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Blazing Start

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The three-tier panchayat elections have barely begun in Uttarakhand (excluding Haridwar) and politicking is already in full swing. Controversies have been stoked, be it by State BJP President Ajay Bhatt’s statement that panchayats electing heads unopposed would be paid Rs 1 lakh, each, or by allegations of animal cruelty against the Dehradun Congress unit on taking out a bullock cart rally to protest against the hike in Motor Vehicle Act penalties, with obviously suffering animals pulling the overburdened carts. Former Chief Minister Harish Rawat, as always, could not resist expressing his pet peeve against EVMs and claimed the Congress would sweep the elections because voting would be through paper ballots. The nationalist flavour is being sought to be introduced with the Chief Minister expressing willingness to implement the NRC in the state. In the villages, many aspiring politicians are unhappy because of the new conditions that do not allow those with more than two children, or without a high school education, to stand for elections. It is interesting to note how many mainstream political types do not meet these qualifications and will be backing proxies. As though being chosen a party candidate was not hard enough! All the parties, particularly the bigger ones like the BJP and Congress will have a hard time selecting candidates. Traditionally, at the lowest levels, party members are given freedom to contest as individuals, because it is counter-productive to select one over others. However, posts such as the head of the District or Block Panchayats, or even Pradhans, are a different matter and involve a lot of burning the midnight oil and subtle balancing acts. It is at the lowest levels, of course, where individuals with no political affiliations can make a mark on the basis of their personal clout. Those who exhibit this with large margins then become attractive potential recruits for the parties. Considering the varied topography of the state, the difficulties and challenges facing villages are different and many. If a political party wishes to exhibit its dominance across the state, it has to have genuine presence in all these places. Without knowledge and feedback on these specific concerns, it becomes difficult to get the psychological advantage dominance provides. Although the villagers have enough woes of their own that require to be addressed, certain national issues can play a role. This is especially so because a large number of Uttarakhandis live and work in other parts of the country, either out of choice or compulsion. The impact of the economic disruption being experienced these days will also become known on voting behaviour. And, most importantly, it will be a verdict on the performance thus far of the present state government. So, trust matters to get far more heated before the ballots are cast!