Two visuals helped link Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Uttarakhand in the just-ended year. Both triggered opposition attacks on him.
Two visuals helped link Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Uttarakhand in the just-ended year. Both triggered opposition attacks on him. One picture showed him meditating in a cave at the Kedarnath shrine. The other was his appearance on “Man vs Wild” TV programme, hosted by Bear Grylls, showing the two at the Corbett Tiger Reserve.
The opposition accused the prime minister of violating the poll code and exploiting the Kedarnath visit for political gain. A hooch tragedy that claimed 100 lives, an avalanche that killed eight international climbers and 12 deaths due to a cloudburst in Uttarkashi district marred the year. The prime minister’s Corbett visit happened to take place on the day when terrorists attacked a CRPF convoy in Kashmir’s Pulwama, killing 40 security personnel.
At a poll rally in Dehradun, the then Congress president Rahul Gandhi accused PM Modi of posing for cameras when “jawans were being killed by terrorists in Pulwama”. However, the programme aired several months later by Discovery Channel generated a huge interest among viewers who saw PM Modi in a new avatar. Pulwama resonated in the state, which sends a large number of its men to the armed forces.
Two of the jawans killed in the terror attack were from the state. Helped in part by nationalist sentiment generated by the Pulwama terror attack and the Balakot airstrikes against Pakistan, the BJP retained all five Lok Sabha seats in the state. It was for the first time that any political party had won all parliamentary seats in Uttarakhand in two consecutive general election.
This despite the fact that two of the BJP’s sitting MPs did not contest and the party had to gamble on two new faces. The Congress tried hard to upset the BJP’s chances by fielding former chief minister Harish Rawat against state BJP president Ajay Bhatt in Nainital and PCC chief Pritam Singh against Mala Rajya Lakshmi Shah in Tehri.
The BJP expelled its Khanpur MLA Kunwar Pranav Singh Champion after a video went viral, showing him dancing with guns in hand. The ruling BJP suffered a setback after Prakash Pant, who held the finance and parliamentary affairs portfolios in the state government, died battling cancer at a hospital in the US in June. The party successfully fielded his wife Chandra from Pithoragarh, where bypolls were held in November.
Uttarakhand also witnessed the worst ever hooch tragedy in its history as around 100 lives were lost in Haridwar and neighbouring Saharanpur district of Uttar Pradesh. Most victims had consumed liquor after the “tehravin”, the 13th day of mourning ritual, following a relative’s death in Balupur. In September, another hooch tragedy rocked Dehradun when seven people died after drinking spurious liquor in the Pathariya Peer slum area.
In June, an eight-member team of mountaineers from the US, the UK and Australia, led by noted British mountaineer Martin Moran, perished in an avalanche on its way to the Nanda Devi peak in Pithoragarh district. Seven bodies were recovered in a month-long search and rescue operation. Over 12 people were killed and many reportedly missing following a cloudburst in Arakot of Uttarkashi in August.
Another tragedy took place when a helicopter engaged in relief and rescue operations in rain-ravaged Uttarkashi district crashed on August 21, killing all three on board. As the year drew to a close, the Uttarakhand assembly passed the Devasthanam Bill, paving the way for the creation of a Chardham shrine board to run affairs of the Himalayan shrines of Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri, triggering protests by “teerth purohits”, who accused the government of not taking them into confidence before drafting the legislation.