By Arun Pratap Singh
Dehradun, 21 May: Having just five Lok Sabha seats, Uttarakhand is not considered to be a major player in the national political arena. However, some big names are contesting the Lok Sabha polls in the state and the outcome is going to decide their political future! Their political career is certainly at stake. In addition, some may not be contesting the polls but, still, their political future is dependent to some extent on the outcome of the polls. The exit polls have indicated advantage BJP in Uttarakhand but all eyes are on the actual counting to be held on 23 May. According to political pundits, Congress leaders Harish Rawat and Pritam Singh, BJP leaders Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat, BJP State President Ajay Bhatt and former Chief Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ have their careers at stake. Though Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat is not contesting the polls, but a good performance by the BJP will cement his position as the CM, while a weak or poor performance may affect it despite the fact that BJP has a brute majority in the state assembly. According to political observers, the most critical position is of former Chief Minister and currently the National General Secretary of the Congress, Harish Rawat. It is really a testing time for him. It may be recalled that the Congress had lost the last assembly elections while he was the outgoing CM. Not only this, he had lost from both the seats he contested in the 2017 state assembly polls, namely Haridwar Rural and Kichha. If he loses his third straight poll, this time the parliamentary poll which he is contesting from the Nainital seat, his political clout within the state is bound to almost entirely diminish. He may remain the National General Secretary of the party, but he will be left with a weak claim as Chief Ministerial candidate in the state assembly polls due in 2022. Sources close to him openly admit that becoming the Uttarakhand CM again is his primary political goal, at present. They add that winning the parliamentary poll will be the key to be the Chief Ministerial candidacy in 2022. There is hardly any doubt that he is currently the tallest leader in the Uttarakhand Congress and still plays a key role in the party affairs in the state. The current Pradesh Congress Committee Chief Pritam Singh owes his position to him even though both are reportedly not on cordial terms anymore. According to observers, a weak performance of the Congress party at the national level, as is being indicated by the exit polls made public on 19 May, is bound to result in a reshuffle in the party structure. Lot of leaders may fall by the wayside. Harish Rawat, they point out, is not getting any younger and the party may like to promote younger faces at the state as well as the national level. A possible loss in the parliamentary poll added to a weak party performance in the state in the polls may push his political future towards a critical level. Apart from Harish Rawat, a lot is also at stake for PCC Chief Pritam Singh as well. Though, he has been consistently winning his assembly polls from the Chakrata seat of Dehradun district, he has not been considered to be a heavyweight leader at the state level by the party as well as the political observers. Two years ago, he was suddenly brought in as PCC Chief by the party High Command, replacing Kishore Upadhyay, whose relationship had turned bitter with Harish Rawat when the latter was the CM. Singh is contesting the Parliamentary poll for the first time ever from Tehri against the current MP from BJP, Mala RajyaLaxmi Shah. Initially, the political observers had predicted this to be an interestingly close battle, mainly due to anti-incumbency prevalent against Shah but, they now feel that the pro-Modi undercurrent may have negated some of it. Anyway, a win for Pritam Singh is sure to catapult him to a higher level, where he is bound to truly become a state level leader. His position as PCC Chief is also bound to be cemented in case of his win as well as a good party performance in the state. A loss, however, may prevent this and restrict him to the current status of being the Chakrata king. PradeepTamta is another senior leader and has been made to contest from Almora reserved constituency against the current MP and Union Minister of State Ajay Tamta, despite having four years still left as a Rajya Sabha member. It may further be recalled that Pradeep Tamta had lost the 2014 Lok Sabha poll against Ajay Tamta. Another loss may end his future chances to secure a Congress ticket for the Lok Sabha. Ambrish Kumar is the Congress candidate from Haridwar and is up against former CM and current MP Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank who is considered to be a political heavyweight in Uttarakhand politics despite having been ignored for a ministerial post in the outgoing Modi Government. Kumar is a former MLA and has switched several parties before returning to Congress. He has a strong influence among voters in the city limits of Haridwar but the Haridwar Lok Sabha seat is big and consists of three assembly segments from Dehradun district, too. A loss for Kumar, according to the political observers, may prove to be an end to his political innings. A win, on the other hand, will make him a state leader and the only Bania candidate to be a Lok Sabha member from Uttarakhand. It may be recalled, however, that Harish Rawat, initially poised to contest from Haridwar had developed cold feet at the time of ticket distribution and, this, according to the pundits, has given a clear edge to Nishank. In Pauri, Congress fielded a new face in Manish Khanduri whose only claim to the candidature is his surname, as he is the son of veteran BJP leader BC Khanduri who is the outgoing BJP MP from Pauri. Khanduri is up against another lightweight candidate and a former protégé of his father Tirath Singh Rawat. Rawat is banking on the Modi wave and on the majority of Rajput votes. The exit polls show a clear BJP advantage on this seat. Among the BJP leaders whose career is at stake in the current poll is BJP State President Ajay Bhatt who had incidentally lost the 2017 assembly poll in Ranikhet in spite of a strong pro-Modi wave. A win against the Congress heavyweight Harish Rawat in Nainital will further secure his position in state politics while a loss may result in getting replaced as state president of the party, though, he is learnt to be in the good books of BJP President Amit Shah. In addition, a strong party performance in the current polls will lead to his becoming a potential CM candidate in the future. He has age on his side. The exit polls have claimed a close fight in Nainital. Ajay Tamta is young but still has a lot at stake. A win again will again make him a strong contender for the position of a Union Minister in case the BJP gets a majority in the Lok Sabha, while a loss is certainly bound to be a setback for him. On the other hand, a strong win for Nishank will make him a contender for a ministerial post in case of a BJP majority in the Lok Sabha. According to observers, the last time, he was ignored also because there were other senior leaders from Uttarakhand vying for the ministerial berth like former union minister and former CM, BC Khanduri, and former CM Bhagat Singh Koshiyari. Hence, a lightweight candidate in the form of Ajay Tamta was picked by Modi. They add that a negative image with regard to corruption charges while he was CM was also a reason why Nishank was ignored by Modi in 2014. Tehri’s Shah is totally banking on the Modi undercurrent to retain her seat, though the political observers feel that there was a strong anti-incumbency wave against her. However, nationalism and the Modi undercurrent seem to have negated the anti-incumbency. The exit polls show advantage BJP in Tehri but the fight is close. Tirath Singh Rawat may be a ‘lightweight’ candidate but a win will give him the stature of a national party leader as he is currently a national secretary of the party. He is otherwise considered to be an organisation person. The biggest stake however is for Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat. A strong performance or a win for the party at least on 4 out of 5 seats is bound to cement his position as CM, although it is no guarantee of a strong performance in the 2022 assembly polls. Rawat is considered close to party president Amit Shah but he will remember that a 0-5 loss to Congress in 2009 Lok Sabha polls had ultimately cost the Chief Ministership of BC Khanduri.