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Cong only stands to gain in U’khand

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By Arun Pratap Singh

Dehradun, 31 Mar: In Uttarakhand, the Congress had lost all the five Lok Sabha seats in the last parliamentary polls held in 2014. In the year 2009, Congress had managed to win all the five seats. However, not having won even a single seat the last time, it only stands to gain this time and is fighting the polls with a strategy to surprise the BJP.
The biggest surprise the Congress had for the BJP was in respect of the Pauri LokSabha constituency when it managed to convince Manish Khanduri to join the party and contest the poll on its ticket. It may be recalled that Khanduri is son of BJP stalwart BC Khanduri, who is the outgoing MP from Pauri. Khanduri is widely respected among the people of Pauri and Congress hopes to cash in on his popularity by fielding his son Manish Khanduri who was relatively unknown till now, since he was not politically active.
According to political pundits, though the Congress has managed to surprise the BJP with his candidature, it remains to be seen if Manish can really cash in on his father’s popularity enough to win the election. They feel that had the Congress managed to convince BC Khanduri, too, to join the party, then this strategy could have worked better. With BC Khanduri still in the BJP, it will not be easy for his son to gain from his father’s popularity, particularly given the fact that BC Khanduri, himself, had expressed his desire not to contest the polls due to his age and ill health. BJP has put up Tirath Singh Rawat as its candidate. Tirath Singh Rawat, currently National Secretary of the BJP, is a former MLA and despite being the sitting MLA from Chaubattakhal, had been denied ticket from there in the 2017 assembly polls, as the BJP chose to give the ticket to Satpal Maharaj who was a Congress leader and had joined the party before the 2014 general polls. It would not have been easy for the BJP to ignore his claim now from the Pauri LokSabha seat and, instead, give the ticket to Manish Khanduri as Manish would have become the third family member from the family to contest polls on the BJP ticket. The BJP claims to be a party that does not promote political dynasties despite the fact that, from time to time, BJP has given tickets to family members of party stalwarts. Manish’s sister, Ritu Khanduri, is already a party MLA from Yamkeshwar and had been given a ticket from there ignoring the claims of sitting three time party MLA Vijaya Barthwal. According to sources in the BJP, this was the reason why despite having an idea that Manish might join the Congress, the BJP did not make much effort to convince him otherwise!
Yet another surprise that the Congress gave to the BJP in the state was the decision to give a ticket to party stalwart Harish Rawat the ticket from Nainital, from where the BJP State President Ajay Bhatt is contesting the parliamentary poll. It may be recalled that the outgoing party MP Bhagat Singh Koshiyari had expressed his desire not to contest the polls due to his age and suggested giving the ticket to younger leaders. It may be recalled that Harish Rawat had been working hard to nurse the Haridwar parliamentary constituency despite having lost the assembly polls from there in the year 2017. However, according to sources within the Congress, he felt safer in contesting from Nainital, particularly after learning that Koshiyari would not contest the polls anymore. Rawat has a greater political stature as compared to Ajay Bhatt and hence he hopes to win from Nainital despite strong opposition to his candidature from within the party! He is also aware of the fact that Bhatt does not have a great record of winning polls.
In Almora, the fight is between the current MP and Union Minister Ajay Tamta and Congress stalwart Pradeep Tamta who also happens to be a Rajya Sabha MP and has four years of his term left. Personally, Pradeep Tamta has nothing to lose. If he wins, he will get a five year term in the Lok Sabha and, if he loses, he will still be a Rajya Sabha MP. Yes, for the Congress party, it is not a great proposition since, if Pradeep Tamta wins, he will have to resign as Rajya Sabha MP and Congress is bound to lose that seat given the huge majority of the BJP in the Uttarakhand Assembly! If he loses, then the party too loses one possible seat. Pradeep Tamta and the Congress are hoping to cash on “anti incumbency” against the sitting MP Ajay Tamta. Congress insiders claim that Congress stands good chances of wresting the seat from the BJP. It is in the strongest position in Almora as compared to other seats. BJP sources, too, admit to a tight contest between the Congress and the BJP in Almora.
On the Tehri seat, Congress was left with little option but to put up its state Chief Pritam Singh against the sitting MP Maharani Mala Rajyalaxmi Shah despite an obvious “anti incumbency” factor in operation against the Maharani for not being an active MP. In the year 2016, party stalwart Vijay Bahuguna had left the party to join the BJP. Congress did not have many choices there and had to put up Pritam Singh despite the fact that Singh had expressed his desire not to contest. Singh, despite being a several time MLA, has limited political base outside his native seat, Chakrata. His acceptability outside the Jaunsar area is on test here. The Maharani on the other hand is pinning her hopes on the “Modi wave”. The BJP hopes to change the political pulse in Tehri with a huge public rally of Prime Minister Narendra Modi scheduled to be held on 5 April in Dehradun.
Congress strategically chose to give the ticket to a local party leader and former MLA Ambrish Kumar in Haridwar against the sitting MLA and stalwart BJP leader Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’. Now, the Congress and Kumar are making a big issue of Nishank being an outsider with Kumar being an insider in Haridwar. Of course, the party sources admit that this factor will have only limited influence in a parliamentary poll but claim that this is the only factor that can work against the BJP in the seat particularly as some BJP leaders had also objected to repeating Nishank from this seat on this basis! Congress insiders however admit that Haridwar is its weakest prospect in the parliamentary polls.