The fourth assembly election in Uttarakhand has been extraordinary on several counts. First, it is the first time since the creation of Uttarakhand in 2000 that a political party has won such a landslide. The element of surprise in the poll verdict was indicated by poll pundits’ failure to correctly predict the victory margin of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Second, in a leaderless and issueless election, people just voted for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s developmental agenda, highlighted by the slogan “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas” (collective effort, inclusive growth).
Third, it put an end to the role of independent candidates, considered indispensible in Uttarakhand politics due to their bargaining power in government formation either by BJP or Congress. Fourth, the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal, associated with Uttarakhand’s creation since the 1970s, could not open its account and the Bahujan Samaj Party, which used to get at least three seats from the plains of Uttarakhand, was totally rejected by the voters as was the Samajwadi Party (SP).
Fifth, the margin of winning and losing between the BJP and Congress, which always used to be less than 2%, dramatically increased as the BJP, with a vote share of 46.5%, gained a clear edge over the Congress, whose vote share remained unchanged. Interestingly, in 2012, when the Congress won a vote share of 33.79%, it captured 32 seats and formed the government with the help of the Progressive Democratic Front.
Sixth, a uniform pattern of voting was witnessed in the hill areas of Garhwal and Kumaun, limiting Congress’s tally to just 11%. Seventh, except two, all rebel leaders of the Congress who joined BJP retained their seats, indicating that people voted for Modi and BJP and not for any individual candidates. It was also a mandate for political stability, implementing developmental promises and performance without any pressure.
The presentation of a vote-on-account for four months of Rs16,048 crore, tabling of a strong Lokayukta bill as per the BJP’s vision document, drafted on the lines of the bill introduced during B.C. Khanduri’s tenure—it was cancelled by the Congress government—and the Uttarakhand Transfers Bill for bringing transparency in postings and transfers are some of the steps taken by the new government to assure the public of its intentions and priorities. However, instead of approving it with majority vote, sending it to Pravar Samiti for further review on the pressures of the leader of the opposition has also made people apprehensive about the Trivendra Singh Rawat government.
Though there is no denying that with a majority government, people’s long-cherished dreams of holistic development of hill areas have been revived, their apprehensions that the absolute majority could be tricky are not unfounded. The delay in announcing the chief minister, cabinet and allocation of portfolios has already made them suspicions about internal pressure politics within the BJP. The dilemma in filling up the remaining two vacancies in the cabinet, even after the induction of the new government, confirms the difficulties of maintaining internal balance and harmony. Though the allocation of key ministries to heavyweight ex-Congress leaders in the Trivendra Singh Rawat cabinet is justified by poll promises and commitments, the resentment brewing among senior BJP leaders does not augur well for the party or the government.
The presence of experienced, ambitious and assertive ex-Congress leaders in the cabinet and party is not only liable to keep the chief minister wary about the threat of internal sabotage, it also makes it difficult to probe allegations of corruption against the Congress government. The game of allegations and counter-allegations has already begun with the chief minister requesting the centre for a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe of the NH-74 scam of Rs240 crore related to the acquisition of farmland during 2011-2016 in Jaspur, Kashipur, Bajpur and Sitarganj. Moreover, the conversion of national and state highways into district highways to avoid the closure of liquor shops as per the court orders has not only encouraged anti-liquor protest in the state, but also confused the people about the priority and developmental plans of the government.
Moreover, the dynamism of Yogi Adityanath in Uttar Pradesh has also been making the Uttarakhand leadership uncomfortable as a comparison is inevitable between the governments of two states ruled by the BJP. Although the situation in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand is not alike, the developmental agenda of the BJP is similar; therefore, besides matching the energy of Adityanath, the challenge is also to work in a timebound manner for the resolution of well-known problems of hill areas like migration, lack of good schools, medical and health facilities and livelihood opportunities. The government also needs to tackle declining agriculture, put in place an effective disaster prevention and management system and engage constructively with the young, who have been the main focus of Modi’s developmental agenda.
Although it is too early to judge the performance of the BJP government in Uttarakhand, initial dithering suggests that despite the massive mandate and vision document, it is struggling to chart its course. In a state where it won a landslide victory on the plank of Modi’s developmental agenda, populist measures like raids in institutions/offices or revenge politics is not going to deliver the goal of transparent and corruption-free government as spelt out by Modi. A state famous for its opportunistic and corrupt leaders and sluggish bureaucracy not only needs a concrete programme for development but also proactive ministers and bureaucracy to implement the promises. Otherwise, after five years, the silent majority which voted for Modi could again turn the tables on the BJP.
Annpurna Nautiyal is a professor of political science, HNB Garhwal University, Srinagar, Garhwal, Uttarakhand.