The Sashpur story
"Na rahega panja, na rahega phool aur hathi toh jayega doob!"(The palm—the Congress' symbol—will disappear, the lotus flower—BJP's symbol—will wilt, and the elephant—the BSP's symbol—will drown). As the slogan blared from a microphone, the 300 odd people who had gathered in a small village in Uttarakhand, broke into vigorous applause.
A fair number of the people attending the gathering were women. The hamlet of Bhauwala in Sashpur had turned up to listen to a Aryendra Sharma, a familiar face around there. Sharma rebelled after he was denied a ticket by the Congress and he is now contesting the 2017 elections as an independent candidate. Usually referred to by his first name by his voters, Aryendra was one of closest aides of N D Tewari—the grand old man of Indian politics. Tewari has the unique distinction of being the chief minister of two states: he headed Uttar Pradesh thrice and Uttarakhand once. And Aryendra has seen it all.
I was with the Congress. Even after I lost the last elections, I continued to be with you and have continuously worked for the area. But they let me down
"You all know what happened to me. I was with the Congress. Even after I lost the last elections, I continued to be with you and have continuously worked for the area. But they let me down," Sharma said is a rather monotonous voice. The sense of hurt and outrage, however, came through clearly. The crowd was listening to him intently. "They wronged him," an elderly man standing next to me murmured.
Aryendra, who is in his mid-fifties, has a shy demeanour. He isn't overly assertive and is more an old-school politician. As he ended his short address, he underlined in an unassuming way, "help me undo the wrong. On election day, go for the Torch". The "torch" is Aryendra's election symbol.
A mirror in Jatowalo
About 20 km away from Sashpur is Jatowalo where we saw a similar scenario, this time led by Laxmi Aggarwal. She was addressing a street corner meeting. She too had pulled a sizeable crowd. Like Aryendra, Laxmi too is a rebel. She had petitioned the BJP for a ticket which was denied. Her husband P K Aggarwal—a well-known and well-to-do businessman—had helped in constructing the BJP state headquarters in Uttarakhand. "The BJP doesn't value its workers," she said when asked why she chose to go it alone. "It is precisely why I wrested this seat," she said.
Aryendra Sharma and Laxmi Aggarwal, the two rebel candidates, are now a threat to both the Congress's Kishore Upadhyay and BJP's Sahdev Pundir.
Aryendra Sharma and Laxmi Aggarwal, the two rebel candidates, are now a threat to both the Congress's Kishore Upadhyay and BJP's Sahdev Pundir. Aryendra, who contested on a Congress ticket in the last elections, got 20,000 votes; he lost to his rival by only 5,000 votes. This election he says he will better his tally. And his vote gains will be Kishore Upadhyay's loss. Similarly, the votes that Laxmi Aggarwal gathers will have come out Sahdev Pundir's pocket.
The game of "Angry Birds"
Just like the popular video game "Angry Birds" where wingless birds, angry at a group of green pigs who steal their eggs, are launched on slingshots with the aim to eliminate pigs, the rebels and disgruntled party workers in the Uttarakhand elections are out to destroy and spoil the party with a vengeance.
There are about a dozen Congress rebels who have joined the BJP. All of them are now BJP candidates, leaving many BJP workers peeved and discontented. Similarly, Congress has fielded BJP rebels as its candidates. Rebels and their trail of unhappiness is a defining feature of the 2017 Uttarakhand elections.
Of the 70 Assembly seats in Uttarakhand, nearly half of them have rebels muddying the waters. Both the BJP and Congress have a fair share of rebel trouble. Candidates have either crossed over to the other side or, after being ignored by the respective parties, they have decided to put up a fight independently.
Another instance is BJP's Satpal Maharaj, a possible chief ministerial candidate contesting from Chaubattakhal, who is being harassed by his former colleague, BJP rebel Kavindra Istwal. Istwal can be found snipping at Maharaj's heels, coming too close for the latter's comfort.
At the bellwether constituency of Gangotri, Surat Ram Nautiyal of the RSS is contesting against his own. At Narendra Nagar, Congress rebel and now BJP candidate Subodh Unniyal faces his former colleague Om Gopal Rawat.
At the bellwether constituency of Gangotri, Surat Ram Nautiyal of the RSS is contesting against his own. At Narendra Nagar, Congress rebel and now BJP candidate Subodh Unniyal faces his former colleague Om Gopal Rawat. Similarly, S P Singh of the Congress, contesting from Jwalapur seat in Haridwar, will have a face-off with his former colleague Brij Rani. And in Bhimtal, rebel Ram Singh Kaira is giving a tough fight to Dan Singh Bhandari of the Congress.
From the Kotdwar constituency, the BJP has fielded Congress rebel Harak Singh Rawat. And in doing so, it denied party loyalist Shailender Rawat a ticket, who immediately resigned alleging that BJP had lost all its virtue. Sensing an opportunity, Harish Rawat pulled in Shailender Rawat and fielded him from Yamkeshwar constituency against Ritu Khanduri, who is veteran BJP leader B C Khanduri's daughter.
Now reportedly, in an interesting sharing of resources and support, Shailender Rawat is transferring his core vote to Congress' SS Negi who is taking on Harak Singh Rawat in Kotdwar. And in turn, Negi who has strong family ties in Yamkeshwar is helping Shailender Rawat by transferring his (Negi's) votes and loyalties.
Unlike other states, Uttarakhand has small constituencies. There have been instances where candidates have won by just three votes and in other places lost by just 72 votes. Every vote counts, literally. And therein lies the importance of the rebels for the final tally.