This time the party faces a major challenge of overcoming the aftermath of COVID-19 and the apparent impact of change in leadership in the state.
With assembly elections in Uttarakhand nearing, the BJP has stepped up its preparations as the campaigning in the hill state kicks off with a two-day Ashirwad Yatra on Tuesday. The newly-appointed Union Minister of State for Tourism and Defence Ajay Bhatt will launch the party’s poll campaign from the Narsain border in Haridwar district.
The BJP had registered a thumping victory in the last assembly elections, winning 57 out of the total 70 seats which was the best performance by any party in the Himalayan state.
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However, this time the party faces a major challenge of overcoming the aftermath of COVID-19 and the apparent impact of change in leadership in the state. The alleged lack of economic and employment opportunities may also emerge as key concerns for the party.
Speaking to Financialexpress.com, Bhelranipur MLA Adesh Chauhan, said that it would have been better if the party had brought in Pushkar Singh Dhami as the chief minister at the very beginning instead of Tirath Singh Rawat.
“The common man cannot understand the Constitutional crisis, but the impact which was back then, has diluted by now. We might see a little effect of the change of leadership in the polls but the way our chief minister is working, it has created a lot of positivity among the people,” he said.
Rawat was replaced by Dhami as the chief minister after a political crisis gripped the state in July with the former being questioned by his own party colleagues over his manner of functioning. Also, the change of leadership was prompted after the Election Commission refused to hold a bypoll that could have enabled Tirath Singh Rawat’s election to the state assembly.
For the unversed, Rawat had to be elected to the House within six months of being appointed the chief minister. By-polls are not normally held if the state assembly elections are less than a year away. He also needed to be elected as an MLA in the following two months to continue as the chief minister.
However, what needs to be noted is that a sudden change in leadership is not new to the state. In 2007, B C Khanduri was elected as the chief minister but continued only for 841 days (more than two years) in office. In 2009, he was replaced by now Union education minister Ramesh Pokhriyal who stayed in office for 805 days (more than two years) till 2011. In September that year, Khanduri made a comeback to serve for another 184 days in the top job.
The COVID-19 crisis and its aftermath in terms of unemployment and inflation add to the BJP’s woes, keeping the elections in mind. According to the data provided by Uttarakhand’s employment office, the state has managed to provide jobs to only less than half per cent of people during the COVID-19 pandemic. In financial year 2019-2020 only 0.34 per cent got jobs with total 2,709 getting jobs against 7,78,077 registering as unemployed.
While acknowledging that unemployment might emerge as a decisive issue in the polls, Chauhan claimed that the party did not see it as a major challenge in the upcoming elections.
The fake COVID testing scam during the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar and even organising the event amid the pandemic could emerge as negative factors for the party in the coming polls. Thousands of people, who came from across the country and returned back to their states, tested positive after attending the event. The BJP, both at the Centre and state, faced severe criticism for organising the Kumbh Mela before Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that the participation in the festival will be ‘symbolic’.
“Kumbh might be an issue for the media and outsiders, but locals were in favour of holding the event. Media said that Kumbh led to the spread of coronavirus but it originated from Maharashtra. Also, the last Shahi Snan of the Mela was cancelled,” he said.
Another major issue of concern for the party is its performance during this term. In its 2017 poll manifesto, the BJP had promised employment and free education up to graduation for the needy, along with smartphones and laptops for academically outstanding students and facilities such as air ambulances and telemedicine to augment the healthcare facilities. However, most of these promises have remained unfulfilled even as the five-year term draws to a close.
As per a 2018 Niti Aayog report, the state’s rankings slipped from 14th in 2014-15 to 15th in the overall composite index score based on domains such as health, governance and information. State leaders blame these failures on the pandemic.
The Opposition, on the other hand, is counting big on these issues, particularly the alleged mismanagement of the COVID crisis by the state government and the unemployment in the state.
It has also hit out at the ruling party for indulging in electoral events like ‘Jan Ashirwad Yatra’ instead of preparing for the probable third wave of the coronavirus pandemic and ensuring mass vaccination.
Political experts also feel that Dhami’s lack of administrative experience might emerge as a challenge for the party as the new chief minister is already faced with the challenge of clearing the mess, be it unemployment or fake COVID testing in Kumbh Mela.
Also, it will be interesting to see whether the party pits Dhami, a Thakur, against veteran Thakur leader from Congress Harish Rawat.