Dehradun is congested. Nonetheless, it is easy to find the Uttarakhand State BJP office that is located on Balbir road in the city. "Just follow those cars," said one person, pointing towards a cavalcade ahead of us.
During an election, activity around a party office is a crude indication of its chance. Bigger the din and action in a party office, the bigger is the enthusiasm among the cadre. But the hectic activity in BJP's state headquarters also tells another story — the problem of plenty.
The hoardings splashed all over Dehradun and other towns prominently display Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah on either side along with potential CM candidates, against Harish Rawat of Congress.
These candidates include three current members of Parliament and former chief ministers, such as Major General B C Khanduri (retd), Bhagat Singh Koshyari and Ramesh Pohkriyal "Nishank".
"They are very much in contention, but it will be decided by the party," said a senior BJP party functionary who met us at the party headquarters. He didn't want to be quoted on a "sensitive issue."
The stalwarts are followed by the so called "second line" of probable CM candidates. These include BJPs own Satpal Maharaj and Congress rebel Harak Singh Rawat. Ten legislators crossed over to BJP in March 2016, temporarily unseating the Congress-led Harish Rawat government.
Harak Singh Rawat is contesting from Kotdwar on a BJP ticket. He is contesting against Surender Singh Negi, former Health Minister of Uttrakhand. Similarly, Yaspal Arya, another Congress rebel who joined the BJP, too is a strong contender for the post of Uttarakhand CM. The former Agricultural Minister is contesting from Bajpur in Terai belt. Before crossing over to the BJP, Arya was chief of the Utarakhand Congress.
Then there is Dhan Singh Rawat, also a Congress rebel, who is contesting from Srinagar. "Yes, my name is there too, but there are others too," he told HuffPost India and added, "the party has decided not to declare the CM candidate." Asked whether the long list of CM candidates was hurting the BJP, he let out a chuckle. "We are fighting the elections together, there is no problem."
And finally, from the rebels, there is Vijay Bahuguna, the 6th Chief Minister of Uttarakhand. He was sacked by the Congress and replaced by Rawat after the 2014 Kedarnath landslides. Several thousand lost their lives in the tragedy. Bahuguna led the rebellion in the Congress ranks and crossed over to BJP with 9 MLAs.
Other CM candidates include Ajay Bhatt, the BJP State President. BJP workers and functionaries officially disagreed that there's an excess of CM candidates, some of whom have crossed over from the Congress recently. But Bhatt was made to head a disciplinary committee to monitor dissidence among the ranks just before tickets for the 2017 polls were announced.
Rawat has earned an unique sobriquet - Abhimanyu - after the mythical character in Mahabharata who broke through am impregnable siege before being killed himself.
The committee monitors activities of sulking leaders who fail to get nominations. Speaking to this reporter after a long of day of campaigning at Raniket – Bhatt's constituency – he said "there are 16 candidates for the post of the CM, including me. Had they declared a CM candidate it would have been good, but that they haven't, isn't a problem. We have won five states without declaring a CM candidate. Only in Assam and Delhi did we declare a CM candidate. The Congress has no one but Harish Rawat. And they are severe allegations against him, all of which will go against the Congress," he said. "I have never asked for any post, everything is predestined, so why compete," he said turning a little philosophical.
Workers are not politicians!
The Congress rebels have all made it to the BJP list of candidates, leading to discomfort and anger among the ranks. For many BJP workers it is a contradiction they can't explain. More importantly, many of the Congress rebels have allegations of corruption against them. As a result, the BJP can no longer claim to be a "party with a difference".
"The central leadership has failed us by taking tainted Congress leaders. It is really tough to explain to people who question us on values and morality. Many dedicated workers are reluctant to take part in campaigns."
"The central leadership has failed us by taking tainted Congress leaders. It is really tough to explain to people who question us on values and morality. Many dedicated workers are reluctant to take part in campaigns," said a BJP worker from Tehri. At the BJP head office in Dehradun, a senior functionary explained the discomfort and anger among workers in a rather a unique way.
"We have dedicated workers, but they aren't politicians. As political party we also have ensure that we come back to power. The rebel congress MLAs who are now with us will bring us votes and help the party get back to power," he said.
Prime Minister Modi and the entire BJP versus Harish Rawat
Chief Minister Harish Rawat is indeed fighting the might of the entire BJP. Modi is expected to address as many as four political rallies in the next week. Heavyweights like Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar is also expected to address several political gatherings in the next week.
"BJP is carpet bombing the state and throwing everything they have at their disposal," a senior Dehradun-based journalist, who didn't want to be quoted, told HuffPost India. Earlier, BJP President Amit Shah, Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Coal and Power Minister Piyush Goel and General (retd) VK Singh have all been Uttarkhand campaigning for the BJP.
Rawat has earned an unique sobriquet - Abhimanyu - after the mythical character in Mahabharata who broke through am impregnable siege before being killed himself. Does it also foretell Rawat's future?