Uttarakhand Assembly Elections 2017: Outcome would be a tale of two regions — Garhwal and Kumaon

By: | Updated: February 9, 2017 11:27 AM

Generally caste and religion play pivotal roles in elections in India but in Uttarakhand it is all about two regions - Garhwal and Kumaon.

Generally caste and religion play pivotal roles in elections in India but in Uttarakhand it is all about two regions - Garhwal and Kumaon. (PTI image)Generally caste and religion play pivotal roles in elections in India but in Uttarakhand it is all about two regions ? Garhwal and Kumaon. (PTI image)

With less than a week to go for assembly elections in politically volatile Uttarakhand, political parties are fine-tuning their strategy to make sure their messages reach to voters. Generally caste and religion play pivotal roles in elections in India but in Uttarakhand it is all about two regions – Garhwal and Kumaon. The significance of the two regions can be gauged from the fact that state Chief Minister Harish Rawat dropped his hill constituency of Dharchula and decided to contest from two seats in the plains, Haridwar Rural and Kichha. Political observers feel that it helped him achieve a political objective and enable him to address two sub-regional identities, according to The Indian Express report.

In 2012 assembly elections, Congress won 13 seats from Kumaon and 19 from Garhwal. While BJP won 15 Kumaon and 16 from Garhwal, UDF manages to secure 1 seats and 6 respectively. There are 41 seats in Garhwal and 29 seats in Kumaon. It is the starling contrast between the two regions that nearly cost the Kumaoni chief minister his chair last year. It was a rebellion by Garhwali leaders that led to defection from the Congress. And it is something that has been playing out in Uttarakhand since long before it became a state, the report said.

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Uttar Pradesh’s first chief minister, Govind Ballabh Pant, was from Kumaon. Later, N D Tiwari became the UP CM on three occasions, and the only Uttarakhand CM to complete his five-year tenure. When the first assembly was formed in 2002, the CM (Tiwari), the PCC chief (Harish Rawat) and the Speaker (Yashpal) Arya were all from Kumaon. Among Garhwal leaders, the most prominent was former UP CM H N Bahuguna. He had, however, moved out earlier, to Allahabad.

The state secretariat has had a long lineage of Kumaoni officers, including two chief secretaries (R S Tolia and N S Napalchyal) and two DGPs (J S Pandey and Subhash Joshi). Garhwal, on the other hand, has sent top national officers including NSA Ajit Doval, Army chief Bipin Rawat and DGMO A K Bhatt.

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Of the 10 MLAs who defected, Rekha Arya and Shailendra Mohan Singhal are the only two not of Garhwal, with the other eight including Vijay Bahuguna and Harak Singh Rawat. Amrita Rawat and Bahuguna had won from seats in Kumaon but they, too, hail from Garhwal. At present, a very visible rivalry is playing out within the Congress, between Rawat and Uttarakhand PCC chief Kishore Upadhyaya.

Upadhyaya, who is from Garhwal, was close to Rawat but when a Rajya Sabha seat from the state fell vacant last year, the CM preferred to send a Kumaoni, Pradeep Tamta, to the Upper House. And now, during ticket distribution, Upadhyaya has not got the ticket from Tehri, where he had won twice, but was pushed to a difficult constituency, reportedly at the instance of Rawat, according to Indian Express report.

Though politicians don’t express their rivalries explicitly, the divide between the identities does show in current politics. For instance, the core teams of N D Tiwari and CM Rawat have been from Kumaon, while the advisers of Garhwal-based BJP CMs B C Khanduri and Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank have been from Garhwal.

Interestingly, every year, people of Kumaon celebrate a Khatadva festival to commemorate a legend according to which a Kumaoni king called Khatad Singh had defeated a Garhwali ruler. The divide grew during British rule. While much of Garhwal was ruled by native kings until the 20th century, Kumaon became the centre of British activities and modern education.

In 1889, Kumaon became a commissionerate that included parts of Garhwal too. Garhwal became a separate commissionerate in 1967. It got its first university in 1973, after a movement for education.

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