of Harish Rawat Government, the latter choose to follow a negative campaign which backfired. Moreover, the last year’s corruption sting also went against him.
The massive mandate for BJP is a clear rejection of the functioning style of outgoing Chief Minister Harish Rawat where he single-handedly tried to run both the Government and the Congress. It is rejection of ‘One-Man-Show’ style of politics in the state. On the other hand, BJP with leaders from all regions of the state worked as a united force which led to its thumping victory.
While Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and other local leaders like B.C. Khanduri, Ramesh Pokhriyal, B.S. Koshyari, Vijay Bahuguna, Ajay Tamta, Satpal Maharaj along with Central Ministers frequented every corner of the state, Harish Rawat erred in thinking that he has the mass appeal and could spearhead the campaign. No senior central Congress leader was seen in the campaign. Harish Rawat pole-vaulting from Kumaon to Garhwal to Terai to his two constituencies failed to make any impact.
Harish Rawat’s experiment to contest from two seats failed. It was a first-of-its-kind experiment in Uttarakhand which backfired for a stalwart leader like Harish Rawat. In future, any leader will think twice before taking such a step. The earlier case of such foolhardy was seen in 1991 when Narayan Dutt Tiwari won Haldwani assembly seat in undivided Uttar Pradesh but lost the Nainital Lok Sabha seat, a step, as political pundits say, cost him the seat of Prime Minister.
Uttarakhand is primarily a hill state. An incumbent Chief Minister, who hails from Almora, deciding not to contest from an assembly segment in the hill districts sent wrong message in the electorate, which was also successfully flagged by the BJP. Harish Rawat was seen as a leader who has migrated to the plains and not ready to face electorate in the hills. This mistake was one of the major reasons for Congress’ debacle in Uttarakhand.
Harish Rawat had won the sobriquet of ‘Ghoshna Mukhyagmantri’ (Chief Minister busy making announcements) as promises made were not being reflected on the ground. On the other hand, talks of Harish Rawat getting surrounded by a coterie while genuine party workers getting sidelined grew stronger in the party a well as in the general public, which created anti-Rawat sentiment in the public. Moreover, last year’s desertion of 10-Congress MLAs, majority of which belonged to Garhwal region, sowed seeds of discontentment against Harish Rawat particularly in the Garhwal region. As Congress looked weaker, BJP gained strength across the state.
One major factor behind massive loss of the Congress was Harish Rawat’s announcement granting 90-minute break to Muslim employees for offering Namaz on Friday. It was made just before the elections which sent a wrong message amongst the ‘Hindu’ electorate. The issue was immediately grabbed by the BJP. Though Harish Rawat later said such concessions would be given to people of all faiths, it only sullied his image.