Cong govt in Uttarakhand stares at uncertain future

Election Tour/Uttarakhand-7

Hardwar: A precariously placed Congress government in Uttarakhand is staring at an uncertain future with political circles and public speculating its fate if the ruling party fares badly in the Lok Sabha elections.

Congress leaders are confident that they would scrape through even if the poll results were not favourable while BJP is playing it with caution, as the composition of the 70-member Assembly is a riddle in itself.

BJP’s B C Khanduri, a former Chief Minister, sums up the situation — it is not what Congress or BJP want, but what prevails is what the independents want.

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Congress with 33 MLAs cobbled up support of three independents, three BSP MLAs and one Uttarakhand Kranti Dal member to cross the majority-mark of 36 and form the government. BJP has 30 MLAs in the present Assembly, which came into being in April 2012.

The talk in political circles is about the possible fall or change in government if Congress loses the Lok Sabha polls in the state. In the outgoing Lok Sabha, Congress has four seats against BJP’s one. The ruling party had in 2009 won all the five seats but lost a bypoll in 2012 after Vijay Bahuguna resigned from Lok Sabha to become Chief Minister only to be removed two months ago.

Political analysts believe if Narendra Modi forms a government at Centre, there could be political re-alignment in the state leading to the fall of the state government.

Chief Minister Harish Rawat, who assumed power in February this year, is confident that Congress will sail through the crisis. “BJP cannot do any mischief. Many of these MLAs have won in a close contest. They would not risk their seats when winning again is not confirmed. As such, there is no trouble for government,” he told Deccan Herald.

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Congress is playing its cards to ensure that the supporters do not desert them after the elections. “Relatives of two BSP MLAs have joined Congress. We also know our game,” a Congress leader said.

BJP also appears in no hurry to bring down the government with numbers not in favour of anyone.

Opposition Leader Ajay Bhatt said BJP would not accelerate the pace of events. “Infighting in Congress is so much that the government can fall any time. BJP leadership’s view is not to destabilise the government. If it falls on its own due to contradictions within itself, let it be,” Bhatt told Deccan Herald.

Asked whether BJP is ready to form the government, Bhatt said the party would analyse the situation and then take a position keeping in mind the “larger interest” of the state. “Rawat knows his government is in trouble,” he said.

Khanduri also appears not an enthusiast of BJP forming a government by cobbling up majority. If BJP wants to form the government, he said, they have to approach the same set of people who are supporting the present regime. “Both parties cannot form a stable government. Congress managed its numbers with great difficulty,” he said.

(PS: The article appeared in Deccan Herald on Apr 30, 2014)

Poll pitch in Daman, Dadra

NEW DELHI: They may not be high profile constituencies, do not share the glamour of other Union Territories like Chandigarh and Lakshadweep and journalists seldom visit these places during elections. But the poll fever is at its zenith in Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu where polling is on April 30.

Among the 15 candidates in these constituencies is an illiterate woman, cash-rich businessmen and farmers. Most of the candidates do not have an email or social media presence while some candidates have lakhs in cash in their possession, their affidavits say.

But like anywhere else, the opponents are finding fault with the sitting MPs, both from BJP, for “doing nothing”. Smaller parties and independents are also crying foul about “big parties” distributing money among voters.

“I am afraid of these two nights (Monday and Tuesday). On Monday night, I informed election officials about distribution of money. They could not catch them. Tonight also, there will be attempts to distribute money,” Bhavesh Patel, BSP candidate in Daman and Diu, told Deccan Herald over phone.

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(Lalubhai Patel)

In Daman and Diu, BJP’s Lalubhai Babubhai Patel is confident of winning a second term while his Congress rival Ketanbhai Patel, a young builder with a diploma in textile technology, is sure of upstaging the sitting MP. “I have done my job well and will continue to do,” said Lalubhai.

However, Congress and BSP nominees discount this. “There is anti-incumbency. He has done nothing. People are annoyed with him. I am 500 per cent confident of winning,” Ketanbhai said. Bhavesh, who pins hope on a number of migrant labourers from UP and Bihar with voting rights, says both Congress and BJP did nothing.

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(Ketanbhai Patel)

While Congress and BJP are raising development and employment generation as major issues, Bhavesh, who has a diploma in civil engineering, points to pollution due to unchecked development activities. “Poor has no place here,” he laments.

Interestingly, except twice, the sitting MPs had lost in the constituency, the second smallest constituency in terms of voters. Congress had won four times, BJP three times and an independent once since 1987 when the constituency was formed.

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(Mohambhai Delkar)

In Dadra and Nagar Haveli, the fight is between BJP MP Nathubhai G Patel and Congress’ Mohanbhai Delkar, who won six times in a row from 1989 representing Congress, BJP and BNP. Nathubai humbled Delkar last time by 618 votes but the former is confident.

“Congress is winning. No doubt about it,” Delkar, a graduate, told Deccan Herald. Dadra constituency is said to be a pocket borough of Delkar. “Delkar’s Robin Hood image has made him dear among tribals who en masse vote for him,” a book ‘India Votes: Lok Sabha & Vidhan Sabha Elections 2001-2005’ has said.

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(Nathubhai Patel)

Confidence is the theme of his rival too and put the blame of any complaints of his non-performance at Congress doorsteps. “Dadra is administered by Union Home Affairs and I being a BJP, the Congress did not release funds,” Nathubhai alleged. (ENDS)

Daman and Diu

——————–

Total Voters – 1.11 lakh

Women – 55,583

Men – 55,455

** Among the total population of 2.43 lakh, only 92,000 are women but around 60 per cent are voters. Among 1.5 lakh men, only 35 per cent of men are voters.

Dadra and Nagar Haveli

——————————

Total Voters – 2.07 lakh

Men – 1,12,822

Women – 94,616.

(PS: The news report appeared in Deccan Herald on April 30, 2014)

Up the Hills, Along the flow: Uttarakhand as I saw in a few frames (Part 3)

THE VERY MANY MOODS OF HIMALAYAS

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Up the Hills, Along the flow: Uttarakhand as I saw in a few frames (Part 2)

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(Path to Heaven)

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(An elderly woman in Devli Brahmgram village, 10 km from Guptkashi)

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(Youngsters like him help you carry stuff up the hill -1)

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(Youngsters like him help you carry stuff up the hill -2)

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(Women at work)

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(Village temple in Devli Brahmgram)

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(Smile in Times of Cloud-1)

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(Smile in Times of Cloud-2)

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(Portrait: B C Khanduri)

Temple town to bloom for Rawat or Nishank?

Election Tour/Uttarakhand -6

Hardwar: Will Uttarakhand Chief Minister Harish Rawat, who recaptured the old Congress stronghold after a gap of 28 years in 2009, be able to convince voters in this temple town on the shores of Ganga to vote for his wife Renuka?

Or is it the time for former Chief Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank (BJP) to wash off the stain of corruption allegations against him in the Ganga as he takes on Renuka in a battle of prestige in the Lok Sabha polls?

Like the holy river, the undercurrent among voters in Hardwar is hard to predict this time with the constituency of 16.42 lakh voters witnessing a keen contest. Hardwar had been a Congress stronghold but lost grip in 1990s to BJP and it could win back the seat only in 2009 when Rawat contested.

But to ruffle feathers there is AAP’s Kanchan Choudhry, former DGP, and BSP’s Haji Mohd Islam, who are among 24 candidates, the highest in the state, though voters feel they may not be key players in this election.

Congress banks on Rawat’s popularity and networking skills as well the “baggage of corruption” the opponent carries to register a win while BJP is confident of a victory for Nishank riding on Modi wave.

Rawat was brought back to the state in February to replace lacklustre Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna, hoping that he could rewrite Congress’ electoral prospects in the hill state.

For one who rose to become Chief Minister from a gram pradhan (village head), Rawat knows his games but faces a stiff challenge from Nishank, an equally skilled grassroot politician.

Prise rise and UPA’s dented image are the problem areas for Rawat along with state issues like the poor handling flood situations last year as well as reconstruction and rehabilitation works.

Rawat believes his wife could sail through on the goodwill he has created in the constituency. Congress also aims to corner majority of Muslim votes, numbering around 3.5 lakh, as well Dalits (2.5 lakh). But what could be worrying for them is the number of votes (1.81 lakh) BSP candidate Shahzad won in 2009.

Congress pins on the hope that BSP candidate Haji Mohd Islam is not a strong one like Shahzad. “Shahzad was the sitting BSP MLA. Islam does not command that grip,” Narendra Kashyap, a driver of an auto stationed outside Yoga guru Ramdev’s ashram, said.

Rawat, who got 42.16 per cent votes last time from Hardwar, also feels that there could be some effect of Muzaffarnagar riots in Hardwar constituency. “Hardwar is the only constituency where there is some effect of Muzaffarnagar riots. That polarisation could have some impact. But we are confident of winning,” Rawat told Deccan Herald.

But the confidence level in BJP camp is also high. The meticulous planner he is, Nishank, a former journalist, is crisscrossing the constituency and meeting all those who matters. “They did not even have a candidate. So they had to choose the Chief Minister’s wife,” a close aide of Nishank said.

The constituency has in large numbers banners and posters depicting Nishank and BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi in prominence. Congress posters have Rawat highlighted along with his wife with small space allotted to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.

Rawat is not leaving anything to chance and every day holding review meetings well past midnight in Hardwar after campaigning across state. He is also meeting influential social groups at his camp office late in the night.

@@ Battle in 2009 @@

Harish Rawat (Congress) — 3,32,235 votes — 42.16 per cent

Swami Yatindranand Giri (BJP) — 2,04,823 — 25.99 per cent

Shahzad (BSP) — 1,81,296 — 23.01 per cent

@@ Warriors for 2014 @@

Renuka Rawat — Congress

Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank — BJP

Haji Mohd Islam — BSP

Kanchan Choudhry – AAP.

Up the Hills, Along the flow: Uttarakhand as I saw in a few frames (Part 1)

A journey on Good Friday to Uttarakhand and return a day after Easter of 2014. With a camera borrowed from a friend and no battery, clicked pictures always fearing final conking off.

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(The Shiv Murti in Hardwar)

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(On way Rishikesh)

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(Sky has no limit: Somewhere between Rishikesh and Srinagar)

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(The Balcony meets the skies: View from a hotel in Srinagar)

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(Town in the Hills)

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((Excavator on Job in Ganga)

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(Signs of 2013 floods/destruction still on: On way to Guptkashi-1)

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(Signs of 2013 floods/destruction still on: On way to Guptkashi-2)

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(Signs of 2013 floods/destruction still on: On way to Guptkashi-3)

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(Signs of 2013 floods/destruction still on: On way to Guptkashi-4)

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(Signs of 2013 floods/destruction still on: On way to Guptkashi-5)

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(Signs of 2013 floods/destruction still on: On way to Guptkashi-6)

D’Mello can’t fight Modi this time

With just Rs 516 in hand, a Bangalore activist Ambrose D’Mello jumped into the fray in Varanasi to take on political heavyweights like BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal but he cannot fight this elections! His nomination in Varanasi has been rejected.

46-year-old D’Mello was one of the three candidates from south India in the holy city for the Lok Sabha elections, other being forest brigand Veerappan’s nephew P N Sriramachandran and Kerala-based Johnson Thomas. Seventy-seven people filed nominations and 35 got rejected, including that of Sriramachandran and D’Mello.

Elections are not new for D’Mello, who is a constant face of protest against commercialisation of water in Bangalore, as he also fought from Bangalore Central against Youth Congress state president Rizwan Ahmed when the constituency went to polls on April 17. Last year, he contested Assembly election from Chickpet constituency and had bagged 133 votes.

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A postgraduate in Comparative Literature in Kannada from Bangalore University, D’Mello does not have a house and is allowed to stay in the premises of Bangalore Kuruba Association.

“He is a regular face at protests in Bangalore but he is harmless. He does not own a house or any other assets. We have allowed him to stay near our office. Occasionally he comes here and stays. We have nothing to do with his contesting elections,” an office-bearer of Association said.

Reports claim that D’Mello has stopped talking ten years ago as a mark of his protest against commercialisation of water. He is not the one who leaves the battle ground easily. Ask him about support from people. “What makes you think I don’t have people’s support? If I did not have support, how did I get 133 votes?” D’Mello writes in his notebook when posed the question, according to New Indian Express.

Efforts to reach out to him through the mobile phone mentioned in his affidavit did not succeed as the device was switched off. He has also not replied to an email sent to him.

In his Facebook profile, he has made clear his political inclination. “Power politics must go and we need progressive movement politics,” he wrote.

According to the affidavits he filed for contesting Bangalore Central and Varanasi seats, he has assets worth around Rs 500. In the affidavit filed for Bangalore Central, he said he has no cash while one of the two bank accounts had Rs 16 and another Rs 500. He also declared that he had a BSNL SIM card with a value of Rs 59.

However, almost a month later, his bank balance has come down to Rs 316 but the cash in hand has risen to Rs 200. During the Assembly elections last year, he had declared that he had Rs 10,000 in hand and another Rs 500 in bank.

Voters say yes and no on Modi ‘lehar’ in Uttarakhand

Election Tour/Uttarakhand -5

Devprayag/Hardwar: At the holy town of Devprayag where rivers Bhagirathi and Alaknanda joins to become Ganga, a huge poster of Narendra Modi watches over a visitor while Congress flags adorn a huge number of shops in the market just beside the Har ki Pauri (The Steps of Lord Shiva) in Hardwar.

Dalit voters vouch for Congress at Devli Brahmgram, which is 10 km by car from Guptkashi and another 3 km walk up the hills, while in nearby Lamgandi, the upper caste are in awe of Modi. Rahul Gandhi’s ‘Mein Nahi, Hum’ (Not Me but We) posters catch up with Modi’s ‘Ab ki Baar, Modi Sarkar’ (Now, its turn of Modi government) in areas like Srinagar, Rishikesh, Pauri and Agastyamuni.

A wave or not, the advertisement deluge through print and television has made Modi a talking point in this hill-state.

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(Guddu Nayak on walkathon to Kedarnath)

“What wave? There is nothing. We will win hands down,” a close aide of Chief Minister Harish Rawat said. Rawat himself dismissed any wave, saying Modi created an artificial wave. He believes Modi has enthused the traditional upper caste supporters of BJP while there is a counter-enthusiasm at work among other social groups.

Former Chief Minister B C Khanduri, however, said Modi has created an image that BJP government will ensure development and keep a check on corruption while not being soft on Pakistan and China. “That is the image Modi has created. There is a Modi wave. People in villages are talking about him,” he said.

Pose the question to auto drivers stationed near Patanjali Yogpeeth, the headquarters of Modi supporter yogaguru Ramdev near Hardwar, one will get puzzling looks first. Suraj Valia, who controls the auto-stand, talks about a definite Modi wave while a couple of his colleagues do not share his enthusiasm.

If Valia’s colleaugues are sceptical, Guddu Nayak from Niamu village in the UP’s riot-torn Muzaffarnagar is on a ‘walkathon’ to Kedarnath to ensure that Modi gets the crown. “Kedar baba (Lord Shiva) has come in my dream and I set on this pilgrimage on April 14. I plan to reach Kedarnath by May 5. I am a Modi ‘bhakt’ (devotee),” Nayak, a cloth vendor, told Deccan Herald as he approached Rishikesh.

In far away Devli Brahmpuri village, which is 220 km from Rishikesh, Prakash Lall, whose is planning to contest District Panchayat election as an independent candidate, dismisses any wave. “TV is saying there is a Modi wave. We do not see any wave,” Lall, a Dalit says while Umesh, who earns a living by doing odd jobs, agrees.

Three kilometres down from Devli Brahmpuri, Anuj Vajpayee, who runs a Modi tea stall, has high expectations from Modi. “He will tackle the problems of black money and corruption. Congress has done nothing and now a Modi era is beginning,” a hopeful Vajpayee said while his nephew Ark nodded in agreement.

(PS: The news report appeared in Deccan Herald on April 27, 2014)

Cong in trouble over rehab work

Election Tour/Uttarakhand -4

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Guptkashi: The uncertainty over the ‘Char Dham Yatra’ and slow pace of rehabilitation and reconstruction activities in the flood ravaged hills of Uttarakhand are posing uncomforatable questions for Congress in the Lok Sabha election.

BJP is trying to tap public anger against the government over the tardy preparations by the government for the pilgrimage to four holy shrines — Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri — and making it a talking point in their campaign.

Opposition leaders pooh-poos Chief Minister Harish Rawat’s claims that the pilgrimage will start on time, saying roads leading to Gaurikund, the base camp for trek to Kedarnath, are in tatters and the present pace of work, they claim, does not show encouraging signs.

Public, irrespective of their party affiliations, criticises the state government though in the past two months the work is moving on.

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“The state government did not do anything. They were sleeping. I lost my workers in Kedarnath. There is no reconstruction work happening. NGOs did something, they gave money but the state has done nothing,” Ark Vajpayee, a small-time businessman in Guptkashi, told Deccan Herald. While Vajpayee is a supporter of BJP, a Congress supporter Prakash Lall also echoes him, saying no work has been done.

One could still witness the signs of destruction of the flash floods in June-July during a bumby 101-km car journey from Srinagar town in Uttarakhand to Guptkashi. Damaged houses and other buildings, roads and debris shrinking the river space are still there. A traveller could also witness work on roads and excavators trying to remove tonnes of debris to clear the course of river.

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The hotels and resorts on way to the shrines are not occupied with operators saying that usually in April, their bookings and occupancy used to cross 90 per cent. “We have less than 20 per cent bookings this time,” said a hotel staff.

Excuding confidence that the pilgrimage would start on time in the first week of May, Rawat said if the weather is fine, they would be able finish more work.”You will see roads. May be it is not the smooth one you are looking for. Our priority is to start the yatra anyhow. Despite all odds, the yatra will be more safe than ever.”

He said the administration would use technology to ensure 24×7 mobile connectivity on the entire yatra track as well as regulate movement.

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However, BJP leaders like former Chief Minister B C Khanduri or Opposition leader Ajay Bhatt are not impressed. “If government manages to start yatra, I will congratulate. But Yatra does not mean three or four vehicles. Roads very bad,” he said.

Bhatt sought to tear into the government, saying the Chief Minister failed to get a special package for the state though he was in the central Group of Ministers. “There are 278 villages whose applications for rehabilitation are still pending. Nothing has happened in these villages. There is no blueprint for rehabilitation. 6,000 km of roads are in tatters. 9,000 electric poles are damaged and none of them are repaired,” he told Deccan Herald.

(PS: The report appeared in Deccan Herald on April 26, 2014)

Cong in shambles, will be decimated: Khanduri

Election Tour/Uttarakhand -3

B C Khanduri, BJP’s tall leader in Uttarakhand, is fighting from Garhwal Lok Sabha constituency at the age of 79. A leader with clean image, he is fielded by the party despite a shock defeat in Assembly polls to tap anger against Congress. I spoke to the former Chief Minister in his camp office in Pauri.

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How are BJP and Congress placed in this election?

Congress is in total shambles. They will face humiliating defeat not only in Uttarakhand but also in entire country. Congress has misused these ten years and people are in a mood to punish them.  I think they came to power to loot as much as they can as if they are not returning to power. People think BJP will check corruption and there will be development. People are also very happy that for the first time, there is a feeling that we will not be soft towards Pakistan and China. Narendra Modi has created that image. Youth and women are charged up and this is the atmosphere in the country as I see. If this is translated into votes, Congress will be decimated.

But some senior leaders are not in that awe of Modi.

See, in politics and even in every family there are problems. There will be some leg pulling. There will be fight for family property. These are human weaknesses.

You are fighting from Garhwal and sitting Congress MP Satpal Maharaj has joined BJP.

He was in politics before I came into politics. We have contesting against each other. He defeated me and I defeated him too. He is also a religious leader and he has his followers. His followers will vote for BJP.

Is there a possibility of the state government falling after election?

Both parties cannot form a stable government. BSP has three members, they are fighting among themselves, and two are suspended. There are independents. They are not attached to any principle. They will do whatever they want. You have to depend on these people. Inherently, the government is not stable at all.

After elections, do you see the possibility of a BJP government?

I don’t want to predict. If BJP forms the government, we need to get the support of the same people. If Congress wants to form the government, they will have to depend on the same people. Congress managed 34 with great difficulty. Neither Congress nor BJP has majority. It is not what Congress or BJP want, but what is happening is what the independents want.

Do you forsee an early Assembly election?

I don’t know. People don’t like elections very often. One thing I am sure, a stable government can be formed only when Congress or BJP get 36 seats.

There is a lot of discussion about the pilgrimage to the four dhams.

Things are very bad. The roads are not there. The Central government has not given money to Borders Road Organisation for past three years. After the floods, the state government has also not done anything. My basic allegation against the Central government is they have deprived BRO of funds with an ulterior motive. The top reason is that they want to give it to some big contractors in Delhi and give the whole thing.

(PS: The interview appeared in Deccan Herald on April 26, 2014)

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