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.

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