Lok Sabha poll a litmus test for Khanduri (Poll Curtainraiser - Uttarakhand)

May 12th, 2009 - 1:58 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata Party Dehradun, May 12 (IANS) The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled hill state of Uttarakhand, which goes to the polls Wednesday to elect five representatives to the Lok Sabha, is in the grip of a strong anti-incumbency factor with a large section of the voters unhappy with Chief Minister B.C. Khanduri’s “undemocratic” ways.
Two years back, when the retired army general was installed in the top chair, it was seen as the best thing that could have happened to the hill state. Now, however, he is being blamed for all the problems that Uttarakhand is facing.

“Khanduri has alienated himself from the masses, whose support is absolutely essential to win an election. He is perceived as being inaccessible,” Rajiv Lochan Sah, editor of local newspaper Nainital Samachar, told IANS.

“The chief minister is oblivious of ground realities and the problems faced by people as he doesn’t meet the public often. He generally relies on filtered information,” Sah added.

The hill state, which was carved out of Uttar Pradesh in 2000, showed tremendous promise for growth. However, not much progress was made during the tenure of Congress veteran N.D. Tiwari. He was accused of having turned a blind eye to rampant corruption.

Khanduri attempted to tackle the problems in a tough manner but was faced by uncooperative bureaucracy and industry, who were so used to having a free playing field that the chief minister’s checks and controls became a pain for them.

“We have nothing against the BJP, but Khanduri is undemocratic and wants to run the state like a military regiment. We can’t support him,” said a Dehradun-based entrepreneur, who had to shut down his industrial unit in Selaqui - an industrial park developed by the Congress government.

“The chief minister is totally inaccessible and even though he may be personally honest, some of the bureaucrats close to him are very corrupt. In the absence of desired cooperation from the government, several industrial units have shut down recently,” he added.

Many industrialists are also unhappy with the chief minister’s demand that 75 percent of the people employed in their units should belong to the state.

Refuting the charges, a close aide of Khanduri said: “Industrialists have closed shop in some places only after taking full advantage of the government’s freebies. They took undue advantage of the facilities offered and once the tax holiday period was over, they chose to march off to other states.”

“We do not have any more space for allotment at our industrial estates in Haridwar, Selaqui and Pantnagar,” he added.

On Wednesday, the state’s 5.5 million voters at 6,819 polling booths across the state are expected to elect five representatives out of the 47 candidates in the fray.

“It will be a wonder if BJP is able to retain its 2004 tally of two Lok Sabha seats. The Congress has strong chances of snatching one of them,” said social activist Govind Ballabh Pant.

Both the national parties had bagged two seats each in the last general elections.

The BJP has a sitting MP in Pauri Garhwal, from where Khanduri was elected to parliament in 2004. After being named chief minister in 2007, he gave up the seat but his close aide T.P.S. Rawat won the by-poll.

The other Lok Sabha seat held by the saffron party is Almora, which Bachi Singh Rawat had bagged in 2004. Following its declaration as a “reserved” seat after delimitation, the BJP has nominated its young minister Ajay Tamta for the polls.

The BJP candidate is locked in a triangular contest with a popular and aggressive Pradeep Tamta of the Congress, and a less prominent B.R. Dhauni of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

As for the Congress, the Tehri Lok Sabha seat was won in a by-poll by Vijay Bahuguna, son of former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna, while Nainital was wrested by K.S. Singh.

K.S. Singh, who is known as “Baba”, is going to have a tough time retaining the seat.

Congress strongman Harish Rawat, who had to give up his traditional bastion of Almora-Pithoragarh after it was declared reserved, is attempting to win from Haridwar. He faces stiff opposition from Swami Yatindranand, a saffron clad sadhu of the BJP, and the BSP’s Mohammad Shahzad.

With political analysts predicting a close fight between the BJP and Congress in all seats, what could make all the difference is the voter turnout, particularly in far-flung areas of the hill state where enthusiasm for polling is often low.

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