On Friday evening, Uttarakand Chief Minister Harish Rawat made a surprise move. As the exit poll results came in, he reached out to the many independents and several rebels in the fray. Rawat said if he had an opportunity to form a government again, he would include many of them in it.
Just 12 hours later, the situation was turned on its head. The BJP is set to bag at least 55 of the 70 seats in the state. The halfway mark is 36. In 2012, the BJP had lost Uttarakhand by a slim margin — just one seat. Never since the state was formed in 2000 has any party bagged such an overwhelming victory. The previous big victory, in 2002, saw the Congress and its allies win only 40-odd seats.
Never since the state was formed in 2000 has any party bagged such an overwhelming victory.
Chief Minister Harish Rawat himself lost both seats he contested — Haridwar Rural and Kichha. Explaining his decision to contest from two seats, the Congress had earlier argued that Rawat's nomination would have a "favourable effect" on at least 21 seats — 11 in the Haridwar area and 10 in the Udham Singh Nagar district.
Clearly, Rawat, fondly called Harada by his supporters, had failed to see the inevitable — a Modi wave. The BJP swept over both the plains and the hills. Rawat's carefully laid out plans of strategically propping up rebels to put the BJP at a disadvantage didn't work.
The election, which many believed didn't have burning issues, was hijacked by Prime Minister Narendra Modi from the Congress's perspective. Unlike neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, the PM addressed just four public rallies in Uttarakhand.
In a state that has a huge ex-servicemen population and sends large number of its young men and women to the forces, the 29 September surgical strikes in retaliation to the Uri attack and the implementation of the One Rank One Pension (OROP) scheme helped. These moves strengthened PM Modi's aura even further.
What Didn't Work For The Congress
There are several reasons why the Uttarakhand polls were special this time. The sacking of the ruling Harish Rawat government and the imposition of the President's Rule in the state in March 2016 were believed to have worked in Rawat's favour.
The Rawat government was later reinstated by the courts. In an earlier interview to HuffPost India, Rawat said he had the sympathy of the people for having been wrongly sacked. Clearly, voters had something else in mind.
Importantly, Harish Rawat's promise of an unemployment dole or for that matter a 90-minute leave for Muslims on Fridays didn't find much currency. On the contrary, the allegations of corruption against him, his alleged close association with the liquor lobby, made a deep mark on the minds of the voters.
Modi versus Rawat
It was Rawat versus PM Modi in Uttarakhand from the very beginning and the all the way. Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi was part of a road show in Haridwar. The senior Congress leadership was hardly visible in the field. But, unlike the Congress, the BJP didn't project a chief ministerial candidate. Instead, the decision depended on PM Modi and the senior leadership, including the union Cabinet. Pitting Rawat against PM Modi proved costly for the Congress.
It was Rawat versus PM Modi in Uttarakhand from the very beginning and the all the way.
BJP's Share Of Woes
Uttarakhand is known to be state that swings alternately between the Congress and BJP. But the BJP didn't have it easy. It accepted Congress rebels into its fold and nominated them all. Such a move created discord within the BJP and distracted the workers as well. However, more importantly, it had as many as a dozen chief ministerial probable in its fold. Infighting and rivalry proved to be a harsh reality too.
In sum, however, it was all steam-rolled by one man: Prime Minister Narendra Modi. His four rallies in Uttarakhand were enough to give out the hope to the voters and destroy the Congress.
For 69-year-old Harda, the going from here will get tougher. He had complete freedom to take decisions and chose candidates. The defeat will loosen his vice-like grip over the Uttarakhand Congress. For Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi, who also led the party in neighbouring UP and Punjab, the bleak but possible of end of the road could be a reality.
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