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Battlelines Drawn

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The Congress finally got its act together and announced candidates for the Haridwar and Nainital Lok Sabha seats on Saturday. As was being speculated, former CM Harish Rawat’s son, Virender Rawat will contest from Haridwar, which presently offers the best hope for the Congress. Former National Secretary of the party and a confidante of Rahul Gandhi, Prakash Joshi will contest from Nainital-Udham Singh Nagar,

Harish Rawat lobbied strongly for the Haridwar seat to be given to him or his son. For a number of reasons, the son was preferred by the High Command. While it can be said that Harish Rawat, having held the seat in 2009, has ‘roots’ in the constituency, his present ability to establish his son there is doubtful. The Congress is banking on the heterogenous nature of the electorate, particularly a large Muslim presence. It must be noted that a victory against the BJP in the present scenario would be a huge achievement, not just for the party, but also Virender Rawat, which would pay dividends years down the line. It may be noted that, Harish Rawat’s wife, Renuka Rawat, was also given the ticket from Haridwar in 2014 but could not win.

In Nainital-US Nagar, preferred Congress candidates were chary of entering the fray because the incumbent BJP MP and Union MoS, Defence, Ajay Bhatt has established his presence in the footsteps of predecessor Bhagat Singh Koshyari. Under the circumstances, presenting Prakash Joshi as a young yet experienced ‘Brahmin’ face is the best the Congress could do. He lost two Vidhan Sabha contests in 2012 and 2017 from Kaladhungi, so the going may be tough, but it is an election and anything can happen.

Now that the battle lines in Uttarakhand are clear, it will be interesting to note the issues on which the election will be contested. The BJP has the Modi factor and also the ‘performance’ of the Dhami Government in the past two years as its calling card. The impact of the development and welfare programmes over the past two terms will certainly count among the more discerning voters. The Ayodhya Ram Temple will provide the emotive factor, while the UCC and other laws designed to ‘protect’ Uttarakhand will be raised in the local context. On its part, the Congress will pursue the unemployment and inflation issues, as also the recruitment scams that cast a blot on the state. The expected margin of victory for the BJP will also indicate the overall result nationwide.